School Posts Highest-ever Research Expenditures and Ratio of Ph.D. Students to Faculty, Among other Measures of Success

A record-large and diverse Ph.D. program. Five years of record-breaking research growth. And more recruiters than ever saying they value the unique skills of graduates from the University of Virginia School of Engineering.

These are just a few of the reasons UVA Engineering rose to No. 38 in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings of nearly 250 of the nation’s top engineering graduate schools, released March 30. Among public engineering graduate schools in the top 40, UVA is tied for No. 21 and is one of only three that excel despite having a graduate enrollment of less than 1,500 students. The average of the top-40 public engineering schools’ graduate enrollments is more than 2,400; UVA’s graduate population is 1,072.

“As a School, we have deliberately transformed in pursuit of our mission to make the world a better place by creating and disseminating knowledge and preparing engineering leaders to solve global challenges,” Dean Craig H. Benson said. “Our strategic approach has succeeded even beyond our high expectations. I go to sleep every night proud and grateful that UVA Engineering is contributing more knowledge and engineering leadership to the world than ever before.”

Executive Dean Pamela M. Norris said she credits UVA Engineering’s enduring commitment to its core values of societal impact, educating engineering leaders, excellence through diversity, innovation and collegiality.

“Our momentum is built upon our deeply held belief that engineers have a responsibility to contribute their talents and expertise to an equitable, just society in which every person’s quality of life is improved through discoveries in technology and science,” she said.


With their focus on positive impact, UVA Engineering faculty and staff have built the School’s momentum in specific areas over the past five years:

Photo of UVA Engineering's Thornton Hall

With a strategic focus on research and educating engineering leaders, UVA Engineering has increased momentum toward its mission for making the world a better place.

Creating and Disseminating Knowledge

Fueled by faculty’s bold ideas and eagerness for fighting the pandemic, UVA Engineering had another record-breaking year for sponsored research funding in fiscal year 2020. Funding reached $83 million, an 89% increase since fiscal year 2016. 

Those five years of increasing grant awards led to the School’s highest-ever year for research expenditures – $82 million in fiscal year 2020 – a measure of the energy with which faculty are using their funding to create and disseminate knowledge.

Their work falls in three large categories of societal need in which UVA Engineering has significant research expertise:

“Even in the face of global challenges, our researchers are passionate about pursuing opportunities to grow, discover and contribute,” Associate Dean for Research Susan L.R. Barker said.

Growing the Faculty

Over the past five years, UVA Engineering has taken a strategic approach to recruiting excellent faculty with disciplinary strength and talent for collaborating across disciplinary boundaries. Since 2014, UVA Engineering's faculty has grown by 29%, from 204 to 263. Of 263 faculty in 2020-2021, 181 are tenured or tenure-track faculty, and 82 are academic general faculty.

Among the hires are exceptional early career faculty who have earned prestigious research awards, including three highly competitive Young Faculty Awards from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, four National Science Foundation CAREER awards last year and six so far this year.

The School also has gained highly respected senior faculty who have earned large project awards, such as a $10 million, 14-institution National Science Foundation Expeditions in Computing Grant for computational epidemiology to thwart future pandemics, led by the Biocomplexity Institute.

Attracting Excellent Graduate Students

After a multi-year recruitment push with new fellowship support for faculty to bring in outstanding graduate students, UVA Engineering’s ratio of Ph.D. students to tenured and tenure-track faculty is at an all-time high: 4.7 doctoral students per T3 faculty.

Overall, UVA Engineering's Ph.D. enrollment jumped to 750 students in fall 2020 from 448 in 2013 – a 67% increase. The total enrollment of degree-seeking graduate students is 1,075 Ph.D. and master's degree candidates this year, compared to 655 in 2013 – a 64% increase.

The Ph.D. program expansion has helped drive the School’s research growth and has occurred while the quality of incoming students has remained high, with a priority on increasing the diversity of the graduate student body. In terms of gender diversity, 33 percent of graduate students are women compared to a national average of 25 percent.

Among the public graduate engineering schools U.S. News ranks among the top 50, UVA engineering has the No. 1 Ph.D. enrollment growth since 2015.

The successful graduate program helps enrich the undergraduate program as well, because graduate students serve as teaching and research assistants and provide undergraduates with additional learning and hands-on engineering experiences. Among the public schools ranked in the top 40 by U.S. News, UVA is 12th for its ratio of undergrads to graduate students – just under 3:1.

“Graduate students represent the future of engineering research and education, and we are thrilled that UVA Engineering is a top destination for these future leaders,” Associate Dean for Academic Affairs N. Scott Barker said.

Educating Future Leaders with Their Success at the Forefront

UVA Engineering’s philosophy of holistic, total-life-experience support – the School’s support and succeed model – for all undergraduate students begins when students join as first-years. Students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in engineering are invited to participate in a Summer Bridge Program to set an academic foundation and develop a sense of community before their first year begins.

In “Introduction to Engineering” courses during their first year, students are exposed to the skills and experiences they will need to succeed in the School and beyond, and receive a “total advising” approach that integrates academic, career and personal counseling. More broadly, students learn what it means to become engineers in a society that desperately needs them to solve some of its biggest challenges.

UVA also has one of the best student-to-faculty ratios in the country. Among the public schools ranked in the top 40 by U.S. News, UVA is No. 5 for its ratio of undergraduate students to tenured and tenure-track faculty ­– just under 17:1.

Students are supported by embedded career and undergraduate success professionals and the Center for Diversity in Engineering, as well as representatives from the University’s Office of the Dean of Students and Counseling and Psychological Services program.

Along with faculty’s dedication to ensuring students’ success, all of this support has made UVA Engineering the top public engineering school in the country for the four-year graduation rate of its undergraduate students, with 84% earning their engineering bachelor’s degrees on time compared to a national rate of 33%, according to schools surveyed by the American Society for Engineering Education. For students who started at UVA Engineering but earned their bachelor’s degree from one of UVA’s other top-ranked programs, the four-year graduation rate is 89%.

UVA Engineering also offers the top graduation rate among surveyed public engineering schools for Hispanic, Asian, African-American and multi-racial students, and is in the top 10 percent for the four-year graduation rate of women.

Students leave UVA Engineering well prepared for their next steps, whether that involves graduate school, the workforce or other pathways. Companies that recruit from the School gave UVA Engineering its highest-ever U.S. News score this year for producing excellent future leaders.

“The dedication and focus our faculty and staff have brought to these critical areas have moved us closer than ever to realizing our vision,” Benson said, “which is leadership among engineering schools in seizing opportunities to benefit humanity through bold research and world-class education.”