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Engineering Impact

Mark Dean (’79) is a personal computing pioneer who teaches his students to make the most of UT’s unique engineering and computer opportunities.

February 13, 2017 | Updated: April 10, 2019

Dean spent over three decades at IBM, where his innovations led to the company’s original PC and its color monitor, the Industry Standard Architecture bus (which allowed other devices to plug into IBM PCs), the first gigahertz complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) microprocessor, and the Blue Gene supercomputer.

He holds more than 40 patents, including three of the PC’s nine original patents. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and a member of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Dean also became the first African American IBM fellow in 1996 and won the Black Engineer of the Year award in 1997 and 2000.

“I look forward to the world where there’s not a first African American to do something—that there have been plenty. And plenty of women have done all the different types of jobs and plenty of Hispanics and American Indians and so on,” Dean says.

He returned to UT as the John Fisher Distinguished Professor of Engineering 34 years after earning his undergraduate degree here. “I’m fortunate to be here in academia where I’m expected to explore new space, new things, be innovative,” he says.

Dean also served as interim dean of the Tickle College of Engineering for a year from 2018-19.

Mark Dean mounts a server rack
Mark Dean mounts a server rack.

One area that has Dean’s attention is the rapidly growing field of cyber security in which Cisco estimated 1 million job openings worldwide in 2016.

UT is one of the few schools in the country that offers a minor in cyber security. “It’s a huge opportunity for students—off the scale,” Dean says. “We’re so vulnerable, both in just regular computing—what we call cyberspace—and something we call cyber physical.”

He teaches a cyber physical security class about protecting devices like computing in cars and cameras in malls from being used to make attacks or from being attacked.

Another field where Dean’s students have a rare opportunity is data center management. He is an instructor for a collaborative course on the subject run by UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

With Amazon, Yahoo, Google, and even the government managing data, there’s a growing demand for people who can build and design data centers and run them efficiently.

“Most people don’t have that experience coming out of school,” Dean says. Area employers including Comcast, Verizon, Amazon, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Education are targeting UT students with opportunities.

By his estimate, engineering students today have 10 times the opportunities he had as an undergrad. “You have a responsibility to opt in as an engineer,” Dean advises, “If you opt in, you have to do it knowing you have a responsibility to keep people safe. The things engineers do have a huge impact on millions of people. You design a little sensor that does something, deploy millions of them, and all of the sudden you have a huge impact.”

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Photos by Steven Bridges

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