As we celebrate the Fowler School of Engineering’s (FSE) growth and success over time, it is vital to reflect upon the enduring impact of one integral figure within its history: Founding Dean Dr. L. Andrew Lyon. From the beginning of Dr. Lyon’s deanship, his determination and vision have transformed Fowler into a space that places innovation, collaboration, creativity, and boundless possibility at the forefront of learning. In honor of his transition from Dean to full-time faculty, we spoke with Lyon to explore his decade-long efforts to revolutionize science and engineering at Chapman.
Joining Chapman and Schmid College
Lyon became part of the Chapman community in July 2014 when he assumed his position as Dean of Schmid College of Science and Technology. As he moved into a full-time administrative role, Lyon maintained a strong connection with what brought him to academia in the first place: teaching and research.
During this time, he developed and taught a course in the Honors program entitled “The Science Blender,” which prioritized instilling students with team-based problem-solving skills applicable across any discipline. This course would later inspire the Grand Challenges Initiative, a collaborative core requirement for all Schmid and Fowler students. “That experience was cool because I was able to test a bunch of different curricular principles and structures with some really excited students who served as my teaching laboratory,” said Lyon. “That then morphed into this program that now enrolls almost 600 students.”
At the time, the Keck Center for Science and Engineering—which now houses both Schmid and Fowler—had yet to exist. Lyon himself became directly involved with designing the beautiful, cutting-edge facilities we now know today. With the success of this project came a key moment in the history of Fowler: it was time to create a school for engineering. It was then that Lyon was given the opportunity to reimagine his role on campus, officially becoming the Founding Dean of Fowler Engineering following its formal launch in 2019.
In order for engineering to solidify its presence on Chapman’s campus, it required a physical home—the Swenson Family Hall of Engineering, which officially opened its doors in 2021. Lyon took this opportunity to imbue the school with a sense of liveliness, interconnectivity, and purpose through its construction.
“The thing that I hope people recognize about the School of Engineering is that we had really one of the most unique opportunities that you can imagine—that is, we designed a school of engineering, hired faculty and staff, developed the curriculum, and built the building all at the same time,” shared Lyon. “What that hopefully means is that those pieces all fit together better than they might in a school that was developed in a piecemeal fashion. That’s something that I’m super proud of.”
Fostering an Engineering Community
In combining these core pieces simultaneously from the beginning, Lyon helped initiate the process of building a tight-knit, intentional, and engaged sense of community. To Lyon, the most vital part of his role in this period involved selecting the foundational administrative and academic leadership teams; under his guidance and support, these teams asked and answered core questions (discussing everything from curriculum to research goals) to develop a collaborative vision for Fowler’s future.
Much of his early vision focused on creating a space that would allow educators, staff, and students alike to shine, grow, and inspire one another. While selecting faculty members to join the Chapman Engineering community, Lyon believed that the key to accomplishing this task would be establishing an environment conducive to constant innovation—an idea that now serves as a cornerstone for an FSE education.
“My favorite part of being among the faculty here is listening to all the different great ideas that emerge as my colleagues think about solving some big problems—sitting down and talking to them about their latest research goals or how they’re going to change a class or develop a new academic program is just awe-inspiring,” shared Lyon. “Their creativity around new things that are worth learning and new ways to help students learn those things are both really exciting.”
For Lyon, this spark of interconnectedness that he helped cultivate has made the School of Engineering not only a truly exceptional place but also one that breeds opportunity for all who walk through its halls. When asked what impresses him most about Fowler students, his thoughts echo this intentionally-crafted atmosphere that now makes FSE feel like home to so many students as well: “I love the fact that our students see themselves as so much more than just here to take classes,” Lyon expressed. “They become engaged in so many different things.”
Future Among the Faculty
This upcoming fall, Lyon will embark on a new journey: transitioning from his role as Dean and re-entering the world of a faculty member. This endeavor will serve as his first time being a full faculty member at Chapman, allowing him to teach students in a more formal sense across robust and detailed coursework.
“I’m also excited that a lot of the things I cover in my research and scholarship are not currently taught here,” said Lyon. “My work lies at the intersection of health and medicine, science and engineering, so I’m excited to teach those kinds of courses. I’m also really excited to get back into research at a more energetic level.”
For Lyon, this new adventure brings him full circle, returning him to his early conversations with then-Chancellor Daniele Struppa about maintaining a balance with room for instruction and research. In the future, he is eager to guide his students through the process of failing meaningfully, learning from their errors, and finding success in and out of the classroom—a pursuit he finds endlessly fulfilling.
“I think what is most gratifying is not one single event, but one type of event that keeps on happening over and over again, and that is that first post-graduation message you get back from a student with whom you’ve worked,” said Lyon. “When they tell you about the first job they’ve landed or the first graduate program that they’ve been accepted into … 99% of the time, the feedback you get is, ‘Oh my goodness, this thing I learned has been so important.’ … Those are the things that I am looking forward to.”