2019 New Faces: Dr. Paul Ro

Answering the call to live out his faith and mission at a Christian university, Dr. Ro is growing the Mechanical Engineering graduate program and inspiring research in the field.

Dr. Paul Ro, Chair and Professor of Mechanical Engineering, wasn’t seeking a life-altering change when he first discovered the position he now holds. After 29 years in teaching and leadership at North Carolina State University (NCSU), whose faculty he joined a mere 48 hours after his PhD dissertation defense at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), it would require something special to pry him from the community that had become home for him and his family. 

November 17, 2019

It didn’t take long to realize that Baylor and the School of Engineering and Computer Science indeed provided that special opportunity at a place he describes as the “perfect convergence of my professional and spiritual training.”

“At Baylor, I see a place where engineers are engaged in mission work in fusion of ministry and education,” Ro says. “From everyone here, I feel on a daily basis a sense of mission, service and sacrifice. There’s a camaraderie of people coming together under God, having the same life scope and similar missions, in a very special and unique environment. There seems to be an anointing on this place.”

“From everyone here, I feel on a daily basis a sense of mission, service and sacrifice. There’s a camaraderie of people coming together under God, having the same life scope and similar missions, in a very special and unique environment.”

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Ro’s engineering path began as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota and continued at MIT, where he received both his Master’s degree and Ph.D. For his Master’s thesis at MIT, he built a robot from scratch, which was commercialized by Panasonic to assemble personal computer boards.

“I’m very proud of that experience,” Ro says. “Panasonic needed a robot to pick and place different chips at very high accuracy. The design of the robot arm link mechanism was very important, so I studied that and created a product, the Panarobo 600. That was my proudest moment.”

In more than three decades in higher education as both a student and faculty member, he also built a reputation as a leading scholar in areas such as robotics, electromechanics, control processes and energy harvesting and storage. Those experiences led to a fork in the road at North Carolina State six years ago. After 22 years in full-time teaching and research, he had the opportunity to become a more research-oriented faculty member. But, he felt a call towards administration and chose to accept the role of Associate Department Head and Director of Graduate Programs in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at NCSU. In that position, he developed a new perspective about the opportunities for faculty to support students.

“The move to administration was about making a greater impact on student lives,” Ro says. “I learned I could make a different kind of impact. I was in charge of funding for all graduate students, worked on broader departmental matters, and brought students into the department who enhanced the quality of our graduate program. Knowing that I could bring about change and growth at the department level motivated and invigorated me to take on perhaps a greater challenge.”

That challenge came at Baylor, where the vision of Pro Futuris spoke to his own values as a Christian and engineer. The subsequent road map to Pro Futuris’ aspirations, Illuminate, released after he had accepted the job, served as further confirmation of his sense that God had led him here for this unique time. With the charge to grow Mechanical Engineering’s graduate program and research output while continuing the excellence of the undergraduate program, Ro approaches leadership at Baylor with three phrases that are foundational to his leadership principles.

“I shared these at my first departmental meeting,” Ro says. “I didn’t know everything about Illuminate at that point, but I found out they are basic principles, foundational, in the plan.”

  1. Be truthful
  2. Be fruitful
  3. Be helpful

Be truthful: I want to honor Christ in all I do. Any relationship I’m in, being truthful is very important, which means being transparent as a leader. Being fruitful: we are here to be very productive, and I want to set that tone in terms of research and teaching and being part of a team that is already productive, but can become even more so. And, finally, being helpful: this is the essence of ministry, reaching other people with what we have rather than hording it. We have the ability to touch other people with the work we do.”

As Mechanical Engineering chair, the broad aspiration to be fruitful is focused on four concrete goals, which shape Ro’s priorities going forward: to triple the number of Ph.D. students in seven years, quadruple research expenditures in that time, grow the faculty from 10 to 19 and to add professors that bring expertise in niche areas from other universities. The fulfillment of these goals would dramatically enhance student opportunities in Mechanical Engineering, as well as grow the program’s influence and contributions to the field’s larger body of knowledge. Additionally, they would propel the University towards tier-one research status (R1).

“These are big goals, and I pray for God’s blessing as we pursue them,” Ro says. “But I know we can achieve them. This University can achieve R1 status. Baylor being who we are, we need to grow in these areas. Doing so, in Mechanical Engineering and across campus, will add greatly to the University mission.”

As he pursues those goals, Ro and his wife, Christine, are becoming a part of a new community at Baylor and in Central Texas. Heavily involved in mission work with refugees in North Carolina, they continue to seek new ways to serve. The parents of two grown daughters, Michelle, a pediatrician in California, and Pauline, a user-experience designer in Raleigh, Ro says they look forward to introducing family and friends to a place that has become very meaningful to them in just a short time.

“The Fall semester, my first here, I felt like I was drinking out of a fire hose,” Ro says,” but it’s been awesome. The people, the work we’re doing—I can proudly say this has been the best semester of my entire career, and I’m excited to see what God has ahead for us.”