Engineering & Design Chair Jeff Newcomer heading to new job this summer

Leaves lasting legacy after 25 years at WWU, including 11 years as department chair

Jeff Newcomer, chair of Western's Engineering & Design Department for the past 11 years and a professor of Manufacturing Engineering at the university for 25 years, will retire from Western with professor emeritus status to accept a new position in Denver, Colorado on Aug. 1.

Newcomer said he was originally drawn to teaching at Western back in 1998 because of the university's academic rigor.

“It looked to have strong academic programs — it did and still does — and Bellingham seemed like it would be a great place to live, which it has been,” he said.

Jeff Newcomer

Newcomer’s leadership also expanded across Western’s campus beyond his department; he held active roles as Faculty Senate president for a year, University Planning and Resources Council chair for six years, and Faculty Senate legislative liaison for two years. He also notably co-chaired a University Mission and Strategic Planning Committee and served on a Presidential Search Advisory Committee, as well as held numerous smaller positions in faculty governance over the years.

Of all his roles at Western, Newcomer said he is most proud of being part of the team that has helped the programs in ENGD continue to grow and improve.

“Probably the most significant event has been the switch to engineering programs from Engineering Technology, but the most important thing we’ve done is invest in the lower-division student experience and the establishment of the First-Year Programs Director position," he said, in reference to establishing Assistant Professor Jill Davishahl’s role as First-Year Programs director in the ENGD Department in the fall of 2018, whose teaching, service, and research is devoted to increasing equity, social engagement, and a sense of belonging for first-year students.

These goals are met through courses, training Student Engagement Liaisons, and by running the ENGD Makerspace — a welcoming student hub on Western’s campus that thrums with tools as such 3-D printers, laser cutters, and sewing machines, giving students a home base for collaborative projects and events.

“That investment has already had a huge, positive impact on the student experience,” Newcomer said, “And it will continue to do so for years to come.”

Newcomer said he is preparing for his next student-centered leadership role. Though Jeff is retiring from Western with professor emeritus status, his retirement will be short-lived, as he recently accepted the position of dean of the Metropolitan State University of Denver in August 2023. Newcomer will relocate to Denver along with his wife, WWU Physics & Astronomy Associate Professor Kristen Larson, and said he looks forward to the new challenges with becoming dean and MSU-Denver’s focus on student success.

Jeff's leadership of the Engineering & Design Department permitted our programs to flourish and for us as individuals to excel in our respective fields.

Arūnas Ošlapas

Newcomer said he felt fortunate to be part of the Western community.

“ENGD has a great group that has a long history of working well together to achieve the department’s mission, so it’s been a pleasure to be part of that team. I’ve also had the chance to work with a large number of great people on things outside of the department on all sorts of interesting problems,” he said. “We’re going to miss a lot of things about Western and Bellingham, but mostly we will miss the people.”

If you would like to offer your well wishes to Jeff Newcomer and Kristen Larson before their next chapter in Denver, please join the Engineering & Design Department and the Physics & Astronomy Department for a farewell gathering on the patio at B-Town Kitchen and Raw Bar at 14 Lakeway Dr. in Bellingham on Wednesday, May 31, from 4-6 p.m. 

Reflections on Newcomer's tenure at Western from his colleagues:

“Providing a short testimonial for a well-rounded leader like you, Jeff, is hard! Having had the privilege of working under your leadership for the past nine years since I joined WWU, I can confidently say that you are a genuinely fantastic leader, educator, and person! You profoundly impacted my career in many ways, and I am forever thankful for your guidance during this journey; I wish you all the best!” - Associate Professor Sura Al-Qudah, Manufacturing Engineering

“Jeff always has a wealth of information stored in his brain. From procedures to tasks to technical information – the man is amazing!” - Professor Nikki Larson, Polymer Materials Engineering

“Jeff has been a staunch ally for the ID program. Finding us resources, staff, a new faculty line and going to bat for us with the administration. He has been an excellent department chair in that way. He's also helped me make some difficult decisions and changes in our program, for the better.” - Professor Jason Morris, Industrial Design

“Thanks to Jeff for being such a steady hand in the numerous important transitions of the last 8 years. He will be greatly missed.” - Associate Professor Mark Peyron, Polymer Materials Engineering

“Jeff's leadership of the Engineering & Design Department permitted our programs to flourish and for us as individuals to excel in our respective fields. We always felt supported and acknowledged under his leadership. With Jeff's leaving, we will finally have a department chair who will wear socks!” - Professor Arūnas Ošlapas, Industrial Design

It’s been a privilege and honor to work with you, under your guidance and leadership. You made a profound difference to our office, department, and with our students.

Amy Lazzell

“Jeff’s numerous roles throughout WWU made him a valuable asset to the Engineering and Design department. Some of these include prominent roles such as chair of the university planning committee and faculty senate. Others are less glamorous but also important, like parking and the “fees and rates” committee. We appreciate it all!” - Professor Nikki Hoekstra, Polymer Materials Engineering

“It’s been a privilege and honor to work with you, under your guidance and leadership. You made a profound difference to our office, department, and with our students. You’re genuinely a caring person and a fabulous leader! I am forever thankful for giving me the opportunity to relocate from San Antonio to come on this adventure with you. You will be greatly missed! I wish you all the best!” - Administrative Services Manager Amy Lazzell, Engineering and Design Department

"Supportive mentor, strong advocate and wonderful colleague" - Associate Professor Tarek Algeddawy, Manufacturing Engineering

“We are thankful for all your years of service to the department. We wish you well on your future ventures — take care and have fun!” - Assistant Professor Jill Davishahl, First-Year Programs director, Engineering and Design Department

“Stay well and have fun!” - Professor Todd Morton, Electrical and Computer Engineering