- By Tom Weaver
The Green / Just Three Questions
Antonio Cepeda-Benito joined the university in July as new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He comes to UVM from Texas A&M University, where he built his academic career over the past eighteen years as a professor of psychology and an administrator, most recently in the role of dean of faculties and associate provost. As a researcher, he connects the disciplines of behavioral neuroscience and clinical psychology to investigate drug addiction and eating disorders. Cepeda-Benito was named one of the “Top 100 Most Influential Hispanics” by Hispanic Business Magazine, and is the recipient of a number of awards at Texas A&M, including Psychology Teacher of the Year, Academic Inspiration Award, and multiple diversity service awards.
Q. Could you describe your vision for students and faculty in your college?
A. I have high expectations for UVM and I want to become known as a place where you can get a liberal arts education that is second to none. I want our students dreaming big and wanting to do something for the benefit of humanity because of the inspiration and the skills they get here. So I want to incentivize faculty to create high-impact learning opportunities: students working in groups outside the classroom, involved in service learning, engaged in research, studying abroad—all these things that we know makes learning a deeper and more pleasurable experience.
UVM believes in the scholar-teacher, the assumption that if you are research-active (and I include areas like the performing arts), then you are going to offer a teaching experience that adds value because you are engaged in that creative dissemination process. I want to make sure that we not only say that but we can demonstrate that, and the place to start is by being at the forefront of scholarship, discovering and contributing to the advancement of knowledge so that the rest of the world is looking and noticing us.
Q. We’ve heard you have ideas about working to break down some of the walls between academic areas. Can you talk about that?
A. In terms of teaching, one of the things that we’re going to do is encourage faculty to create new curriculum or enhance already existing courses with interdisciplinary experiences. And the same with research. I will find ways to encourage faculty to work with investigators from other disciplines. Some may be very good within the college because we are so diverse and we have so many departments. I truly believe that we are moving into an era where problems are better addressed when you take into consideration many different perspectives, and you tackle problems with integrated solutions.
Q. It sounds like the ALANA U.S. Ethnic Studies Program is a priority for you. What are you thinking about that?
A. It fulfills a very important role within our curriculum. Our students need to learn about group identity and how it impacts day-to-day life, how it permeates every aspect of what we do, be it politics, economics, labor, health, entertainment, you name it. So race relations is a very important part of this country and now, I think, every other country because globalization has basically made societies more heterogeneous than ever before. I came from a very homogenous society in Spain, but in the twenty-first century it’s no longer that way. Much of its population is from South America, Africa, and Eastern Europe. Students need access to courses taught by a diverse cadre of faculty with different worldviews because where we come from influences the way we teach—there’s no way around it. I think that’s a good experience for everyone.