Back to the Future: State of the College 2008
Dean, College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences
The year was 1896. UVM President Matthew H. Buckham, traveling though England and Scotland, delivered a lecture at Oxford University.
When he was introduced to one of the Oxford dons as the president of UVM, the don responded, “I have been there. I have traveled extensively in the various parts of the world, and I have seen many beautiful places, but there is only one view I have ever seen that is finer than the western view from the tower of the University of Vermont.”
President Buckham in a delighted tone of voice asked, “I should like to know what the other view is.” “Well,” the don replied, “it is the eastern view from the tower of the University of Vermont.”
As has become custom on this beautiful campus, today we join together to celebrate the progress and accomplishments of our distinguished College, to reaffirm our collective purpose, and to look to the east, west, north and south — as well as to the future: a future that presents both challenges and great potential rewards.
For that future, we remain dedicated to:
“A Curriculum design to promote intellectual rigor and original thinking and to integrate the entire curriculum into a coherent whole.”
These words, timely for our efforts to transform interdisciplinary curricula for science and engineering today, were actually conceived for UVM almost two hundred years ago by its president, James Marsh. Marsh’s writings of his era inspired not only UVM’s own John Dewey but also such inspirational and intellectual leaders as Emerson and Thoreau. And the words continue to inspire us today as we — the inheritors of this great and beautiful University — carry on the responsibility of living up to his challenge of integrating our College curriculum, one based on excellence in technology, engineering, science, and math — with holistic approaches to problem formulation and solution.
It is in this spirit that we want our computer science, mathematics, statistics, and engineering students to use their time at UVM to also explore the humanities, languages, arts, communication, design, and collaboration across disciplines.
This is how we will prepare our University of Vermont students to tackle the most pressing and critical issues of our time, from energy security to environmental quality. They are the ones who will inherit our rapidly changing, technology-rich world of new ideas flying at Internet and cell phone speeds from one side of the earth to the other to their colleagues and competitors.
To quote from the National Academy of Engineering, in a report just as relevant to mathematicians and scientists across the U.S., we need to ensure our students are not “learning disciplinary technical subjects to the exclusion of a selection of humanities, economics, political science, language, and/or interdisciplinary technical subjects.”
And in the words of Daniel Pink, a writer sought for his insight around the world and author of A Whole New Mind: “The era of left brain [sequential, logical, deterministic] dominance is giving way to a new world in which artistic and holistic right-brain abilities mark the fault-line between who gets ahead and who falls behind.”
One of the fulfilling roles of Dean is that I travel often to visit with alums of this College and speak with academic, business, and government leaders.
I let them know of all we are trying to do — from expanding the undergraduate curriculum holistically to creating a Spire of Excellence in complex systems: an emerging, computationally-intensive field that has the potential to bring engineering, computer science, math and statistics, and the humanities together in new and valuable ways.
The people I meet on these visits — entrepreneurs, established business leaders, decision-makers, international colleagues — are all impressed with what is happening in our College. They know that we — in the true spirit of our UVM predecessors Buckham and Marsh — are helping to ensure UVM and our College give students the education of the future. Not the past.
Our ability to do that is the measure of our success.