dean

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost, discussed the goals he will have for the University when he takes office as president in June.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

As President William Powers Jr. prepares to step down, UT’s next president, Gregory Fenves, said his goals for the University center around addressing persistent issues, such as increasing access to research opportunities and engaging in more productive dialogue with the UT System Board of Regents.

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Fenves, executive vice president and provost, also said he hopes to explore issues of accessbility and affordability, closely echoing his predecessor.

Fenves said his initial goal will be to manage the cost of education, an issue Powers, UT System Chancellor William McRaven and previous chancellors and regents have acknowledged. 

“I think the most important issue that’s facing the University is, ‘How do we provide high quality education at a reasonable cost?’” Fenves said.

In an interview with The Daily Texan in April, Powers said the solution to affordability is not clear-cut. He said he was sure  that future administrations would continue to grapple with the issue.

“There’s no single bullet,” Powers said. “We just always keep trying [to operate the University] as efficiently and as high quality as you can.”

Fenves said one of his educational goals is to connect undergraduate and graduate students to campus research opportunities. 

“What I feel is the most important theme for education at the University of Texas is how we link our undergraduate education mission with our research mission,” Fenves said.

Fenves said his previous experiences as dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering and as provost have helped him form relationships with the regents and UT administrators.

“I can work with almost anybody, and I’ve had good working relationships with members of the board,” Fenves said. “In my current role as provost, and my previous role as dean, I’ve had a lot of interaction with them through the presidential search process and the selection process.”

One challenge preparing for the presidency poses is that issues and opportunities for change often remain unseen until one actually takes the position, according to former UT President Larry Faulkner.

“I don’t think any president should come in with a firm idea of what all [his or her] goals are,” Faulkner said. “I don’t think that you know enough until you’re in the job, what is really ripe, what are the best opportunities for the institution, and in fact, opportunities will appear while you’re serving.”

Faulkner said he would advise Fenves to take steps to learn more about the University but said Fenves is positioned differently than he was when he first came into the job.

“When I came in, I didn’t know the people, [and] I didn’t know the intricate issues facing the institution, and I had to learn about those,” Faulkner said. “Greg Fenves has been here for years now, and so he is more prepared on that scene than I was.”

Working with the state Legislature night pore a greater challenge for Fenves when he becomes president, Faulkner said.

“What I don’t think [Fenves] has had is an opportunity to talk to people in the state,” Faulkner said. “Even though Greg Fenves would have gotten some of that activity while he was dean and provost, it’s nothing like being president.”

Fenves said he has gained valuable experience working with the Legislature in previous roles at UT.

“I have considerable experience working with the Legislature,” Fenves said. “I’ve been working with the Legislature since soon after I joined the University of Texas. I think I’ve developed great relationships with many members. I understand the legislative process.”

After a months-long search for a new dean of the Moody College of Communication yielded no results, UT Provost and President-elect Gregory Fenves named Jay Bernhardt as interim dean Thursday. 

Bernhardt is currently a professor in the Department of Communication Studies and the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations. He helped launch the Center for Health Communication and serves as its director. Bernhardt will begin his position as interim dean on Sept. 1. 

Bernhardt said although he has been at UT for about a year, he is impressed with the talent of the students and faculty at the Moody College.

 “As interim dean, I plan to use my academic, government, and industry experience to make sure that Moody College continues on the path of excellence and leadership in all aspects of our teaching, research, practice, and production,” Bernhardt said in an email. 

The dean search committee initially brought three finalists to campus to interview for the position and also planned on interviewing a fourth candidate. According to an email Fenves sent in March, the fourth candidate, whose name administrators declined to provide, dropped from the search process. Fenves announced last week that he would continue the search for a permanent Moody dean. 

Barry Brummett, co-chair of the dean search committee and communication studies professor, said the provost made the ultimate decision to continue the search.  

 “The considerations for the new dean continue to be what they were — that we want the best candidate in the country,” Brummett said. “We are actively recruiting applications.”    

Bernhardt will temporarily replace current Moody Dean Roderick Hart, who has spent more than 10 years in the position. Hart announced his resignation in August 2014 and will step down from his position in May.

Hart said he was influential in recruiting Bernhardt from his position of chair of the Department of Health Education and Behavior at the University of Florida.

“This is someone I have great, great regard for,” Hart said. “I’m glad we were able to get someone of his caliber.”

Bernhardt said he was honored the provost selected him to be interim dean and said he is going to work to that standard.

“My main goal is to be a great listener and spend time with people at every level and from every unit throughout the college and do what I can to help them to be successful in their work and their studies,” Bernhardt said.  

Fenves said the search committee will continue looking for a new dean of the Moody College during Bernhardt’s term.

Judith Langlois will serve as interim provost

UT President William Powers Jr. announced an interim replacement for Gregory Fenves, provost and executive vice president, who was named UT’s next president earlier this week.

Judith Langlois, senior vice provost and dean of undergraduate studies, will serve in the interim provost and executive vice president, while administrators conduct a search for a permanent replacement, according to an email sent by Powers to students, faculty and staff. Langlois will assume the position May 26.

Langlois has served as associate dean and interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and also served as chair of the Presidential Committee on the Status of Non-Tenure Faculty.

In the email announcement, Powers said the search for a permenant replacement for Fenves will begin immediately.

Fenves will begin his term as president June 3.

Photo courtesy of Marsha Miller.

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of Q-and-A’s with UT’s deans. Manuel J. Justiz is dean of the College of Education. He assumed the position in 1990.

Daily Texan: Could you start off by telling us about the most interesting projects going on in the College of Education? 

Dean Justiz: We are the largest college of education in the country in size. We are a non-traditional school, meaning that we are very performance-based with a heavy emphasis on student performance and research. If you look at our national rankings, we were ranked  number one among publics for four years in a row. We have been ranked number one in research expenditures among public and private [universities] for five or six years. We place heavy emphasis on being interdisciplinary. 

We are cofounders of the UTeach program within the Natural Sciences [college] preparing math and science teachers. We’re also cofounders with Cockrell [School of Engineering] on UTeach engineering. Those are examples of some collaborative efforts. We took the lead with Governor Richards on STEM initiatives. At her request, we developed the only proposal for the entire state on STEM education. We’re working with Governor Abbott’s office on their current education initiative. Internally, we have the Office of Educational Research to improve the participation of faculty, and we have the third highest research expenditure at the University, which is strange for a college of education. It’s a very large college with a comprehensive mission, but we are very proud. 

DT: What percentage of undergrad students go into graduate school immediately versus going into teaching? 

Justiz: Our undergraduate population are the ones wanting to be teachers. Probably 85-90 percent of undergrads go on to teach. The rest are going to graduate school. We have 100 percent job placement and have a 100 percent pass rate in our Teacher Certification Exam. I think a lot of our graduates will come back after a few years for graduate programs.  

DT: You are the first dean we’ve talked to that has mentioned working with gubernatorial administrations. Is that something the college tries to initiate or do those different administrations reach out to you? 

Justiz: They reach out to us. I think that speaks to how well regarded the college is. I’ve been here 25 years, I’m the senior dean at UT. When I came here, the first initiative we had came from Governor Richards, with whom I traveled extensively and visited schools. She chose our STEM proposal to send to a federal level. We’re being asked to take the lead on Governor Abbott’s initiative. We don’t look inward, we look outward.  

DT: What brought you to UT and what are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your time here? 

Justiz: When I was selected in a national search for a dean, I had been in a subcabinet post heading up the Research Agency in Education in Washington. I came to UT because it was a great opportunity. I fell in love with Austin and UT. It has been a great privilege for me to be a dean at the university. 

When I came, the college was under review. There were questions about academic integrity and the quality of our degrees. I felt this place could only go up. It was a low-risk situation. If I could build a team of people with the same vision, I knew I could improve the college and help it fulfill its promise. It is a work in progress, there are still problems and we need to make sure the leadership team is always working together. I’ve probably hired 92 percent of the college faculty by now.  

DT: Have you seen any changes in the types of students coming into the college? 

Justiz: When we started, most of our graduates were going into teacher education. Kinesiology has grown. Less people are going into teacher education and more into the health sciences.That isn’t so different from the rest of the university.  

DT: How large of a role does diversity play in your college? 

Justiz: Anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of minority graduates at UT graduate with a degree in education, and we have a strong, diverse faculty. In fact, I was the first minority dean in the history of the university.  

DT: What do you think will be the next big change in education? 

Justiz: We’ve been talking about creating a unique marriage between pedagogy and content in education through gaming. How do we bring the best facets of gaming to teaching and learning? How do we build that into a challenging curriculum that really engages you? How do you bring these practices in without compromising the integrity of the content? We think we need a public-private partnership to do this, but those are the kind of discussions we are having.  

Photo Credit: Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin | Daily Texan Staff

Sharon Wood, the dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering, was elected president of the American Concrete Institute last week.

ACI is a nonprofit company dedicated to spreading educational resources about concrete and providing expertise for construction projects. Wood said she decided to run for president because the position provides the opportunity to influence the future of the entire institute.

“My primary objectives are to increase the value of ACI membership and define the relevance of ACI within a competitive, global concrete community,” Wood said.

Wood said she initially joined ACI because the organization aligned most closely with her research interests. 

Wood has previously held multiple leadership roles within ACI, including chair of the Technical Activities Committee and International Advisory Committee. Wood said she believes her past positions in ACI have prepared her for the president position.

“Serving as a technical committee chair and guiding the consensus process in developing technical documents taught me to listen to people who did not share my opinion and to compromise,” Wood said. “Listening and compromising are essential qualities for serving as president.

Although her presidency will prove to be demanding, Wood will retain her position as the dean of the engineering school.

“Balancing the roles of dean and president will certainly be a challenge,” Wood said. “I will schedule my international travel during the summer or between semesters, and I may not be able to accept all the invitations that I receive.”

Tedmund Chua, public health junior and president of the Gamma Beta fraternity chapter at UT, said he believes presidents need to promote a combination of stability and change in order to be effective. 

“An effective president at any level, whether it be for a club or an entire university, has a certain drive and motivation to change the organization for the better,” Chua said. “An effective president also realizes that changing certain systems just for the sake of change will usually have negative consequences.”

Photo courtesy of Kim Willis.

Editor’s Note: This interview is part of a series of Q-and-A’s with the University’s deans. Linda Hicke has been dean of the College of Natural Sciences, which has the largest enrollment of any college on campus, since 2012. This interview has been edited and condensed. 

DT: Could you start by telling us about the college generally... what sort of students it attracts and what sorts of projects it has going on? 

Linda Hicke: One of the things we’ve done recently is start the CNS Cornerstone, and that’s built on some of the other small communities that we had already happening in the college. Right now all incoming freshmen are part of a 20-person Cornerstone unit where they have faculty or an adviser working with every unit and also a peer advisor. They break down into communities of about 20 students and take a lot of the same classes with them, and we think that’s going to start to provide a strong sense of community and help the success of those students, particularly those who come from smaller, more rural backgrounds.     

One of the things I’m always very excited about is the Freshman Research Initiative. I always say that when I am reincarnated, I want to come back to UT as a freshman and be a part of the Freshman Research Initiative because it’s something that gets freshmen involved in exploring in the sciences and investigating independent research problems right off the bat before they have to memorize or learn a lot of content. It tends to get students really engaged in the sciences and keep them interested. 

DT:  Last semester there were a lot of concerns, especially among physics graduate students, about TA positions being cut. What’s happened since then? 

Hicke: Finances are tight across the University. Having said that, we are looking very carefully at the courses we offer so that the undergraduates are getting the courses they need to graduate… That’s our highest priority in terms of offering courses. The graduate support, the TA support has to align with what we need in our undergraduate education courses. What we’ve been doing is trying to again, look at the TA allocations not from the perspective of, “This is a good way to finance the graduate program,” but “This is what we need to support our undergraduate classes.” We have been working with graduate programs to find different ways of providing the financial support that graduate students need so that we can decouple the graduate students as this body that we need for teaching and supporting TAs from the optimal graduate student training experience.

DT: Could you say more about how you’re achieving these changes for graduate students? 

Hicke: There have been new sources of money that have been put into graduate student support. A lot of our programs are looking at how they can raise the stipends for their graduate students and keep the TAing so that graduate students have some semesters where they don’t need to TA and can concentrate on their research. In some cases that means that graduate programs are deciding to somewhat shrink the size of their graduate programs so that they can have fewer students but students that are supported at a higher level and in a better way. 

DT: How important do you find fundraising to be? And how much is that a part of your job? 

Hicke: Super important, obviously. I would say I spend 20 to 25 percent of my time doing that, and we have a very robust and active development and external relations office in our college that has been doing great … It’s a very important part of being a dean, and it’s great not just for raising funds, but to have people understand and appreciate what is happening at the University of Texas. 

DT: What does an average day look like for you?  

Hicke: Today, for instance, I came in and composed an email letting everyone know we are raising our TA stipend, which is part of our initiative to support graduate students. I then went to the Women in Natural Sciences Group about what it’s like to be a woman and have a career in the sciences and how did I get where I am. I’m visiting you guys … Being dean, you have to pivot about once every hour to focus on something different. There isn’t an average day. On any day, I would say I interact with students, faculty, external friends and donors, president, provost, other deans. 

DT: How do you balance the competing interests of all the different stakeholders in the college? 

Hicke: The hardest part is saying no, not because there are programs here that aren’t of good quality or good ideas, it’s that there are too many good ideas and too many great programs and we can’t do them all… In terms of balancing, when we did strategic planning, we got together as a college and decided what our priorities would be. I have a copy of that on my desk and it’s very well thumbed. When I’m deciding how to allocated resources, where to put time and attention, I pretty much go back to that and refer to that … I try to stick pretty closely to what the college believes it’s mission and values are for the next couple of years. 

The three things we consider to be our prime objectives are: providing optimal training for future scientists and mathematicians, making sure we are discovering new knowledge that is high-impact and ensuring that we are communicating the impact of what we are doing. Part of our strategic plan has a large communication component to it because it’s really important for us to make sure that Texas, the nation and the world understand not only how cool science is but why what we are doing is important. 

DT: The college has had trouble in the past attracting a diverse faculty. Why?

Hicke: The biggest problem is there aren’t very many folks who are coming through with Ph.D.s in the sciences who, for instance, are of African-American or Hispanic descent. It’s possible to hire people with diverse backgrounds, but it’s hard to identify them as part of the candidate pool — they’re  such a small, tiny fraction. It requires the work of search committees and faculties tobe out calling their colleagues…You can’t just sit there and wait for the applications to come in. You have to actively go out and identify candidates…It’s mostly getting people behind the fact that this is something that’s a good thing to do and we need to do and be willing to do the extra work.  

Photo Credit: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

Internet surveillance is inevitable and sometimes beneficial, but use of informatiion gathered through servailance must be regulated, according to a lecturer Thursday at the 14th Annual sequels Symposium.

Jeremy Dean, a former education czar at Rap Genius, spoke about the benefits and dangers of internet surveillance the symposium, an annual event sponsored by the Ethnic and Third World Literatures specialization in the department of English. Rap Genius is a community-edited website, similar to Wikipedia, that allows users to annotate hip hop lyrics and other texts.

Internet surveillance can  be beneficial for companies because it can allow them to gather information about potential customers and adjust products to suit their needs, according to Dean.

“The surveillance and transformation of data into useful information is part of the revolution of the Internet,” Dean said.

However, Dean said Internet surveillance can also have negative effects, such as gathering personal information without an individual's consent. He compared the Internet to the Panopticon, a building designed so the interior of all rooms are visible from a single, central point.

“There is a line of state and corporate surveillance that we should resist,” Dean said.

Companies gather information from their users and are often able to sell this information to advertisers, according to Dean.

“The Internet tracks our every move as we browse their sites for free,” Dean said. “We are not the customers of Facebook; we are the product.”

Surveillance as a tool of knowledge distribution and as a tool of knowledge control utilizes the same underlying technology and often comes from the same companies, according to Dean.

“Companies such as Amazon organize information for us as they access information about us,” Dean said.

Jessica Egan, English graduate student and assistant instructor in the department of rhetoric, says she sees the possibility for learning as well as for harm.

“I think collaborative editing is exciting, productive and interesting,” Egan said. “But it is interesting to see the potential dark side of that. This surveillance culture is sort of feeding this capitalist system rather than being a way to challenge it,”

English graduate student Lauren Grewe said surveillance is a hot issue for some activists, but she does not see surveillance as a significant interference to her online activities.

“Online surveillance concerns me, but it doesn’t interrupt my life,” Grewe said.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of Q-and-A’s with UT’s deans. Randy L. Diehl is dean of the College of Liberal Arts. He assumed the position in 2007.

The Daily Texan: Can you tell us what the most exciting projects are in the college right now? 

Randy Diehl: Right now we are working on an initiative that will take about five years to recruit truly outstanding faculty. This is an initiative that has been made possible by funding, from the provost and the president, and it’s targeted at a relatively small number of departments that are considered priorities — history, English, philosophy, government, economics and psychology. Our entire mission, the main components of our mission — teaching, research and community engagement — really depend on attracting top faculty. By attracting great faculty, you can attract other great faculty, great students. It’s what allows us to provide really high-quality graduate and undergraduate teaching. 

DT: As some of us are students of the college ourselves, we are sometimes a little overwhelmed by the size of the administration and how many different people there are that you have to communicate with. Can you explain to us what you do as dean? 

Diehl: Well, to be honest, I spend a lot of my time with people. I spend the better part of my day in meetings. These are individual meetings with my top staff, ad hoc meetings that are requested by department chairs or groups of people. I meet with each of my associate deans…I also spend a lot of time in the provost’s office or the president’s office. I meet with other deans. A big chunk of my time is devoted to development, and that is talking to friends of the college, alumni, prospective donors. 

I spend a lot of time on the road meeting folks who are friends of the college. I would estimate that about 30 to 40 percent of my time is devoted to development — raising the kind of funds we need to build excellence in the college. My job, really, is to work with my colleagues, both in the college and in the Tower, to build excellence in every aspect of our mission. It is what I think of when I wake up. I do very little that is purely bureaucratic. Mostly what I’m doing is working on major strategic issues.  

DT: Is it likely at this point that future cohorts of TAs and AIs will be smaller? [Editor’s Note: Since this interview was conducted, a special task force has released its report on the state of TAs and AIs in the college.] 

Diehl: They may be a bit smaller. I will be honest: We reduced our cohort size starting at the beginning of the downturn. For us, that was in 2009. Our cohort sizes and our total number of graduate students have gone down by around 21 percent since 2009. I think we can’t go too much further in terms of reducing graduate cohort size. In some programs, if we were to go further, it would actually damage the program. They would be below the critical mass they need to actually have a viable graduate program. In the longer term, as new money becomes available, we may be looking toward an infusion of new, recurring money. That money will be used in a number of ways. It will be used to hire great faculty, to restore the size of our faculty to earlier numbers.

DT: On the issue of graduate student stipends: One of the ways to increase those would be to decrease the size of future cohorts, right?  

 

Diehl: Yeah. And in 2009 we were already experiencing a loss of competitiveness in the size of our graduate stipends. I came up with a plan right before the downturn. To help pay for that, we reduced the size of what is called our soft money budget, which helps to pay TAs, AIs and lecturers. We had no choice. But before that, I had come up with a plan to enhance the competitiveness of our stipend by modestly reducing our cohort size. We see the reduction in graduate cohort size as temporary, or at least a component of it as temporary. And then we’ll come back when we have some new money.  

DT: Will you talk a little bit about how the shared services model works? 

Diehl: It works extremely well. The idea was we aren’t forcing anyone to go to shared services, it was voluntary. I have never gotten a complaint from anybody about the quality of the shared services operation. Instead, I’ve gotten nothing but, “Wow, this is so much better than when we had so and so doing this.” The turnaround time on reimbursements, the reduction in simple errors that required the paperwork be reprocessed... it’s really helped the department. 

The way we do it is when we save money — and we do save money — we divide that money between the college and the unit. Typically, the college gets more of the savings than the unit does. It varies a little bit. We’ve done 50-50 divisions in a couple of cases where it was warranted. Otherwise, one-third goes to the unit or the center or the department, and two-thirds goes to the college to pay for the staff that are required for the central business office, or go to pay for other aspects of the college mission. What we’ve found is that the quality of service is higher than it was before, and we are saving money.  

DT: Will you talk about the new geography building and what will be happening there? 

Diehl: The building will have a different name. Right now it’s black studies and Mexican-American studies. That’s what’s going to be housed there. Both black studies and Latino studies would not have happened, either as departments or as research institutes, without the incredible support of Bill Powers, with full support from the dean and the faculty. He made the funds available to go out and get a new faculty and support research. This campus now would be viewed nationally, internationally, as one of the centers for ethnic studies, particularly black studies and Latino studies. 

DT: How do you respond to critics’ claims that the College of Liberal Arts here, and its counterparts at other universities, don’t adequately prepare students for today’s workforce?  

Diehl: It’s nonsense. The marketable skills we provide our students are at the very core of a liberal arts education. I am talking about critical thinking, the ability to write coherently, the ability to speak, the ability to understand how we got to where we are as a society; in other words, to understand enough history, enough of the humanities to understand our culture, to understand our international culture. It is no surprise that a majority of CEOs, when surveyed, will say they are looking for, in terms of hiring, not so much technical skills but the kind of skills that liberal art majors bring to the table. 

Photo courtesy of the School of Information.

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of Q-and-A’s with UT’s deans. Andrew Dillon has served as dean of the School of Information, formerly the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, since 2002. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

The Daily Texan: The majority of people probably are not familiar with what this School of Information actually does. In your own words, can you explain what the school does and what it is centered around?

Andrew Dillon: We are centered around understanding the role of information in all human endeavors, but we are particularly concerned with examining that from a human and social aspect…We are very concerned with what’s being created in terms of a world infrastructure built around practices, orientation, behaviors, habits, people in effect and what they’re doing to the world in creating this new infrastructure. 

DT: What are the most exciting things going on at the iSchool right now?

Dillon: I would say generally it’s the faculty. We’ve assembled a very diverse intellectual group. There’s 22 faculty. You’ve got 13 different Ph.D.s. We’ve got people from anthropology, psychology, computer science, engineering, library information sciences, the humanities, philosophy. So you put all these people together and it’s a very unusual mix of talent…

DT: You were formerly dean of what was then called the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Since then, obviously, the school has undergone a number of transformations in terms of its focus. How have you managed that transition?

Dillon: Gently, I’d like to think. It’s part of a broader, now international sweep that you saw happen in the late ‘90s and early part of the century. Professional schools, particularly in the librarianship and information science area, traditionally understood and recognized that the world was changing rapidly… Schools started to recognize that there was a potential for thinking about information differently, so Michigan, ourselves and Washington all changed our names to School of Information and we have traditionally [been called] graduate schools of library information sciences… It’s grown now to more than 50 of us around the world under the Information School banner.

DT: What sort of careers do graduates go into?

Dillon: Historically, it would have been librarianship, archives, museum education. That percentage has dropped considerably. Looking at our current employment information, less than 50 percent is in the more traditional, what we call the collection agencies. That employment sector is still there but it’s a smaller space for our students now. Industry, the commercial sector, the research organizations, the other 50 percent… we have this incredibly long tail. Lots of people have these odd job titles that are unique to them… these sorts of titles were created by the organization that’s hired them in. In essence, what most of those people are doing is serving as some sort of information broker and organizer within a company.

DT: What benefits come from being the smallest school on campus? And then also, what challenges arise?

Dillon: There are some advantages to small, which are very tangible. We have faculty meetings once a month… I have tea with the students every semester. I know all of the students… In that sense, the camaraderie and the sense of community is great. There is an informality that comes with the size that is tremendously advantageous…When you ask for the other side of it… by being small, we feel that we are not as well known… student recognition of us as an entity on campus is a lot lower because there are fewer of us going around. Budgetarily, especially as a specialized graduate program, we don’t have a role to play in the predominantly undergraduate-driven agenda.

DT: How do you keep students from feeling isolated from the rest of the University?

Dillon: If you come to the iSchool, you are physically present with people regularly in a confined space. If we were distributed around campus, I’m not sure we would have the same sense of identity in that way…We bring a lot of professionals in, we have a lot of open forums. There’s a commitment generally to creating that sense of partnership and community.

DT: Can you explain the importance of the capstone project here?

Dillon: Aye! That’s part of our master’s program requirements. The goal of the capstone is to say to employers and to allow students to say to employers, “Look, I’ve got a workable, real-world example of what I can do.” The idea of the capstone is to culminate the coursework you’ve done to date in a project… It becomes a very tangible, demonstrable quality to their education.

DT: Is there anything else you would like students to know about the iSchool?

Dillon: Know that if you have a skill set in the humanities or liberal arts and you feel overwhelmed by technology but are interested in it at the same time, this is absolutely the program for you. We take people with almost zero computational skill and turn them into information professionals. If you are willing to work, we can do it.

Jackson School of Geosciences Dean Sharon Mosher

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of Q-and-A’s with UT’s deans. This interview has been edited and condensed. Sharon Mosher has been dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences since 2009.

The Daily Texan: Can you tell us a little bit about the school and some of the interesting projects going on right now?

Sharon Mosher: A little bit about the school:  We have one academic department and two major research units. Two-thirds of our school are research scientists. One-third are faculty and students. We are the largest academic geoscience program in the country. We graduate the most geoscience students at every level. We work on everything from the core to the atmosphere and also the planet. We work to increase students’ knowledge. We get them involved in internships so they can see what practicing geoscientists do. We even involve undergraduate students in research projects. By doing research, they learn how to solve problems and think quickly. We have a lot different projects going on. A lot of people working on the Texas drought. Everything from soil, soil moisture, interaction between land surface and atmosphere, rivers and river flow. We have large programs in Antarctica and also in Greenland.

DT: Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of the school?

Mosher: [Geologist and philanthropist] Jack Jackson bequeathed his estate to UT — it was worth $241 million then. He felt very strongly about two things. One was the importance of geoscience in terms of understanding energy, water, minerals and resources in the environment. The other thing  he felt strongly about was UT. In particular, it bothered him that UT’s geoscientists were spread out across several units. We didn’t report to the same people and interact. He felt like we were less than the sum of our parts and that if he could get us to become a school and work together, we could do amazing things. That’s the reason he donated the money.

DT: What is your primary goal for the school?

Mosher: My goal is to have the Jackson School be the best it can be. Or the best in geoscience education. And to have a school where people from different units work well together,  a school that is pushing the frontier of science but also very community based that can help the students meet their potential. We are asked to try to build a national community for future geoscience undergraduate education. 

DT: What is your greatest challenge as dean?

Mosher: The whole University is in severe financial straits at the moment. So one big challenge is to keep everything moving forward in a positive way and yet have less budget every year. Since we became a school, we doubled the size of the faculty, and we also doubled the size of each of the research units. We hire extremely collaborative, interdisciplinary people. My other biggest challenge is keeping other universities from stealing my staff and faculty away from me.

DT: Speaking of the shrinking state budget, do you find you have to fundraise more than you used to?

Mosher: I always fundraise. As of July I will have been dean for six years. Every year I have been dean, I have had to cut my budget. I fundraise all the time. I spend at least two days out of every month out raising funds. Some months more. 

DT: What do most students do after graduating?

Mosher: It depends on if they are undergraduate or graduate students. A large percentage of undergraduate students go to graduate school. Up until this year, with the oil boom, a lot of the undergrads went directly into industry, working mostly for surface companies but also in environmental consulting and for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, different state agencies and the U.S. Geological Survey. Sixty to 70 percent of master’s students will go into energy. A small fraction will go into environmental consulting. The rest will go on for Ph.D.s. 

DT: Is there anything else you want students to know about the school?

Mosher: Two things. One thing in particular that makes us unique is that we are field-intensive. We make sure our students have the opportunity to go out not just locally, but internationally and really see geology. And we do that both at the undergrad and graduate level. That’s a really important part of their education. The other emphasis is students doing research. It’s a very vibrant and intellectually stimulating place.