Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Visiting URI - West (Montana State University)

As I wrote this a few weeks ago, Lynn and I were flying to Minneapolis, on our way back to Rhode Island from Montana. It was a great visit to a great place and a great university, but we were happy to be headed home. As some of you know, I’ll be making regular visits to Montana State University because my research group is still located there and working hard on the continuing projects funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. My group was very supportive of the move to URI and continues to be very productive. I’ve included some pictures of them and my laboratory at MSU. Working with my research group is always energizing, frequently exhilarating, and invariably rewarding. I continue to learn a lot from them. Those pictured are (starting top left) are: Fumi Ijima; Koyu Fujita; Doreen Brown; Kim Hilmer; and Dalia Rokhsana and Alta Howells. Not pictured: John Bollinger

Teaching and research have been an important part of my life since I was an undergraduate at UCSD. In fact, the initial attraction for me to become a professor began at UCSD when I was engaged in both undergraduate research and served as a teaching assistant for a first-year laboratory in chemistry. I learned more in those settings than I did in many of my formal courses – even though those courses were taught so well and were superb learning experiences in their own right. But working on problems, or investigating phenomena, for which no one has the answer or an explanation, and developing strategies for teaching others what you think you understand, provide opportunities for learning that simply cannot be attained any other way. In brief, my undergraduate research and teaching experiences gave me the motivation and momentum for an academic career that ultimately led to my appointment as the 11th President of the University of Rhode Island. Who would have thought? Not me, certainly, but the value and impact of those experiences remain real to me every day. That is one reason why I am so passionate about expanding or creating such opportunities for our students here at URI.

I was also fortunate to attend graduate school at Caltech – one of the nation’s premier research universities. Of course, Caltech has a highly distinguished faculty and first-rate facilities. More than that, Caltech has a very student-centered culture – as a graduate student in chemistry, it was abundantly evident that the faculty regarded students as colleagues and cared deeply about our success. Caltech also had low, or nonexistent, barriers to interdisciplinary research and collaboration. As a consequence Caltech earned a very well-deserved reputation for innovative research. These are some of the reasons why I am interested in expanding interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary graduate education and research at URI, and building a strong, student-centered culture for both undergraduate and graduate education.

The economic climate creates many difficulties and challenges for URI, as it does for the great majority of universities and colleges across the country. But we can still succeed at building a culture centered on the success of our students, at creating more opportunities for undergraduates to be engaged in research and creative work, and in facilitating interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary scholarship and learning.