Dean’s Columns: Fall 2014

September

For about the past year, we’ve been working with the folks at OH WOW! to help bring 7 Days of STEM to the Youngstown community. Next week is chock full of activities highlighting STEM opportunities. There will be activities for people of all ages, and the STEM College will be directly involved in a number of these events.

Monday night is STEM Trivia Night, hosted by yours truly. I’m looking forward to seeing the questions and hearing the answers. It should be a great night as we enjoy good company and pretend to be with the cool kids. I’m especially interested in the second round — STEM fails. Curious what we’ll get. This would be a great time to get a group of friends together, enjoy some company, and show off your knowledge of STEM trivia.

On Tuesday, we are hosting YSU alumnus Tom Serenko, who will be presenting a lecture on the Geology and History of the Utica/Point Pleasant Shale. His talk will discuss the development of Ohio’s oil resources through time and provide a geology perspective of oil shale development. Following the presentation, we will have our Smith Mineral Museum open for tours, and some light refreshments in the Moser lobby for folks just wanting to hang out.

The fun continues later in the week, with our STEM Student for a Day event. We’ll welcome high school seniors to YSU, where they’ll get to spend the day shadowing one of our STEM students, seeing what it would be like if they were to enroll at YSU. This is going to be a great opportunity for prospective STEMians to attend a real college class, eat on campus, participate in a study session, and otherwise see what the future will hold. We’re looking forward to meeting our future freshmen.

Saturday features the FIRST robotics regional competition, hosted at Austintown Fitch. YSU will be there, as students and faculty participates as judges and supporters. You have the opportunity to come out and see these student-built machines as they are put through their paces.

Finally, Sunday brings us Silly Science Sunday, where the excitement of OH WOW! spills out into the streets of Youngstown. The STEM College will once again participate with our own tent, bringing out a range of hands-on activities for children of all ages. The participation is extremely robust this year, and the event is free, so there’s no reason not to come downtown and see what’s going on. There will be several demonstrations throughout the day as well, and once again we will experience the thrill of exploding watermelons. I hear that OH WOW! has adapted some of the methods we discovered last month at our Break the Ice event, so look for exciting explosions.

This is going to be a great week to celebrate all things STEM. Make it a point to get out and participate in something. You won’t have this range of choices again until next year. Looking forward to seeing you around our new STEM Festival!

August

What’s an August newsletter without a welcome from the Dean to all of our new faculty, students, and staff, and a welcome back to all of the folks returning for another exciting year? We’ve got a long list of folks that I would like to welcome.

First and foremost, I want to welcome our new President, Mr. Jim Tressel. He brings with him a new energy and a renewed spirit. Over the past several months, he and his wife Ellen have hosted many events in which I have been fortunate to participate: a reception for staff, a reception for faculty, welcome events for students, and more. I have probably been to the Pollock House at least a half dozen times over the past two months to meet with faculty, staff, students, and YSU friends. This has really created a new feeling of community for me that I hope will help us to all work better together for the good of the University.

As we did last year, we added two new chairs for this semester. Prof. Anwar Islam has been selected as the new chair of the Department of Civil/Environmental and Chemical Engineering, following Scott Martin’s retirement. Tim Wagner has taken over as chair in chemistry from Daryl Mincey, who has also retired. Both Dr. Martin and Dr. Mincey will be returning in September to begin an extended teaching service. We are looking forward to seeing Dr. Mincey at many of the college’s activities, who will no doubt get to fill-in for Tim when he’s unavailable (after all, turnabout is fair play).

We were fortunate to be able to hire eight new faculty for the STEM College this year, as well; seven of whom are full-time tenure-track. There are three in the Mathematics Department who will help us to replace the five faculty that have recently retired; and two in Mechanical Engineering that we hope will expand our research activities and replace other recently retired individuals.

Finally, speaking of students, I want to welcome all of the returning students back to campus, and all of the new students into our community. Although our enrollment is somewhat down, we now have the highest quality, which based on entering metrics, has ever been seen at YSU. We have some tremendous new and continuing opportunities for all our students over the next nine months. First on the schedule is the 7 Days of STEM Festival that we have collaborated with the Children’s Center in organizing. With our STEM alumni lecture on September 16th, featuring State Geologist and YSU graduate Tom Serenko, the STEM Student for a Day on the 19th, and of course Silly Science Sunday on the 21st, it is sure to be a blast. I’ve also been working on getting more information from the various student organizations, and encourage everyone to let us know what is happening in your group so that we can include the information on the STEM Calendar.

This promises to be an interesting year, as we look to new leadership at YSU to provide the direction that we need to continue our success. Keep up the good work, and … Go Penguins!

July

A common question going around YSU these days has to do with our expectations for our new President. While he’s only been officially on the job for a few weeks, he’s actually been engaged since his appointment was announced in mid-May. In the limited time he’s been around, he’s moved quickly to take control and shake things up.

First of all, Pres. Tressel is engaged in YSU, and he expects the Deans to be engaged.  I noted on July 1 (yes, his first official day) that I had attended more Presidential events since he was appointed than I had in the prior four years.  On July 1 alone, I met with faculty and staff in the morning, had lunch with students, and visited with members of the various YSU-affiliated Boards in the afternoon; all at the Pollock House.  Some might call this a waste of time and an unnecessary expense, but I would vigorously disagree.  There is nothing more important to my success as Dean than speaking directly to students, staff, and faculty.  Then, to top it off, I had the opportunity to communicate those needs to key members of our community.

Coming up at the Pollock House will be a picnic for staff (with STEM College staff attending on July 24) and another event for faculty on August 19.  I’m sure that’s just the beginning.

Second, Pres. Tressel appears to truly value the input of the Deans.  We have met with him several times as a group, and each of us has had the opportunity to meet with him individually.  During each of these meetings, he asks questions and listens to the answers.  There have been multiple examples wherein the Deans made a suggestion for action, and within the next few days, we see an announcement. We have learned quickly to be careful of what we ask for, because with this new president, we are likely to get it.

Third, the new president doesn’t feel constrained by existing processes.  When he identifies an opportunity, he runs with it.  As the Deans were discussing with him the presidential inauguration, we suggested that we should host a college-based event prior to the formal activity, which would encourage students to attend the inauguration.  A few days later, we were being asked for details on the events we would be hosting.  This is new for all of us, so we didn’t have answers.  But we put something together, and developed what I believe will be a meaningful experience for our incoming students.

And finally, the President is clearly motivated to be the public image of YSU.  He is frequently participating in activities outside of Tod Hall, meeting with visitors, camp attendees, and other constituencies that are visiting campus.  His presence around campus is a welcome sign of his interest in the many activities that make YSU successful.

I am very optimistic that Pres. Tressel will quickly get his hands around the many challenges that we face at YSU and that we will start to move in a more positive trajectory.  I am encouraged by the change that I see and the future that it suggests.