Last week I announced that I am stepping down as dean of the Schreyer Honors College, a position I have held for the last 10 years. It has been an incredible experience and I have grown in so many ways. I will be forever thankful for this community. Below is the letter I posted on the honors college blog. Penn State has and will continue to be our home, no matter where the road leads us in the coming years.
This is a time of great change for me and our family. I have written and spoken elsewhere about grief and the fact that we grieve all sorts of things, including changing jobs. This is one of those times when life is changing and I need to be aware of the fact that while it is a positive decision that I have made, there is change and loss and that will bring a range of emotions. I am thrilled at the prospect that I will have a year to reflect and write. (I have two writing goals: Beautiful and Terrible Things and an article on Paul Wunderlich’s The Song of Songs.) But I will miss learning from our students, meeting with alumni and friends, the incredible staff of the SHC, and Donuts with the Dean.
I have spent my entire academic career as both a faculty member and an administrator. When I started on tenure track at Tulane University I also had to take on the duties of director of Jewish Studies. It was a great opportunity and I learned so very much about collaboration, community building, and management. Apparently, I learned enough and was good enough at it that the provost then asked me to become director of the honors program, after a year as associate director. All the while I had to first finish my doctorate, then publish the appropriate number of articles in the required journals, and get the “tenure book” published. Once I was tenured and started in honors, it was less than three years before I got the opportunity to come to Penn State as the second dean of the SHC. Once at Penn State, the promotion to full professor clock started and I needed to publish the appropriate articles, give presentations, and write the book (which is done!) all while building up an already strong program and raising over $75M in the last capital campaign. And of course, along the way, life happened.
Academia is a career that most view as sedate and leisurely, with visions of scholars in libraries and stacks of books or in labs with bubbling test tubes, but it has been more like a Tough Mudder for me. And I have loved every minute of it. Not that everything has been easy, but it has always been worth it. Helping to create environments where students can feel safe and challenged, to provide opportunities for them to push the boundaries while knowing they are supported, it is what I imagine it feels to coach the US Olympic basketball team. Coach K can only take so much credit.
Still, at some point we all need to take time and reflect. Mr. Schreyer would use the analogy of driving a car at night. He said you have to keep your headlights on, looking down the road, but occasionally you need to flash the high beams, take a look farther down the road. So I am very thankful to have the opportunity to take a rest, reflect on the journey so far, and consider which road to take going forward.
Dear Schreyer Honors College Community,
I am rapidly coming to the end of my tenth year as dean of the Schreyer Honors College. It has been an incredible honor to lead this amazing community of students, alumni, faculty, and staff. The foundation was always strong and built upon the best of Penn State. I am very proud of what we have accomplished in this last decade. We are now widely viewed as one of the very best honors colleges in the nation, the standard that others seek to emulate. Our students and alumni are transforming the world in amazing and positive ways, with a significant percentage going on to complete PhD’s and continuing to engage in research and teaching, while others are starting companies and some are transforming them from within. The Schreyer mission of achieving academic excellence with integrity, building global perspectives, and creating opportunities for leadership and civic engagement is alive and thriving on a global scale.
Much has happened in my own life in the last few years as well and it is time for me to consider my future. For all 19 years of my academic career I have carried the dual responsibilities of being a faculty member and an administrator. That has meant pursuing promotion and tenure, teaching, publishing, all while striving to be the best academic administrator possible. This ten-year anniversary is an appropriate time for a break, a time to complete projects and consider what future opportunities might be ahead of me. I have requested and the provost has granted me a year’s leave and I am very thankful for his support. This means that I will be stepping down as dean of the Schreyer Honors College at the end of this month, but I will continue to be among its most passionate advocates! It is a community unlike any other and I am, as Mr. Schreyer would say, bullish on its future.
We have a tremendous staff and the provost is appointing an excellent interim dean. I look forward to seeing the college continue to go from strength to strength and our graduates continue to shape the world in wonderful and positive ways.
Thank you all for making this the best decade of my career.