Reflections on the Future as the new Associate Dean of Interdisciplinary Graduate Education

Credit:  rosipaw No modifications made.
Credit: rosipaw No modifications made.

As is true with most students I have known, I have long struggled to define myself and where I can best contribute something positive to the world while also deriving  a sense of personal satisfaction.  Honestly, I still struggle with the question, “what is your area of expertise?”  Because my B.S. is in Biology- does that make me a biologist?  My Ph.D. is in Environmental Science, but earned from a Civil & Environmental Engineering department and now I am a professor in Civil & Environmental Engineering.  I understand the need for humans to organize, label, and classify information to make sense of the world- I certainly do this all the time myself.  At the same time, I can’t help but relate to the concept of the square peg trying to fit in the round hole.

But then, the world changed- or did it?  Whether it is the world that has changed, or our perception of it, suddenly the need for square pegs seems to have become abundantly clear!  What are some of the major challenges in the world today? Global climate change! Up to 25% obesity rates in the U.S.! New designs for our infrastructure to secure a sustainable future in water and energy! Rapidly moving technological development in nanotechnology, molecular biology, and human medicine!  None of these challenges can be met within the confines of one single academic department, rather, they can only be addressed through an interdisciplinary framework.

I am very fortunate to count myself among the faculty at Virginia Tech, a true pioneer in interdisciplinary education and research.  As the new Associate Dean and Director of Interdisciplinary Graduate Education, have I finally found my calling and come to roost in my own personal square hole? I think so- but in any case, what will be motivating me from this point forward is to help reveal the holes of all dimensions to maximize the talent and satisfaction of our graduate students, while also addressing the world’s greatest needs.