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Dean Laude: The College in Fall 2011

Dean Laude: The College in Fall 2011
The interim dean on where the college stands today and where it is headed in the future, with a focus on increasing entrepreneurship and recruiting more top faculty.

DavidLaude 2011-webThe College of Natural Sciences is now the largest college at The University of Texas at Austin, with an enrollment of 9,700 undergraduates. We are indeed a powerhouse, and quite possibly the largest college of science in the nation.

How did we come this far and what does this mean for us in the future?

I believe we have grown because we continue to see increased interest from students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. Many of the jobs of the future are in these fields, and students are very aware of that. In fact, of the 150 recession-proof jobs named by Time Magazine in an article back in 2008, the top 10 require a science or math degree. The health professions also continue to be of great interest to our students.

Secondly, I think we’ve grown because our students like us and fewer of them leave us midway through their time here. We have implemented a collection of programs that help students succeed, whether through peer support systems, leadership training, or smaller class and research experiences.

Our four-year graduation rate has increased from around 25 percent several years ago to 49 percent now. For a college that does not have selective admissions policies and teaching such challenging material, that’s an extraordinary improvement. And we have programs like the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI), where more than 70 percent of participants stay and graduate in our college. That’s staggering. Our TIP program and other programs do the same.

That’s the good news.

But as you know, we are faced with unprecedented budget challenges, now and into the foreseeable future. Our state funding has declined to mere percentages of our total budget and the amount of money that we receive from tuition has remained flat for years, despite our increased enrollment. Yet, we are still very committed to giving our students a world-class science degree.

So we are beginning some major efforts now to find new revenue streams to support the education and research missions of the college. Maybe the economy will recover. Maybe the state will increase our funding. Maybe our allocation from tuition will increase. But even if those things do happen, we will be a better college if we figure out how to fund the college sustainably and run it more efficiently.

To that end, we are pushing to develop new relationships with the business and corporate community. We are placing a heavy new focus on entrepreneurship in both our faculty and our students. We are increasing efficiencies and bettering learning outcomes through the use of teaching technologies.

As proof of our commitment to fostering entrepreneurship, we have hired Skip Porter as our new associate dean for innovation and science enterprise. Skip has served in a similar capacity at the University of Oklahoma where he was dean of engineering and vice president for technology development. He is going to be a major asset to us, and will be developing entrepreneurial opportunities for our students, as well as engaging with our students and faculty to promote enterprise in the sciences.

With Skip’s help, we’re adding an entrepreneurship component to every freshman FRI and critical-thinking course, which serves more than 1000 students. In just a few years, all of our students will have been exposed to this very different approach to turning invention into innovation in the sciences.

We are also continuing to attract top faculty that bring in funding from major research grants. One of the most important things that we can do right now is to recruit more faculty, and to do so aggressively. Our faculty numbers have actually remained relatively flat over the past four years, even though our student enrollment has been going the other direction. That’s not something that anyone likes to hear.

We currently have 371 faculty and my goal is to reach 400 as soon as possible so that we can better serve our increasing student numbers. This is an aggressive goal, but hiring new faculty must be our priority as it will allow us to fully utilize the new Norman Hackerman Building and the forthcoming Gates Computer Science buildings and allow us to be competitive in emerging areas like neuroscience and systems biology.

I look forward to leading this college forward as we conduct our national search for the next dean, and look forward to connecting with all of you during this time as we celebrate the college and continue to make it one of the best in the nation.

Yours,

David Laude, Interim Dean

College of Natural Sciences

The University of Texas at Austin

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Comments 3

 
Guest - Gene Garrett on Wednesday, 19 October 2011 16:33

Great article, Dean Lauda.

I recommend discussions with business school faculty to stress the need to educate future managers in the importance of hiring top technical talent then providing the support and freedom necessary for technical success. All the STEM initiatives in the world will be wasted without significant changes in management's attitude and business practices. Manufacturing must return to this country to provide real world training for STEM graduates and prepare them to generate and develop new technologies.

Thanks for the excellent article and for providing an opportunity to comment.
C. Gene Garrett

Great article, Dean Lauda. I recommend discussions with business school faculty to stress the need to educate future managers in the importance of hiring top technical talent then providing the support and freedom necessary for technical success. All the STEM initiatives in the world will be wasted without significant changes in management's attitude and business practices. Manufacturing must return to this country to provide real world training for STEM graduates and prepare them to generate and develop new technologies. Thanks for the excellent article and for providing an opportunity to comment. C. Gene Garrett
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