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News CAS: Shaping the future

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State of the College address highlights a shared commitment to excellence
John Pelesko holds a model of a brain

​Interim Dean John A. Pelesko shows the audience at the 2018 State of the College address a 3D model of his brain, the result of his participation in a demonstration of research by the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at UD's Center for Biomedical and Brain Imaging. Pelesko's visit to the center was one of many he made throughout the college this fall to speak with faculty, students and staff about their work.

With a record number of new faculty members and a continuing commitment to student success, inclusive excellence, community engagement, and scholarship and creative expression, the University of Delaware's College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) has entered a period of growth and renewal that will shape and transform its future.

That was the message delivered by John A. Pelesko, interim dean of CAS, at the 10th annual State of the College event. He delivered this year's address on Tuesday, Oct. 23, before a large audience of faculty, staff, alumni, students and friends in the Roselle Center for the Arts.

"Our college has been the mind, heart and soul of this institution for a long time, and we've come a long way," Pelesko said, reflecting on the college's history since Newark College opened in 1834 with just 45 students and a three-person faculty who taught only three disciplines. Today, CAS is the largest of the University's seven colleges, with 23 academic departments and nearly 600 faculty members.

"It's not our size that defines us as a college, but our strength and our universal commitment to excellence in all that we do," Pelesko said.

In addition to highlighting the college's accomplishments and emphasizing the continued dedication to its values and mission, he spoke about challenges CAS faces and plans for growth and change.

The event also welcomed 57 newly hired faculty members and honored former Dean George Watson with a CAS Lifetime Achievement Award. Pelesko was appointed interim dean effective Sept. 1 after Watson stepped down to return to the faculty.

Among the challenges the college is working to address are the needs for additional space, deferred maintenance of physical facilities and ways to streamline operations.

Pelesko noted that CAS is developing a comprehensive assessment of its facilities to meet the "very real concern" about available space and that UD President Dennis Assanis has allocated significant resources for deferred maintenance.

Planning is underway for a new building to replace McKinly Lab, which was severely damaged in a fire last year, and for an addition to Drake Hall, both of which will provide new state-of-the-art research and teaching facilities, Pelesko said. And work will continue "to ensure that a new interdisciplinary social sciences building moves from the drawing board to reality," he said.

Another initiative Pelesko mentioned is a plan to establish a School of Music. The college expects to launch a national search for the inaugural director of that school next fall.

All these plans and initiatives to tackle issues of the college's physical and operational infrastructure come at a time of expanded faculty hiring that Pelesko said he expects to continue for the next five or six years.

"This presents us with a tremendous and unique opportunity to shape the future of our college," he said. In doing so, he identified four core principles on which CAS will continue to focus. These are:

  • Student success. CAS has a unique responsibility, Pelesko said, because every UD student, regardless of major, takes some CAS classes in such foundational skills as writing, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and scientific reasoning. Additionally, "In the College of Arts and Sciences we build the lifelong learners who will lead our nation, and indeed our world, into the future," he said.
  • Inclusive excellence. Again, Pelesko said, CAS plays a unique role in engaging students in conversations about diversity and inclusion. "We must lead the way in developing, recruiting and supporting scholars from traditionally underrepresented groups" and in broadening access, he said.
  • Community engagement. "As a college, we are deeply committed to engagement with our local, regional and national communities and with the broader global community," Pelesko said. He cited such CAS programs as the Biden Institute and Delaware Teachers Institute and the college's leadership in UD's Community Engagement Initiative.
  • Scholarship and creative expression. With an expansion of faculty hiring and a wave of coming retirements, CAS must work to continue attracting and nurturing the highest-caliber scholars, Pelesko said. Focusing on the college's strong academic core while also considering new fields of knowledge and interdisciplinary approaches will be key to success, he said.

“Having spoken with so many of you recently,” Pelesko said of his many conversations with faculty, staff, students and alumni since his appointment as interim dean, “I have no doubt that the College of Arts and Sciences will continue to grow and thrive in the months and years ahead.”

Lifetime Achievement Award
John Pelesko and George Watson

​Interim Dean John A. Pelesko (left) and former Dean George Watson show the audience the CAS Lifetime Achievement Award honoring Watson for his years of dedicated leadership and distinguished service. Watson was also presented a commemorative clock, the college's traditional recognition gift.

At the conclusion of the State of the College talk, Pelesko presented the college's Lifetime Achievement Award for dedicated leadership and distinguished service to Watson.

The award, he said, isn't an annual one but is given selectively "to honor those who are truly exceptional and truly deserving."

"I can think of no individual more deserving of this award than George Watson," he said.

Watson earned his doctorate in physics from UD in 1985 and joined the faculty as an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in 1987.

A former Unidel Professor of Physics and Astronomy, he took his first leadership role in the College of Arts and Sciences in 2001 as associate dean and served as interim dean in 2009-10 before being named to the permanent role in 2010.

He is recognized nationally and internationally for his leadership in problem-based learning and is known as an advocate for improved science education in high schools and colleges.

During his time as dean, Watson, founding director of the Institute for Transforming Undergraduate Education, focused on advancing educational initiatives and supporting student success, growing interdisciplinary and global programs and investing in intellectual and physical capital.

Welcoming new faculty

The State of the College event also welcomed and introduced 57 new faculty members, representing a record level of hiring.

The new members of the faculty cross numerous disciplines and encompass diverse scholarly and creative interests, from interactive architecture to African American material culture, exploring questions from how language is structured to the causes and consequences of economic hardship.

New faculty members in the arts, and their department, are: Jia-Rey (Gary) Chang and Aaron Terry, Art and Design; and Sheila Browne, Miles Brown, Patricia Burt, Jennifer Shafer and Aimee Pearsall, Music.

In humanities, new faculty members and their departments are: Monica Coleman, Tiffany Barber and Cheryl Hicks, Africana Studies; Dael Norwood, Jaipreet Virdi and Polly Zavadivker, History; Denva Jackson, Art History; Lowell Duckert, David Kim, Alex McKee, Keerthi Potluri, Yelin Zhao, Tiffany Probasco and Delice Williams, English; Christine Grogan, Associate in Arts Program; Nicole Servais and Adil Bentahar, English Language Institute; and Meghan Dabkowski, Victoria Finney and Ana Oancea, Languages, Literatures and Cultures.

Newly hired in natural sciences, and their departments, are: Kathryn Franich, Linguistics and Cognitive Science; Tamara Nicol, Jasmin Cloutier, Stuart McCaughey and Jennifer Kubota, Psychological and Brain Sciences; Audrey DeVries, Calvin Hotchkiss, Daniel James, Brady Rocks and Mohamed Salama, Mathematical Sciences; Gulnara Abduvalieva and Matthew Willis, Associate in Arts Program; and Benjamin Jungfleisch, Frank Schroeder, Ilia Gogoladze, Federica Bianco and Gregory Dobler, Physics and Astronomy.

In social sciences, new faculty members and their departments are Katie Fitzpatrick, Stephen Metraux, Kalim Shah and Casey Taylor, School of Public Policy and Administration; Vikramaditya Thakur, Anthropology; Neri de Kramer, Associate in Arts Program; Nokyeon Kim and Katya Roelse, Fashion and Apparel Studies; Erin Cassese and Joanne Miller, Political Science and International Relations; and Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, Sociology and Criminal Justice.

Among other leadership changes in the college, two new faculty members are joining UD as department chairs in CAS. They are Kami Silk in the Department of Communication and, beginning in January, Velia Fowler in the Department of Biological Sciences.

Article by Ann Manser; photos by Andre Smith

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In his State of the College address, Interim Dean John A. Pelesko emphasized a commitment to student success, inclusive excellence, engagement and scholarship.

In his 2018 State of the College address, Interim Dean John A. Pelesko emphasized a continuing commitment to student success, inclusive excellence, community engagement and scholarship.

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CAS: Shaping the future