Trustees Discuss STEM Imperative, Academic and Campus Priorities

The Dartmouth Board of Trustees discussed academic innovation and how to enhance Dartmouth’s strengths and increase the impact of the College’s knowledge creation at the board’s annual fall meeting on Sept. 10-12.

(Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

President Phil Hanlon ’77 and Provost Carolyn Dever presented to the board on the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields nationally and ways the College can distinguish itself in how it integrates these disciplines into the overall Dartmouth experience. Employment and educational opportunities involving STEM fields are profound for our students because of the way STEM education develops and sharpens minds, noted President Hanlon. They are also constantly evolving, he added.

“Information technology has completely altered the landscape,” said Hanlon. “Data harvesting and simulation are paramount, and outcomes are now focused on concepts and ideas over computation. Integrated problems—those that challenge us with their many components—are increasingly prevalent, and to get to the heart of those problems and their human elements, you need to collapse the boundary among STEM and the social sciences and humanities. Dartmouth can lead in this important effort.”

Hanlon and Dever led a discussion on how Dartmouth could marshal the talent and expertise of its teacher-scholars and students at all levels across the institution to solve complex problems, create new knowledge, and have an impact on a global scale in critical areas such as health care delivery, energy, and the digital humanities.

“The application of emerging knowledge to solve problems is increasingly important to our society and a great place for Dartmouth to be,” said Dever. “Our scale enables Dartmouth’s faculty and students to partner across disciplines. Our new faculty clusters will have an explicit emphasis on impact, and they are a model for how we will work going forward.”

In addressing ways to strengthen academic and research excellence and take advantage of rising opportunities, Dever said the College must consistently place quality over quantity and evaluate choices by asking, “Why Dartmouth and why now?” The College must also continue to set its sights high and focus on impact, she said. Dever told the board that translating knowledge into measurable outcomes is a critical strength for the College.

The board discussed strategies for the Geisel School of Medicine that emphasized focusing research on areas of excellence, creating a sustainable financial model, continued evolution of the medical and graduate degree curricula, and a stronger definition of the school’s relationship with the Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system.

Since his appointment in July 2014, Duane Compton, Geisel’s interim dean, has focused on restoring the medical school’s financial stability. In the fall of 2014, he launched three faculty working groups to focus on specific areas—mission, finance, and physical space—that have contributed to inform the operation of the school.

While the board agreed to the broad principles for Geisel, they asked that Geisel leadership continue to meet with faculty and other members of the Dartmouth community to receive input on the best strategies for the school over the next several months. Trustees will hear again from Compton in November, when he delivers the next phase of the plan.

Board members met with Dean of the College Rebecca Biron to learn about the integration of academics and faculty engagement in the full range of student experiences. The six recently selected house professors, who will launch new student house communities a year from now, joined the board for a lunchtime discussion of their new roles and plans.

The board received updates on facilities projects, including the upgrade of West Stands on Memorial Field and the planned renovation and expansion of the Hood Museum of Art. They voted to proceed with restoration of the Baker Library bell tower, construction of which will begin in 2016, and they approved completion of design and development documents for renovation of Dartmouth’s Moosilauke Ravine Lodge in Warren, N.H.

Also at the meeting, guest speaker Michael Dimock, president of the Pew Research Center, spoke to board members about emerging demographic trends that will shape the future population of the United States and specifically how these trends will affect the composition of future Dartmouth classes.