SAS Dean’s Blog

A Solid Season

Steven J. Fluharty

Steven J. Fluharty

Dean and Thomas S. Gates, Jr. Professor of Psychology, Pharmacology, and Neuroscience

With February drawing to a close, we're beginning to see some signs on campus that this long winter just might end soon. Despite the weather challenges of the last few months, the rhythms of the academic calendar have asserted themselves and we have a number of season highlights to celebrate.

Our faculty have continued to publish exciting new findings and make their marks on their fields. Josef Wegner, of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and Penn Museum, was part of a team that discovered the tomb of an unknown Egyptian pharaoh. Douglas Jerolmack, from Earth and Environmental Science, worked with an international team of mathematicians to describe the mechanisms that cause river rocks to become smaller, smoother, and rounder further downstream—information that will help geologists answer questions on how long a river has flowed. We were also happy to learn that History's Thomas Sugrue, who directs the Penn Social Science and Policy Forum, has been elected president of the Social Science History Association.

We learned that several undergraduates have won prestigious scholarships to continue their studies abroad, including health and societies major Sonya Davey, who won a Gates Cambridge scholarship and earlier had been selected for a Thouron Award. Economics and international relations major Christina Economy and classical studies and biology major Carson Woodbury also won Thourons to pursue graduate studies in the U.K., while physics, biochemistry, and biophysics major Sarah Foster was awarded a Churchill Scholarship. And at the Levin Family Dean's Forum early this month, we honored 20 Dean's Scholars—undergraduate, graduate, and professional master's students who represent the highest levels of accomplishment and the limitless potential of the liberal arts.

I'm also happy to report that this winter's challenges did not deter the many individuals involved in our strategic planning process. Our faculty working groups have been having far-ranging conversations on key administrative priorities like diversity and innovation, as well as broad academic themes addressing areas from Humanities in the Digital Age to Mapping the Mind. In my meetings with the group chairs, I've been impressed by the range and creativity of their ideas and excited by the synergies that are emerging. These synergies will lead to new collaborations that unite SAS departments and Penn schools, create new opportunities and programs for our students, and ensure that we make the very most out of the resources at our disposal.

This first phase of our planning process is near completion. Groups will be providing us very soon with reports reflecting their best thinking. My colleagues in the Dean's office and I will then spend several months carefully reviewing all the recommendations and having further discussions with the working groups and other faculty to consider common themes and hone our list of priorities. This will be an exciting and energizing process, and that's just one more reason why this year, spring is especially welcome.