Blue Devil Days - April 2012

May 31, 2012

Welcome Address to Students - Blue Devil Days, April 2012

Dean Laurie Patton, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Let me be the fifteenth person to welcome to Duke University.  As Christoph said, I am the new Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and I am delighted to have one of my tasks as welcoming you to Duke. And Christoph, I know you’re sad that they don’t need you anymore; but now they need me.

I first want to say how glad I am that your main anxiety is over: you are done with your work of applying, of biting your nails, of watching your friends bite their nails, and trying hard to imagine your future when you have no idea what is in store for you. Now you know what is in store for you. Now you can imagine your future. And now you have another kind of challenge—the challenge of choice.  My guess is that some of you are here because you are weighing options. My guess also is that others of you are here because you are confirming what you already knew—Duke is your first choice, and you are ready to take the plunge. We are here to talk to you, to prospective students, to prospective families, to everyone who might want to be part of a Duke experience.

As I thought about welcoming you today, I realized that as a new dean I had one year to say the following sentence: Let me tell you why I left a wonderful life to come to Duke, and why you might want to too. (After the first year, everything will be my fault!) I am actually quite envious of the fact that you all will get to experience all the programs and possibilities on the ground that I came here to help lead. And as I tell you why Duke is the most compelling educational institution in the nation right now, I realize that many other schools might be hitting some of the same themes. I am going to raise those themes and tell you why Duke is a leader in all of them, and why you can join us in educational leadership too.

I came to Duke for its sense of place. Duke is in a glorious forest, actually called “The Duke Forest,” but it is also in a fabulous city. What other campus can claim the best of both worlds? Duke was designed by an African American architect who will be honored next year when we celebrate the matriculation of the first African American student on our campus.  Duke has such a powerful sense of place that it produces its own research projects: we have undergraduate students working on developing applications for I –phones for walking tours of Duke and of Durham. You can come and be part of this place, too. Other universities have a sense of place—but Duke, a gothic city-forest, is a unique and exhilarating combination.

I came to Duke for its willingness to change. The way I put it most succinctly, is that there is no moss that grows on Duke stones—those wonderful stones I was just talking about. Duke faculty are constantly innovating—whether it is Jerry Reiter in figuring out the best pathways in network security or English professor Cathy Davidson in creating a whole new set of learning societies through her internet site, HASTAC, or frequent NPR commentator and economist Dan Ariely on the way we make economic decisions, Duke researchers move fast and rigorously, and they love share their knowledge with the rest of the world.  Undergraduate research is at the heart of what we do: you will be in a lab with the leading researcher on primate behavior, on the stage with the internationally renowned dramaturge who is working on her next play. At Duke, you can learn to grow your own neuron cell. You can find out whether Facebook makes you more lonely. If you don’t believe me, ask Zing Su, from Texas and before that from China. As a freshman he is involved in Visualizing Venice, an online research tool that integrates archived documents, architectural plans and three-dimensional technology, depicts the transformation over eight centuries of the city of Venice. Other universities claim opportunities to do undergraduate research: at Duke, we guarantee it.

I came to Duke for its cutting edge sense of global possibilities. Almost half of all Duke students have a study abroad experience. But that experience is completely different than what it was even ten years ago. Study abroad is no longer what it used to be—a separate time where you leave and observe and participate in another culture. Now, students can design their study abroad to integrate projects in service learning, and volunteer mentoring, wherever they are.  During the summer, you will be able to involve yourself in Duke Engage, one of the fastest moving and most popular programs at Duke—where somewhere in the globe—Kenya, Greece, Egypt--you will be able to spend your summer months rebuilding a well, or teaching literacy. And what is more, you will be able to take regular classes at Duke that involve a trip abroad. If you don’t believe me, talk to the students who went with Leela Prasad to Hyderabad, India, as part of their introduction to South Asia class and helped to build a school for farm worker families based on Gandhian ideas. Other schools talk about their global reach and international experience. But Duke is providing the leading models for the next stages of integrated global education, and inviting you to create those models too.

I came to Duke for it sense of social responsibility. Duke has five offices where you can reach out and partner with people across the globe to make the world better. Almost 2/3 of Duke students participate in some volunteer program at their Duke career—whether that is Duke Engage, Service Learning at Duke, or Durham Duke partnerships. We talk about it here as knowledge in service of society. And the trend is growing. If you don’t believe me talk to Trinity College alum Alex Reese, who, as a result of his work in service learning, created a weekly nutrition education program at the Durham Nativity School, conducted research on teacher compensation for DPS superintendent Eric Becoats, co-founded a civic engagement themed living community on campus. The class of 2015 came in as the most compassionate class ever—with the highest record of volunteer engagement ever. Will you be part of the class that will beat them in social entrepreneurship? Other schools have programs in service learning. At Duke, it is integrated into everything a student does, in class and out.

I came to Duke for its powerful sense of interconnectedness across fields and across offices. Duke professors and students began to do interdisciplinary work in the nineties when it was still considered an “extra.” Now educational studies across the globe suggest that, in a twenty first century education, requires interdisciplinary work. Requires skills of innovation, adaptation and integration that only interdisciplinarity can provide.  That means that in classrooms, and through programs like the FOCUS program, you will be considering problems like world hunger, AIDS, environmental change, energy, and taking on all sorts of points of view.  If you don’t believe me, ask Katrina Wisdom, a double major in engineering and dance, who has performed a dance concern outlining the principles of mechanical engineering she has learned at Pratt School. Other universities now lay claim to interdisciplinarity. At Duke, we pioneered it, and we continue to push new forms of collaborative learning and research. At Duke, it is part of everyday life.

I came to Duke because people talk to each other. The boundaries are lower between professor and student than at any other university I have had a privilege to be part of. In this forest-city called Duke University, you will have more frequent access to world class researchers than at any other time of your life.  If you don’t believe me, ask Monica Bhutiani, an undergraduate who is working in the Dean of Medical School on the metabolism of excessive iron. As Monica puts it: Here’s the million dollar question that I always get asked: How did you manage to land yourself a spot in Dr. Nancy Andrew’s Lab? The answer is: I emailed her.” Other universities talk about access to professors. At Duke, you will have access to the best minds addressing the toughest issues in the world.

I came to Duke because it emphasizes excellence in the whole person. Not only do we have an outrageously inspiring basketball team, we have an athletics program that emphasizes learning and scholarship as a prerequisite for playing well on the court and on the field. Scholarship and athletics go hand in hand—not only for the varsity teams but also for the club teams, which are some of the most active on the national scene. If you don’t believe me, ask Curtis Beach, who is a national champion in long jump, and who chose Duke because he wanted to challenge himself intellectually as well as physically. When I met him, he was in the middle of animatedly talking about his major. When someone asked him about the heptathlon world record he happened to set recently, he said, “Oh yeah, I guess there’s that too.” Many universities talk about their athletics and academics. At Duke, the point is to combine outstanding accomplishment in both, and to do so with humility, grace, and a sense it is OK to make some mistakes along the way.

I went to Harvard for my undergraduate degree, got my PhD at the University of Chicago, and taught at Emory University. I came to Duke because it combines the community identity of a Harvard, the intellectual rigor of a University of Chicago, and the warmth of an Emory.  Duke University built on the tradition of Trinity College to become a university in 1924. There is no other top ten university as young as Duke—no other top ten university who has come so far so fast in the twentieth and twenty first century.

Duke is fast, flexible, friendly. In my nine months here I have been given the resources and support to accomplish more in higher education than I was able to do in the previous ten years before I got here. Duke will do the same for you. Will you bring your talents to join us in our outrageous ambition and compassionate service? I made the move to Duke, and now my hope is that you will too.