D ean’ sM e s sa g e
he winner of any prize, whether it’s anOscar or a Nobel, inevitably thanks “allthose who made it possible.” While it maysound like a platitude, there is often a deeptruth behind such a statement. The awardwinner is thanking an institution and itsmembers for providing a supportive andpositive environment in which to work—and for instilling and practicing the kind of values like innovation and creativity thatallowed a dream to become real.
As I have discussed in past newsletters, wehave long nurtured an open and inclusivephilosophy. Ofce doors remain open. For-mal academic departments do not exist.Faculty members collaborate across disci-plinary boundaries. As we move toward ournew vision for the School, it is even moreimportant to have a shared sense of pur-pose, values, and culture. This, in fact, wasa signicant item of discussion at a recentfaculty retreat and at my rst Dean’s Advi-sory Group meeting. Everyone agreed thatwe need to decide what our values shouldbe; better integrate such principles intoteaching, research, and service activities;and, more broadly, weave them into ourculture by offering appropriate resourcesand rewards. While we have done much tofoster HSEAS’ unique culture, we are com-mitted to enhancing several key attributesin the coming years.
• Citizenship and community
I am pleased to say that camaraderie is com-mon here, from the large number of facultyand administrators who serve as freshmanadvisors to the willingness of several starplayers to “take one for the team”. Speci-cally, I recall when one of our electrical en-gineering faculty members stepped up toteach a course at the last minute when an-other colleague could not. Likewise, I knowseveral faculty members who routinelyteach classes in other departments or, whenneeded, outside their own areas of researchexpertise. It is also increasingly routinefor applied physicists to mentor electricalengineering or physics junior faculty orcomputer scientists to extend expertise andguidance to bioengineers.
• An attitude of “can do”/”saying no to no.”
The power and applicability of the trialand error and problem-solving approachthat is a hallmark of successful engineer-ing and applied science research and designis nearly universal. For example, for theirsenior projects, undergrads report on allthe roadblocks they faced, such as when aparticular design didn’t work or when unex-pected results changed the direction of theirresearch. But I would like such an attitudeto permeate all aspects of the School so thateveryone thinks and acts like engineersand applied scientists in terms of their ap-proach to problem solving, whether theyare trying to resolve a scheduling problemfor a student or helping ensure that facultymembers get their grants in on time. Afterall, anybody must get a feel for our cultureof a place right when they call the academicofce, visit our website, or walk throughany ofce door.
Our new school seal (p. 20) honors engineer,entrepreneur, and donor Gordon McKay,who combined a technological break-through with his entrepreneurial spirit (p.6). In an effort to retool a shoe sewing ma-chine, McKay ushered in an entirely newway of doing business and was able to adapthis machinery and sales model numeroustimes as the country changed. I am pleasedto say that today, more and more of our fac-ulty, students, and alumni take inquisitive-ness and innovation as something of a per-sonal credo, whether it is nding new waysto treat disease (p. 5) or applying mathemat-ics to nance.
Working across elds has long been a traitat DEAS—and will continue to be one atHSEAS. Over the past few months, research-ers have taken inspiration from biology tobuild bug-like robots (p. 10) and applied les-sons from natural systems to computationalones (p. 14). Likewise, the CitySense project(p. 5), which brought together computer sci-entists, a technology company, and a city, isan example of what’s possible through part-nerships that extend beyond campus. Wewill continue to integrate engineering andapplied sciences at every level, especially inemerging areas such as systems biology andbiologically-inspired engineering. More-over, we can serve as an institutional modelby seamlessly blending engineering withapplied sciences.
In my mind, nding new ways to institu-tionalize our values is perhaps the most im-portant issue we face. This means, for exam-ple, providing the right incentive structureto further promote a spirit of citizenshipamong the faculty; offering new rewardsand giving more recognition for dedicatedand innovative teaching; and small grantsto support collaborative research, industryinternships, or even exchange programs.While incentives are necessary, successultimately comes down to something farless tangible. Our goal is to make HSEASthe kind of place where people share com-mon values while also feeling that they arevalued. At the same time, we want to sup-port a dynamic culture that celebrates bothindividual creativity and recognizes theimportance of the collective good or insti-tutional priorities.If we are successful, when one person makesa grand discovery in research, secures agrant, or pulls off a last minute miracle,everyone will feel like they are succeedingand are part of a valuable endeavor. Wheth-er or not we win future Oscars (we do havesome alumni who work in the movie biz)or Nobel Prizes, we want to create a stagebig enough for everyone to take a bow.
Venkatesh “Venky” NarayanamurtiDean, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences