Jacqueline E. Dixon was named interim dean last summer. A professor of geological sciences, world traveler and field researcher, the senior associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, has served on the University of Miami faculty since 1992. In a conversation with Arts & Sciences magazine, Interim Dean Dixon discusses her goals for the College, and the challenges ahead.
What are your most important priorities for the College?
To quote President Shalala, the “University of Miami is el mundo.” And the College is at the heart of the UM’s mission as a research university to acquire, integrate and disseminate knowledge. My priorities are to make sure faculty have what they need to be world-class scholars, and to ensure that our students are actively engaged in that scholarship. Top priorities are to move forward with our building plans and to continue to strengthen our intellectual community. With respect to building our academic programs, the challenge is to strengthen core disciplines, while enhancing our academic distinctiveness. Just as our University sits at the cross- roads of the world, the most exciting scholarship often sits at the cross-roads of traditionally separate disciplines.
This is an interesting time for UM. What are the challenges?
The challenge is to maintain progress towards our strategic goals, even if the rate of progress has changed from what was planned. Every shift provides opportunity. One silver lining is that new funding for higher education related to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is available. I have been a part of the Stimulus Working Group to insure that the College avails itself of these resources. We have submitted a number of proposals for construction and high-end instrumentation. Many of our faculty are also pursuing stimulus money to fund their research. Most importantly, I care about how the economic crisis affects our students and their families and encourage families to contact us if their financial circumstances have changed.
How have you seen the College change since you became part of the University almost two decades ago?
I started as an assistant professor in the Division of Marine Geology and Geophysics at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, which at that time was only a graduate school. Today the undergraduate Marine Science program is located there. I started teaching in the Department of Geological Sciences at the College in 1995 because I wanted to interact with undergraduates. I received a joint appointment in 1998. Every year, the caliber of students keeps getting stronger. Equally important, and not unrelated, has been the steady increase in the research quality of the faculty.
Arts & Sciences has been a leader in cross-disciplinary and cross- school programs, including PRISM, a program you were responsible for spearheading. Why are these initiatives important for students?
I believe we have a clear responsibility to fully educate our students to be successful in a changing world. What does that entail? There is no one-size-fits-all path, but there are some universal principles. We want our students to find their passion. We want students to embrace the breadth that the College has to offer, to explore new areas, and to actively participate in scholarship. Our graduates need to master critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and integration of knowledge from different disciplines. We want them to gain a greater understanding of themselves, as well as respect and appreciation for others. We attempt to do this in many ways, for example, our new PRISM program (Advanced Program for Integration of Science and Mathematics), is designed to provide a more rigorous and integrated preparation, and quantitative skills for those students interested in pursuing a career in science with a research focus.
Your background is in geological sciences and your students are involved in field research programs. Why is it important that students have these experiences?
We encourage all our students in learning, both within and outside the classroom. As a geologist and volcanologist, I have taken undergraduates to study volcanoes in Iceland, Hawaii, Mexico, and Ecuador. I participate in our spring-break and summer fieldtrips to Newfoundland and southwest US. These trips are often life-changing for our students. It is where they learn to trust their own observations and ask the right questions, as well as learn to interact with a group and to be sensitive to other cultures. The College offers amazing opportunities for students to learn outside the classroom. Just to name three of many, students can learn about tropical ecosystems in Costa Rica, about history, geography, archaeology, cultures and religions in the Galilee region of Israel, and about European history, art and architecture in Santander, Spain.
Can you tell us more about your research and how you came to be a scientist?
As an undergraduate, I volunteered to participate in a research cruise to study manganese nodules. The cruise was for two months with port stops in Hawaii and Panama. During the cruise I learned the art of marine and transponder navigation (way before GPS...) and was exposed, for the first time, to a great group of people passionate about their science. I was hooked. When I returned to Stanford, I changed my major to geology. I received a bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University, then a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology. My research centers on the Earth’s deep carbon dioxide and water budgets. In particular, volcanoes are the Earth’s original CO2 emitters. I focus on the role of carbon dioxide and water in magmatic processes as they affect generation of magmas, deep Earth cycling of volatiles, and explosivity of volcanic eruptions.
What do you plan to do to keep graduates engaged?
Our graduates are very important to us. We want to keep in touch with them and ask them to stay connected to us through our Web site: www.as.miami.edu. There they can find podcast lectures, learn the latest news and events about the College. We hope they enjoy every issue of Arts & Sciences magazine, which they will receive in the mail each fall and spring. It is also on our Web site. In addition, we invite all our alumni to visit the new College of Arts and Sciences Facebook page, “University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences” to connect with other alumni and professors.
What do you like to do on your time off?
When my son was younger, my time off was spent mostly being a swimming and water polo mom. Now that he is in college (in architecture here at UM), I have a little more time to relax. I enjoy movies, canoeing and climbing active volcanoes.
Jacqueline E. Dixon
Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences