Education: Bachelor of Arts with high honors, Swarthmore College (1990); Ph.D. in chemistry, Stanford University (1995). Dissertation: "Novel Approaches to Probing Structure-Function Relationships in Myoglobin."
Family: Married to Renee Romano, associate professor of history and African American Studies, Oberlin College. The couple has two children, Sabine, 16, and Owen, 11.
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio.
Kenyon is an institution that I've admired for some time. I've known about Kenyon since growing up in Cleveland. I feel that the values of the institution - its commitment to not only a liberal arts education but to an excellent liberal arts education - are those that are very much in alignment with my values. I think that Kenyon is in a terrific place in terms of having a lot of momentum. Many things are working well at Kenyon, whether you're thinking of the institution from an admissions standpoint or from having ended a successful (capital) campaign or based on the strength of the faculty.
I am both incredibly excited about the opportunity that becoming the Kenyon president presents and incredibly awed in a lot of ways. Kenyon is an impressive institution, an institution with importance not only to the Kenyon community ... but truly an institution with a national profile and an important place on the landscape of liberal arts colleges.
As a leader, I believe that probably the most important thing is listening and having an understanding of what the people I work with actually think about issues, think about problems and challenges. I believe in facilitating collaboration. I believe in finding ways for a group of people, for a community, to work together. I enjoy the process of trying to get a consensus and a common vision. That said, I think the president is the person with the responsibility for making decisions and ... leading the institution.
I have different mentors for different aspects of things I do. Probably the most important is my mother. I come from an education-intense family. My mother was a teacher in the Cleveland public schools for many, many years. She actually taught math and science. The many things I love about both math and science and my love of teaching came from growing up in that household.
I had a number of mentors in college and I'll say that I'm still in touch with almost all of my college professors in various ways. Those have been lifelong connections. I find it the same with students. I'm in touch with students who graduated eighteen years ago. Those connections last over time.
I fell in love with the liberal arts education when I was a student. I was able to experience directly the power of education with small classes and intense mentoring from faculty, and the opportunity to think very creatively and to do in-depth research. All of those were things as a student that I fell absolutely in love with, so I graduated from Swarthmore convinced that I wanted to spend my career at liberal arts colleges.
I went to graduate school with an eye towards eventually ending up teaching at a liberal arts college and was able to start my teaching career at Mount Holyoke, which was a wonderful place to teach. I enjoyed collaborating with students in the research lab. As my time at Mount Holyoke went on, I gradually took on more administrative responsibility. I went from faculty member to department chair to associate dean, and what I found along the way was an opportunity to think more broadly about the role of the institution and how the various parts of the institution fit together, what it's like to be really involved in making an education work. I found that work attractive and so, from there, I went to Oberlin where as dean I have been doing that on a regular basis.
I think probably the biggest thing is we spent a lot of time studying the curriculum, reviewing the overall curriculum for students and making a series of pretty large-scale changes ... fundamentally changing the overall graduation requirements and the general curriculum requirements. Part of it is so to make the student experience more focused on the academic program.
I think the biggest is cost. A residential liberal arts education is incredibly expensive, and there are not many obvious ways of making it cheaper. It's an expensive proposition. How do we keep this form of education affordable for families? That's a major, national challenge.
And a closely related one is how do we convince families that a liberal arts education is worth the investment? I think we do have an answer, which is that all evidence points to a liberal arts education as being a successful platform for a full range of careers. We graduate students who think critically, who can solve problems. And that's exactly what all businesses are looking for when hiring. The real challenge is how do we articulate that to families? How do we help students make those connections themselves, understanding that the tools they're learning to use in the classroom are the tools that are going to serve them afterwards? That a solvable problem, and I think it's one that we really have to be proactive in addressing.
A third challenge, and one that is certainly capturing media attention, is what is the role of technology going to be? How can we help students be good consumers of technology? How can we deepen the student learning that happens in our classrooms? In what ways can we open up the Kenyon classroom to the world? Technology is introducing a lot of good things for the type of education we have at Kenyon, but we need to understand those further.
As an institution that has just finished a successful (capital) campaign, I think there is a strong foundation at Kenyon. There is strength in the faculty, strength in the curriculum, strength in the facilities and the new construction that's happened in the last few years. The next phase is going to be to bring the full community together - the students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents in a shared vision. The next five to ten years, at least part of that is going to be focusing on how we integrate the various strong pieces that are on the ground at Kenyon into a focused, coherent picture that distinguishes what a Kenyon education is all about.
How do we think about the connection between the residential-life program and the academic program? How do we think of integrating what students learn in the classroom with their desires for a career after Kenyon? How can we put together something that is true to the core of the liberal arts and prepares students for success after graduation? Those are things that I think are challenges for Kenyon but challenges that Kenyon is well-positioned to address.
Diversity on college campuses is an essential piece of the educational mission. The world in which we are living is a very diverse world where the ability to navigate across cultural boundaries, to be able to engage and understand cultural differences, is more important now than ever. Preserving and improving the diversity on a campus such as Kenyon's is absolutely essential ... to the core mission.
Kenyon should establish its own goals and metrics of what it would like to achieve as an institution and should measure itself against those as opposed to measuring itself against a system that is arbitrarily imposed by U.S. News.
U.S. News tends to be very focused on the inputs. What families are investing in are the outputs - how well the students do afterwards, the success they find in terms of applications to graduate schools and professional schools, the amount of good students do in terms of service to their communities, and, after graduation, in terms of seeking careers that have a strong service component.
Undergraduate research, and especially undergraduate research at a place like Kenyon, is where classroom experience can meet real-world experience. Kenyon is all about teaching students how to be scholars, teaching students how to answer questions, how to approach problems. But we also need to find ways to not only teach that in the abstract but to experience it, to engage in problem-solving. Undergraduate research is where the classroom experience meets real-world problems
The experience that students get by participating in athletics, both in varsity athletics and intramural athletics, is incredibly important for the overall educational experience. I think there is a real value in the notion of high-stakes performance that comes with athletic events, the opportunity for students to be leaders, for students to experience what happens when you work as a team.
The faculty is the core of the institution, the heart of the educational process. It's the relationship between faculty and students that make Kenyon a special place and that makes alumni memories of Kenyon special. The faculty has a special role in helping to shape the curriculum, which is the educational mission of the college, and have real input and responsibility for that.
I have loved chemistry since I was very young. I was the kid who mixed together all the stuff from my mom's kitchen and bathroom into giant concoctions. I love the problem-solving aspect. The types of chemistry problems that I work on are really giant puzzles that are fun to do. Increasingly, I've been able to work on problems that are both fundamental to the field of chemistry and also have implications for the broader, health-related biomedical issues. The more I studied chemistry, the more I realized I was developing tools to solve all sorts of complex problems.
I do have a Facebook page, but it is a Facebook page largely at the prompting of my children. I have just begun learning how to navigate and learning about the power of a social network. I'm impressed with the ability to communicate broadly and to mobilize a network of friends, a network of colleagues and others through social media. At the same time, as an educational institution, we have to think about ways to incorporate communication not just in the traditional way ... but communication in all forms of media for students to gain skills.
Spending time with my family is probably the most important time I spend over the course of the day and the week. We value having a lot of quality time together. I think college campuses are really great places for kids to grow up, to have access to all sorts of academic, intellectual, artistic opportunities.
I love to read. I love to exercise and to engage in activities that are outside - walking or hiking or running or biking or any type of outside activity. I have to admit to a secret, or a not-so-secret, obsession with Beatles music. We have many family traditions, including playing games. One of the games we play often is Beatles Trivial Pursuit.
I love to read fiction. I love contemporary fiction. I just finished the new Michael Chabon novel, Telegraph Avenue, which is a lot of fun. I also love to read history, history of all types. I just read a very good book about James Garfield and the assassination of James Garfield, Destiny of the Republic, which I highly recommend.
I also love reading geeky science-and-math things. I'm working my way through a book on statistics, which is something I've always wanted to read. I find that, actually, my reading tastes are all over the map, probably a product of having a liberal arts experience where I had a chance to really get engaged with knowledge in all places and all over the map.
I love being in Ohio. This is a part of the country that I care a great deal about. This is a tremendous opportunity. It's rare that all of those things align - an institution that's really in a great place with values that I admire in, geographically, a place in the country that I really love as well.