CAS - Ampersand E-Newsletter [Vanderbilt University]

March 2015

Dear College of Arts and Science friends:

Dean John SloopAs this newsletter goes out, graduate students from all disciplines are coming together in the Three-Minute Thesis competition here on campus.

Imagine dozens of brilliant and passionate graduate students distilling the core of their work — their theses — into a three-minute presentation. To make it more challenging: They must explain it in language their grandparents would understand.

It’s fascinating to listen to the diversity of ideas and rich scholarship of all our 845 graduate students. They come to Vanderbilt specifically to research and learn with our expert faculty. The faculty, in turn, rely on graduate students to help advance their research and explore new ideas.

My colleague, Vicki Greene, senior associate dean for graduate education and research, brought the idea for the Three-Minute Thesis to Vanderbilt. On Monday, she was one of 60 nuclear physicists who traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with legislators and ask for support for nuclear physics research funding.

Vicki says that in every meeting on the Hill, talk turned to how vital graduate students are in meeting the nation’s scientific workforce needs in academic, government, industrial and financial fields. Vicki was also able to discuss with representatives how those students rely on federal grants and funding for their degrees.

Today’s graduate students are the next generation of researchers, writers, scientists and creators. Society will benefit from their discoveries, insights and vision. These young scholars are also the next generation of professors. In 10 to 20 years, they will be in classrooms, perhaps some right here in Arts and Science, helping students learn, explore and think creatively.

It doesn’t really matter which graduate student wins Friday’s competition. Vanderbilt, future students and society are the true winners.

Dean John Sloop's signature




John M. Sloop


What is class, anyway?

NBC News turned to political science’s Josh Clinton to be the statistics/polling expert for its ongoing series, Class in America. The series explores how economic challenges have changed the way people view themselves and what class means to Americans today.


Arts and Science in the news

This will be the year Pluto is reinstated as a planet, astronomy’s David Weintraub told Discover Magazine, Popular Science,, Huffington Post and WLS-AM. René Marois’ theory on the origins of consciousness was published and soon became the week’s most popular news story on Vanderbilt’s website. Writer-in-Residence Alice Randall spoke to NPR about Soul Food, a cookbook written with her daughter. Jessica Oster’s work on a map of the American West 21,000 years ago may help predict a mega drought in the future.

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Vanessa Beasley

Beasley named The Ingram Commons dean

Vanessa Beasley, an expert in race, gender and diversity in U.S. political rhetoric, has been named the next dean of The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons.

Oscar Touster

First molecular biology chair dies

Oscar Touster, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, emeritus, died Feb. 27. He was 93.


Callie House Center

The African American and Diaspora Studies Program celebrated its new research center for the study of black cultures and politics on March 12. From left, Tracy Sharpley-Whiting , Mary Frances Berry, Mary Alice Randall and Gilman Whiting.

Cornfield in class

Cross-campus look at secularism

Faculty from 12 Arts and Science departments have joined colleagues from across Vanderbilt to teach a Divinity School class on secularism. The trans-institutional course looks at the increasing tension between the material world and religious beliefs. Above: Sociology’s Dan Cornfield.


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