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Welcome from new A&S Dean John Geer

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CAS - Compass E-Newsletter [Vanderbilt University]

November 2018

Dear Arts and Science community,

One of our Anthropology majors, Anna Whittemore (class of 2019), accompanied Tiffiny Tung, an accomplished member of the A&S faculty, to Peru to study the ancient culture of the Wari Empire. Anna excavated skeletons from over 1,200 years ago, analyzed them, and then exported small bone samples to Vanderbilt for advanced laboratory studies. Using archaeological chemistry and her superb lab skills, she reconstructed their diet, contributing to a greater understanding of how the Wari people lived. Anna will not only use these data for her Senior Honors Thesis, but will also present them at a professional conference.

This story is just one example of many that illustrate the power of the educational experience in Arts and Science. Anna, and many other students just like her, take advantage of the many immersive and innovative opportunities available. A&S develops students’ skills so they are prepared to make a difference in the world—in whatever field they choose. We accomplish this in a number of ways, perhaps most notably by preparing students to think about problems in new ways and from different perspectives. This essential skill pays countless dividends over the course of a lifetime. Teaching students to think carefully and creatively means that they (1) understand the context surrounding an issue, (2) take into account multiple perspectives and viewpoints, and (3) ask critical questions that others aren’t asking. Students who can accomplish this will find success in their chosen field—and by “success” I mean making a difference in the lives of others, as well as enjoying one’s own life.

There are other aspects of the A&S experience that set us apart. For example, the new Immersion program provides students with an in-depth learning experience outside of the classroom (and often outside of their major). Immersion now makes it possible for our students to tap into the insights, expertise, and resources of award-winning faculty across Vanderbilt’s ten schools, including law, business, and medicine. Also, the continued expansion of the residential college experience creates a “living/learning community” where students and faculty can engage around social and intellectual pursuits, further fostering life-long learning. In addition, our study abroad programs in more than 40 countries across the globe offer unparalleled cultural and educational experiences that shape our students for the rest of their lives.

A&S also creates a unique educational experience by investing in important interdisciplinary programs. For example, Women’s and Gender Studies, Cinema and Media Arts, and Neuroscience are offering cutting-edge classes and growing in size and impact, which requires strategic investments to support their missions. We are revamping the Communication of Science and Technology program to address critical issues arising in society’s understanding of science. And over the last few years, Medicine, Health, and Society has become our second most popular major, underscoring our students’ interest in understanding the range of factors that affect health.

I truly believe that Vanderbilt offers a world-class experience that allows our students to engage with a rich array of academic, cultural, social, and experiential opportunities. That unique combination creates graduates who are poised for success, regardless of major.

I am grateful to work with this accomplished community of faculty, students, staff, and alumni. Needless to say, I wish you all a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.

My best,

John G. Geer
Dean of the College of Arts and Science
Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science

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New research by Lijun Song, associate professor of sociology, suggests that knowing high-status people may not always be good for your health, but it depends on how economically unequal your country is.

‘Art, Democracy and Justice’ series with Campos-Pons to launch

Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, professor of art and Vanderbilt Cornelius Endowed Chair of Fine Arts, has created a new lecture series that aims to connect Vanderbilt to a growing dialogue around the world about relationships between art, democracy and justice.

Why does it take humans so long to mature compared to other animals? Look to your neurons!

How long humans and other warm-blooded animals live, and when they reach sexual maturity, may have more to do with neurons in their cortex than body size or mass, according to new research by Suzana Herculano-Houzel, associate professor of psychology and biological sciences.

In the News

Time: Marsha Blackburn prevails in Tennessee senate race (John Geer, dean of the College of Arts and Science; Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science, quoted)

The New York Times: Far-right internet groups listen for Trump’s approval, and often hear it (Sophie Bjork-James, assistant professor of the practice in anthropology, quoted)

Vice: Mental health providers can’t stop mass shootings (Jonathan Metzl, Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Medicine, Health and Society, quoted)

Popular Science: Scientists set up a haunted lab to figure out why we like being scared (David Sald, professor of psychology, quoted)

The Conversation: Where sexes come by the thousands (Antonis Rokas, Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair in Biological Sciences)

The Chronicle of Higher Education: Coming out as working class (Justin Quarry, senior lecturer in English)

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