March 7, 2016  

Liberal arts dean marks first year at Purdue

David Reingold

David Reingold, the Justin S. Morrill Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. (Photo provided)
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David Reingold wants the campus to know there is great pride in the College of Liberal Arts. Whether it is in the arts, humanities or social sciences, the college is deeply passionate and committed to its work.

Reingold, who became the Justin S. Morrill Dean of the College of Liberal Arts last March, says the liberal arts prepare students for successful careers, engaged citizenship and fulfilling lives.

"We are proud that the Gallup-Purdue Index has reiterated these findings," he says. "We know that virtually every Purdue student takes a class in our college. I am mindful that there are many demands upon our students. Still, I challenge every student to try one more Liberal Arts course. Be bold. Challenge yourself. Take a class outside your comfort zone. We have a great deal to offer and our faculty are eager to share their enthusiasm for their disciplines with curious students."

You have completed your first year at Purdue. What has it been like acclimating to Purdue?

It has been a year in which I have learned new things every day. Whether it is tied to our academic programs, the people in the college or the ways in which Purdue functions, every day has had a learning component.

I've lived in Indiana for nearly two decades, and Purdue is my fourth Big Ten university, but each place has its own history, its own distinct character. What I learned quickly at Purdue, and I've said this before, is that it's a very serious place. The faculty here and students here have a deep commitment to their work.

Even more than that, there's a sense of responsibility to making a difference in the world. Public service was an important part of my early career, which included time with the Corporation for National and Community Service. Doing good in the world, making a difference, that's something that feels baked into the DNA of this place. It's an environment that I enjoy and respect.

What are some of the challenges facing the college, and liberal arts nationally? What are some opportunities?

There's a national narrative that has elevated STEM education and sometimes devalued the liberal arts. I think that's the wrong story. We live in a highly interconnected world with complex problems. When we bring together the STEM disciplines with the liberal arts, we enhance our ability to find solutions to those problems that work from both a technical standpoint and a human perspective. At Purdue, we have a particular opportunity, and I would say responsibility, to shift that narrative.

As a comprehensive research university, we can bring together the best of both worlds creating multi-disciplinary teams of faculty and students to work toward solutions in creative, innovative ways. Great universities are defined by combined strength in STEM and liberal arts. Working together, I think we can elevate Purdue even higher among the truly great American universities.

In the college, we have resources that truly set us apart. For me, having spent three years working in Washington, D.C., it's a thrill to consider the opportunities we have by virtue of our affiliation with Brian Lamb, C-SPAN, and the C-SPAN Archives at the Purdue Research Park. The Archives are a national treasure, a video record of our democracy that is without parallel. Finding new ways to connect our students with that resource and to broaden its reach is an exciting proposition.

The Online Writing Lab, OWL, has an impressive following. Last year, there were more than 345 million page views from six continents. High schools, government agencies, and of course college students rely on this resource. It is the most public manifestation of the college's role in delivering writing instruction across the campus and, quite literally, around the world. We are very proud of it and look forward to exploring new ways to build on its reputation and success.

You have launched a number of initiatives since your arrival including a focus on an immersive undergraduate research and internship experience in the College of Liberal Arts. Can you summarize some of these initiatives related to students, undergraduate and graduate?

At the undergraduate level, our Job-Ready program is intended to bring unpaid and low-paid internships within reach for more of our students. It provides awards of up to $2,000 for students on internships. We know that practical, on-the-job experience alongside their academic preparation makes our students more marketable. I hope that soon, every Liberal Arts student will have an internship or research experience. This year, we will award $50,000 for this program.

The Promise Awards support our graduate students with funds for domestic and international travel for research and conferences that will enhance their growth as scholars and build recognition of the fine work done here. I have allocated $100,000 for the program this year.

Can you share some of your interests or personal experiences so people can get to know you better?

I grew up in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. When I was in high school, I was a serious photographer and Walker Evans, the Great Depression Era photographer, was my hero. I spent much of my high school years documenting the physical landscape and urban decay of the neighborhoods surrounding Hyde Park -- some of the lowest-income neighborhoods in America. My high school photography teacher advised me to try photojournalism so I could find a way to make a living, while cultivating my passion as an artist. I spent a semester taking pictures for my high school newspaper and realized I had no talent for photojournalism. I discovered the social sciences in college and realized I could pursue my passion for documenting and understanding contemporary issues of day, including urban poverty and low-income housing policy. I dedicated myself to these topics and have been blessed to have had multiple opportunities in my career where I have been able to bring my expertise in social policy into the public arena as a researcher, educator and policy maker. 

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