Purdue Profiles: Christine Ladisch

October 12, 2010

Christine Ladisch, inaugural dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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Christine Ladisch is hoping to parlay more than 30 years of experience at Purdue into a successful first year as the inaugural dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences. Her charge, Ladisch says, as constantly encouraged by the transitional leadership team that helped to build the college from the beginning, is "to break the mold, do things differently, and shamelessly steal from those who are doing things well."

From her Purdue graduate school days in textile science through her rise in the faculty ranks, Ladisch is well-acquainted with the classroom culture on campus. As the associate dean of academic affairs in the former College of Consumer and Family Sciences (1993-99), the head of the Department of Consumer Sciences and Retailing (1999-2001), and, most recently, vice provost for academic affairs, she also is accustomed to leading others through transitional periods. That should prove beneficial in her two-year term as dean of the new college.

There was a lot of laughter in the introductory meeting for faculty and staff in the new College of Health and Human Sciences. Did you know the presentations were going to be that funny?
One of the things I wanted to do from the very beginning was try to create a sense of community -- the sense of belonging to a college. I thought if we started with the regular, traditional-style faculty meeting, we would be excluding well over half the employees in this college. So I made it "Come one, come all," and they did!
And it was fun. I was touched and encouraged by the laughter. It was laughing together at funny things and seeing humor in the size of the gargantuan task we have before us. I think we came a long way on day one, experiencing that sense of community.

What's the biggest challenge facing the college in the first year?
There are a lot of unknowns ahead of us, and some of the unknowns have to do with the budget. All of our colleges are facing a budget cut. The timing is unfortunate because we're brand-new and trying to build our first budget, but we'll do our part in trying to reduce expenditures.

What's the most common question you're fielding about the new college?
One of the most common questions is "What's going to happen to the students?" And my answer to that is of all parts of the college, the students will be affected least by the change. We want their transition from their current colleges to HHS to be as seamless as possible. And so we have academic advisors and other professional staff, along with the faculty, working hard to make that happen.
Another question students ask is "Will my program requirements change?" It's a logical question, because if you're a student from one college with a core set of requirements and joining a new college, you may wonder what's required of you now. We don't yet have established requirements for the college, so your former college's requirements are still your requirements.

So why is the formation of a new college a good thing?

First, the creation of the college is all about our students. It creates a focal point for students seeking academic programs in fields related to health and human sciences. We also hope to attract students who might not otherwise choose Purdue. We're planning new transformational learning opportunities for students, and expanding existing study abroad and experiential learning programs.
The college brings together faculty having common interests, a wide array of expertise, and a dedication to improving human health and well-being. By bringing them together into one college, we hope they will discover new opportunities and creative ways to work together to address some of mankind's most pressing problems. 

How will you measure the college's success after the first year?

That question reminds me of the closing remarks by the Higher Learning Commission accreditation team last spring. The team described the creation of this college as Purdue's "bold new initiative." So what are the benchmarks for our success?
I think there are a number of measures, but comparisons with the past will be difficult because we were previously aligned with three different colleges. It may take some time to determine if external research funding is going up, although several of our faculty have recently landed significant grants, so I like the trend line thus far. I think we can look at the greater visibility of Health and Human Sciences programs and the recruitment of students. Are we attracting talented students, and students who might not otherwise come to Purdue? Are we retaining our students and how long does it take for them to graduate? Are there sufficient career opportunities when they graduate? Are faculty and staff finding satisfaction in coming to work? Do they feel empowered to do their best work? Is the scholarship of our faculty respected and recognized?

Some of this is transient and I'm not sure how we can measure it. But I think we'll know success when we get there. If we're looking back and nodding in appreciation -- and relief! -- next July, we'll know then that we had a good year.

What are your personal goals for the year?

I really want to work with our faculty and staff to create new transformational learning opportunities for students and to support new, emerging signature research areas. Something else important to me is reaching out to friends and alumni of the college. By virtue of having graduated from a certain program, they've inherited us as a new academic home. And we've inherited them as alumni. That doesn't automatically make us feel a sense of community or appreciation for one another. So one of my goals this year is to visit with alumni, talk with them about the new college, and invite them to be a part of it.

That all sounds very ambitious. Could you possibly have any time for hobbies?

It's all work! Well, no, I think something away from work is a healthy idea. I love to play tennis. I'm not a particularly skilled tennis player, but I'm a passionate player and being on the court is a reprieve for me. It's social and it's good exercise.