Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 21, 1996 Form

Stuart Leslie
Steps Up For

New post: Arts and
Sciences names first
dean of undergraduate

Leslie Rice
News and Information

Last week, a group of students held a meeting to discuss the East Asian studies program one year after its introduction as a major at Hopkins. The meeting drew about 10 students who wanted to improve the program's offerings.

A young, bespectacled professor became the object of a few curious glances as he walked in and took a seat.

A few minutes into the meeting, history of science professor Stuart Leslie, the new assistant dean of undergraduate studies, was eagerly helping the students devise better means to advertise the program's course offerings and ways to work with the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies and neighboring universities to offer more courses for the major.

"I found it really heartening that Dr. Leslie just saw one of the fliers posted and decided to drop by the meeting," said Fi Cheng, a junior who co-chaired the meeting. "He came up with a lot of good ideas, but, more importantly, it was a really big boost for us to know that someone from the administration wants to help us with this program."

Stuart Leslie has been a presence at Hopkins since his postdoctorate days 15 years ago. Along with his years of research on, among other things, the role of technology and biotechnology on economies, his great love has been teaching, especially the undergraduates. His students have always known that; they have consistently rated his class as engaging and interesting, demanding but fun.

"He cares about the students, about their lives inside and outside the classrooms," said Carol Burke, dean of academic affairs. "I've been hearing for years from the students about his talent as a teacher."

So it was not surprising when Leslie responded to a call from Krieger School of Arts & Sciences dean and university provost Steven Knapp for applications for a new position: an assistant dean of undergraduate studies whose efforts would be devoted entirely to improving the academic lives of Hopkins undergraduates.

"We've been doing quite a bit to strengthen our undergraduate programs here in the last several years," Knapp said. "We have recently undertaken full reviews, first of our faculty advising program and then of our preprofessional advising program. As a result, a number of recommendations have been made for strengthening our advising system that also have implications for our curriculum.

"We then perceived a need for someone to come in from the faculty, someone with a proven record of a strong interest in undergraduate programs, to move ahead with some of the recommendations that our committees have been making."

Leslie's casual, accessible style with students is one of the reasons why he's a good fit for the job. He's the kind of professor who bikes to and from work every day from his Rodgers Forge home, has two very comfortable armchairs facing each other in his office, one for himself, the other for his students, and an office door that he keeps open. And he very much believes that the undergraduate years ought to be some of the most intellectually exciting ones of a person's life.

"Yet at Hopkins so many students get on one track, like pre-med for example, where their focus remains very narrow and they never explore other subjects," Leslie said. "For some, it's not really their fault, they have such heavy lab requirements that they don't have the time to take other courses. I wonder how some of these students can enjoy their academic experiences when they are simply jumping through one hoop after another for their majors.

"So one of the things we maybe need to do is look at the credit structure of some labs and requirements. These aren't easy things to change, but I think many of the different departments are also beginning to think this way."

Leslie will also look for ways to improve students' first Hopkins academic experiences. It isn't unusual for freshmen to find themselves in one large survey course after another and not interact much with professors until their junior and senior year, when they get into the thick of their majors. Some work in that area has already been tackled. Two years ago, the School of Arts and Sciences created a required freshman course that is small in size, taught by senior professors and designed to attack a subject from a deliberately interdisciplinary approach. Then last year, the entire freshman academic advising system was revamped in an effort to heighten awareness of the many different academic directions a student can take at Hopkins.

Leslie has other plans: improving the quality and availability of overseas programs; working with other Hopkins institutions to create more hands-on internships for credit; requiring increased training for all teaching assistants; and finding ways to discourage the growing number of students who race to finish Hopkins in three and a half years.

"I think those students are really cheating themselves," Leslie said. "That could be the best semester of their college experience, where they take courses outside their majors simply because they're interesting. For no other reason, it makes them a more well-rounded, attractive student to graduate schools."

This year, Leslie will divide his time between administrative duties and completing research on the realities of creating a biotechnology-based regional economy. Next year, he'll divide his time between teaching and his work as assistant dean.

To stay in tune with student concerns, he's begun meeting with freshmen to gauge their first college impressions and is setting up meetings with upperclassmen over informal cafeteria lunches for their feedback.

"I'm really looking forward to all this," he said. "I've always really enjoyed working with the undergraduates, and it's exciting to be able to play a role in what could improve their time here at Hopkins."

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