Letter from the President: Fall 2014

Dear alumni, parents, faculty, staff and friends:

It’s a different world.

My father was a national leader in modern trauma surgery, yet the way he practiced medicine seems downright antiquated by today’s standards. That’s not due solely to advances in medical knowledge, either.

No, like every other area of human knowledge, the very nature of medicine has changed. Gone are the days of studying in discrete disciplines such as medicine, law, business, science, architecture or the arts.

To succeed in life, to make a difference in the world, today’s students must be schooled not only in subjects but in interconnected systems of knowledge. The English major needs to know about marketing, the architecture student needs to learn about the sociological impact of building design, the engineer needs to know foreign languages.

Tulane is perfectly poised to provide such an innovative, interdisciplinary experience for its students. We are unique among universities in having all of our undergraduates matriculate through one single college, Newcomb-Tulane College.

Why is this important? It encourages students to view their education more broadly rather than compartmentalizing themselves into one particular major or field of study.

Through the Newcomb-Tulane College model students are free to explore endless possibilities and avenues of discovery, to learn who they are and the difference that knowledge can make in their own life and in the lives of others.

The dancer may not decide to become a scientist but sharing a common entry point into Tulane with unlike-minded classmates just might inspire him to take a human physiology course to learn how the musculoskeletal system powers artistic expression.

The student who has always dreamed of being a chemist might not decide to become a business major but after taking some entrepreneurial courses at the Freeman School, she may decide to open her own environmental consulting  business. The sculptor may decide to become a psychologist or, better yet, become a sculptor and a psychologist.

And the medical student will learn how to cook. That’s right — cook. This is the mission of the recently opened Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine, where  a professional chef working in a state-of-the-art kitchen teaches Tulane medical  students the culinary skills they need to help their patients cook and eat right.

Tulane is the first medical school in the nation to pursue such an innovative concept, which is the brainchild of philanthropist and Tulane alumnus William Goldring.

Melding culinary magic and medical practice is a prime example of the great things that happen when the walls between various fields of knowledge are brought down and experts in all disciplines work together to solve local and  global problems.

Another even more powerful example of this is Tulane’s leadership in fighting  the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. From working to create a vaccine and a rapid response test for Ebola, to our partnership with Harvard University and others in the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Consortium, the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and School of Medicine are on the front lines of this global battle.

The School of Medicine and the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine have also joined forces with the School of Science and Engineering in an effort to use bioinformatics and biostatistics to better diagnose and treat diseases ranging from osteoporosis to schizophrenia to bipolar disorder.

Fostering multi-discipline collaborations such as this is at the heart of the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking. Established with a $15 million gift from Tulane alumnus and board member Phyllis Taylor, the center will bring Tulane faculty, students and researchers from a wide array of disciplines together to find practical solutions to real-life problems in the environment, education, health care and more.

The Taylor Center will hire faculty who specialize in design thinking — the process of finding pragmatic, efficient and sustainable solutions to societal problems. It will also bring Taylor Social Innovation Fellows — world-renowned social entrepreneurs and practitioners — to Tulane as visiting professors. Adding these new resources to the leadership we have already established in social innovation will produce some amazing results.

Academic collaborations can take many forms. For instance, Mark Davis, a law school faculty member, and Mike Blum, a scientist, hail from widely different  disciplines, but through their shared expertise on environmental issues they, along with colleagues throughout the university, worked together to bring The French-Ameri-Can Climate Talks to Tulane. This major conference of scientific and policy experts was one of only seven such gatherings in the United States and Canada leading up to the 2015 United Nations annual climate change summit in Paris.

The Tulane National Primate Research Center, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is another Tulane hub for innovative collaborations that address the pressing problems and needs of our world. The center supports the research of more than 400 institutions each year and is home to several unique programs funded by the National Institutes of Health, including a simian vaccine evaluation unit, a tuberculosis research unit and a Tuberculosis Systems Biology program that features teams of microbiologists, molecular biologists, veterinarians, pathologists, infectious disease/pulmonary physicians, mathematicians and statisticians all working together.

The Primate Research Center’s unit of Collaborative Research was specifically designed to offer scientists throughout the university and country the coveted opportunity to conduct research at the Primate Center, one of only eight such centers in the country. Among other discoveries, this has resulted in a promising new drug that could  prevent HIV infections.

While Tulane is already a leader in interdisciplinary efforts such as the ones mentioned above, we can do even more, especially at the undergraduate level. To that end, I have formed a task force on undergraduate education to find ways to make the collaborative thought and action of interdisciplinary studies truly a central, defining characteristic of a Tulane education.

This “new” effort actually hearkens back to the original vision that gave birth to Tulane. An 1834 collaboration among doctors to solve the pressing problems of the day (yellow fever, malaria and other infectious diseases that menaced subtropical New Orleans) led to the foundation of what would become Tulane University.

Today, 180 years later, Tulane is still gathering the best minds, exploring the broadest knowledge and summoning the deepest compassion to confront problems that affect and threaten us all. This is what a Tulane education is all about — our values, our history, our very DNA foster profound thinking and purposeful action in partnership with one another and the world.




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