Letter from the President: Fall 2015

Dear alumni, parents, faculty, staff and friends:

It’s 2025 at Tulane University.

New Orleans just completed its 20th anniversary commemoration of Hurricane Katrina, and people marveled at how much the city had changed since the last big observance of that historic moment. Students continued their long tradition of public service, spreading out across town for Outreach Tulane. Since Katrina, Tulane was particularly noted for public service projects. Now the empathetic values, practical experience and leadership preparation that come with public service are even more deeply infused throughout the curriculum.

Everyone is settling in for the 2025–26 academic year. The uptown and downtown campuses bustle with students encountering each other at recently developed gathering spots. They converse about their latest experiences and observations, learning not just from their studies, but from each other. In place of some of the previous residence halls, Tulane has additional residential colleges with academic and service themes thoroughly interwoven with students’ classroom work. The first-year students are clustered into their own vibrant, supportive village, giving them a strong class identity. Artists and engineers work alongside each other and trade structural ideas for aesthetic ones at the uptown campus Maker Space, which 10 years ago was itself an idea in development.

The latest thing Tulane has become known for nationally and globally is interdisciplinary education.

The university built a popular array of courses that blend the liberal arts and sciences with professional education. Almost all students pursue a major and a minor across different fields. A cadre of professors rotates among different schools, invigorating this multidimensional perspective. The world is moving and changing faster than ever. Technology continues rapidly advancing. Employers are heralding approaches like Tulane’s for preparing the creative, broad-minded, nimble thinkers they need to compete.

At the same time, Tulane has greatly grown its reputation for interdisciplinary research and leadership on crucial issues felt worldwide. The university stands out in three areas that have grown tremendously in importance: health and bioinnovation; energy, the environment and resilience; and global studies. The university, in fact, has expanded all kinds of worldwide connections. Most students spend a semester or a summer internship abroad. Tulane is noted for its visiting faculty from around the world, international students and partnerships with universities abroad.

When people think about Tulane, they think about a place that attracts the best students, instills in them the ability to adapt and step up to leadership and launches them into careers that make a difference in the world.

This is a wonderful picture of Tulane in 2025. We are painting it now. Back here in the present day, my theme for tying together all of our initiatives is “Crossing Boundaries.” That can mean literal boundaries between countries, as in our global studies efforts. Or it can mean boundaries between ideas, fields of study, different aspects of university life and people from different backgrounds. Many researchers and writers have described how making connections between different pieces of knowledge, in our own minds and in our collaborations with others, is the key to creativity and innovation. Focusing on this principle also is Tulane’s key for standing out in the increasingly competitive landscape of higher education. We are primed to run with this, considering our range of disciplines, unified undergraduate college, strategic size and the distinct character we draw from our quirky, colorful New Orleans roots.

That’s why I’ve been excited at the start of 2015–16 to share with the university community two reports from task forces I convened in my first year as president. They illuminate areas where Tulane can take the lead.

The faculty, students and administrators on the Undergraduate Experience and the Academic Collaborations task forces have given us our first glimpse of Tulane in 2025. We’re also planning how our physical campus can better accommodate the connected culture described by the two groups.

The Undergraduate Experience group outlined enhancements to the Honors Program and TIDES first-year interdisciplinary seminars. Its recommendations include deeper community service experiences for students, more scholarships for underrepresented populations, a more cohesive residential experience, a broader approach to campus health and wellness, and increased advising to help students navigate all the new options.

The Academic Collaborations team identified major challenges in the world where Tulane has strengths and expertise, as well as the opportunity to further heighten its leadership. Those include the environment, energy and resilience, with our New Orleans vantage point putting us at the forefront of some of the most urgent issues of the 21st century. They also include global studies, particularly growing Tulane’s strong ties to Latin America and Africa. And they include health and bioinnovation, where we have tremendous capacity for collaboration because of the resources brought by our schools of Medicine, Public Health and Tropical Medicine and Science and Engineering, in addition to our National Primate Research Center.

When you look around Tulane today, you can easily see that the right ingredients and mindsets for a truly distinctive higher education environment already are in place. With the unified Newcomb-Tulane College, undergraduates are empowered to explore different subjects. Madeline Lafuse did just that, graduating in the class of 2015 with an incredible array of four majors: Asian studies, gender and sexuality studies, history and linguistics. She’s now in Beijing, teaching high school students who want to attend business school at Tulane.

“Everything is connected,” she said. “Once I mastered literary analysis, I could take classes in everything from phonetics to Chinese language to film and get at the perspective I was after. “The world is only changing more rapidly, and the information and skills you’ve acquired in one field are likely to become obsolete more quickly than you expect,” she said. “If you know more, then you are more robust and able to adjust to new challenges and environments.”

Looking to research, a Tulane team recently won a five-year, $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to combine psychology with computer science in studying how attention works in the brain. Edward Golob, associate professor of psychology, is leading the effort, focusing on how we process the locations of sounds and react to them. He’s working with psychology researcher Jeff Mock and computer science associate professor Brent Venable, using computer software to simulate brain activity.

“The language of computation is the language of the brain,” Golob said. But, he said, “It tends to be in different camps. I study what neurons do and Brent studies computation. We need to understand both to understand the brain.”

Tulane 2025 might not be so distant after all. Maybe it’s the year we’ll reflect and remember how we pushed Tulane to achieve more and greater things than ever before, starting out with all of our efforts back in 2015. 




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