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Keeping the Promise: Maclaren and Lopez

April 5, 2005

Tulanian Staff
Michael DeMocker

James Maclaren, Professor of Physics and Associate Provost: It is hard to believe that almost 15 years have passed since I started at Tulane as an assistant professor in 1990. As with prospective faculty members arriving on campus for an early spring interview, the weather was too warm and sunny, the city vibrant. (No hint of the summer's heat and humidity, of course.) The contrast from Dayton, Ohio, where I was a visiting scientist, could not have been greater.

tulspr_05_maclaren_1Looking back, Tulane has provided all that I could have asked for in an academic career -- initially as a home to develop professionally with my research career in condensed matter physics and later with opportunities as an administrator to make a difference in the lives of our students.

In terms of the degree of support provided to a junior faculty member at Tulane, my story is not unique. This support from deans and department chairs allowed me to compete successfully for state and federal research funding.

Outstanding students allowed me to complete proposed work and build a reputation for my group and Tulane. When the opportunity to serve as an associate provost arose, I knew this was the right position at the right time for me. Tulane had dynamic new leadership and was on an upward trajectory. Without fully understanding the demands of the job I said yes.

Filled with the enthusiasm, our team in the Office of the Provost set about tackling issues of student retention and satisfaction in the freshman year. From many perspectives this complex issue was one of the most important facing Tulane. Out of meetings with faculty, students, and administrators emerged a new initiative named The Tulane Interdisciplinary Experiences, or TIDES. Based around a one-credit seminar, exciting co-curricular activities and small classes, TIDES exposes students to a diverse variety of topics such as New Orleans culture, leadership and politics, visual arts, forensic science and religious experience.

And yet, TIDES offers incoming students more than an engaging classroom experience -- it provides friendship, a sense of community and, sometimes, a lifeline thrown into the maelstrom that is the fall semester of the freshman year. The program has grown during the three years since we first offered it; each year there have been more topics to choose from and more student and faculty participation. The results have been exciting and rewarding.

Students who enroll in TIDES are enthusiastic about the initiative, perform better in all their coursework and are retained at higher rates than those who choose not to participate. And we've only just begun. New residence halls are being built with attached apartments to house live-in faculty as we continue to bridge the gap between the classroom and residential life and build our intellectual communities. The word "opportunity" appears a couple of times in the above paragraphs. It's a good word to reflect the experience I have shared with others here. Opportunities are what Tulane has provided for me and for our students. And for that I am thankful.

Ana M. Lopez, Associate Professor of Communication and Associate Provost: When I first set eyes on Tulane University about 20 years ago, it was one of those luminous early March mornings, with clear skies, no humidity and multicolored azaleas in bloom up and down St. Charles Avenue. Coming from a five year graduate program in the Midwest, this was nirvana. I knew then instinctively, as I know now experientially, that this was a place I wanted to be in and grow up into.

tulspr_05_lopez_1Of course, it hasn't really been at all about March weather; I've since learned that there is also April through February to contend with. As an academic, Tulane has offered me an almost unimaginable set of experiences. In fact, it has now become something I expect.

From early on, I have had the opportunity to participate in what have been transformative moments for Tulane as well as transformative moments in my own career as a scholar and as a citizen of this particular university and academia in general.

I was hired as a Newcomb College faculty member in the Department of Communication, which was only a couple of years old at the time. Before I could even identify who the "administration" was, I was mired in the discussion about creating the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a unified curricular experience for our undergraduates. Those were heady discussions for a brand new assistant professor to be privy to. They were contentious, to be sure, but they instilled in me, very early on, a deep appreciation of the sacred mantra of this institution's life: shared governance.

Now as associate provost, what I learned then continues to guide all the initiatives with which I am involved. First of all, then as now, our institution is one that cares about its undergraduates. We do top-notch research and have great graduate programs, but the nature and quality of our undergraduate programs is our core.

Our faculty is committed to this and exemplify it in their teaching excellence, in their willingness to participate in innovative initiatives. But they are not going to "buy into" programs they have not had a say in developing, nurturing and building. That our freshman-year initiatives -- the TIDES program and the Reading Project, for example -- have become Tulane signature projects is a testament to the faculty's commitment to our students and to their success.

Of course, our students are an important part of the mix. Every year I am amazed by how smart and savvy they are. (I often ask myself, would I have made it into Tulane as a high school senior? The answer is not comforting....) At the end of the day, I like to think of our undergraduates as the motor that drives us. Increasingly, they have clear ideas about what they are aiming for and how to get there.

One of the greatest pleasures -- and challenges -- of my job has been figuring out their needs and learning how to make the beginning of their academic journey easier and more productive. And to make opportunities for them to stop and look at our azaleas. While they can.

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