Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Juli Wade was busy studying toward a psychology degree, working in a dining hall, and playing flute in the Cornell Big Red marching band when a clarinetist friend told her about an opening in the animal behavior lab where she worked.
So Wade, an animal lover who claims that her beloved childhood dog, Sam, could have won an ugly dog contest, quickly traded her hot and messy dining hall job for the chance to clean up zebra finch and quail poop, and get her hands regularly covered with angry mama-bird pecks as she counted ringdove eggs.
When the laboratory managers saw she was “a reasonably responsible person,” says Wade, they started giving her bigger jobs, like treating baby birds with hormones to determine long-term effects on their brains.
“I just started listening to conversations, spending more time with the graduate students and asking what they were working on,” she says. “I got really excited about it, and they let me keep doing more.
“I still cleaned the cages, though,” she smirks.
Now, as the incoming dean of the largest college at UConn, Wade is taking a cue from her former self: She’s listening to conversations, spending time with people, and asking what would make their work even better.
“I love the possibilities in a college as big and complex as CLAS,” she says. “I want to build bridges across all of our disciplines to create new opportunities for education and scholarship.”
After Cornell, Wade went on to a psychology Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin, a postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA, and a faculty position at Michigan State University, where she studied how gene expression and exposure to hormones create changes in the nervous system, which in turn affects behavior in birds and lizards.
She then served as department chair of MSU’s Department of Psychology for seven years, where she particularly enjoyed hiring and mentoring junior faculty. Those interests grew into Wade becoming an associate provost for faculty and academic staff development.
“All along I loved doing the science, but my favorite part was working with students and postdocs and helping to launch their careers,” she says. “That interest transitioned to mentoring junior faculty when I was chair. Mentoring and supporting the careers of others has always been really interesting and rewarding to me.”
Most recently, Wade was a fellow of the American Council on Education, which trains higher education leaders, at the University of Pennsylvania. She says that leading a large, broad college like CLAS has been an aim of hers for several years.
“There are strengths in this College in a lot of diverse disciplines,” she notes. “The question is: How can we build on those strengths, fill some gaps between them, and create something innovative, new, and exciting?”
Wade intends to use the 2019-2020 academic year to embark on a College-wide strategic planning process, which will produce a shared vision for the College with input from faculty, staff, and students.
“We want to create terrific experiences for students both in and out of the classroom, build interdisciplinary scholarship, and enhance the diversity of our faculty,” she says. “We need to develop the details of that vision, and specific strategies and goals for achieving that vision, together as a College.”
Wade believes firmly that a 21st-century liberal arts education is invaluable because it provides a way for students to “learn to learn.” She intends to help students see the applicability of studying what they love in CLAS.
“You learn to write, you learn critical thinking skills, you become more multiculturally aware. You get a knowledge base in a core discipline, or even two core disciplines, and add the skills to adapt wherever you go. Companies want to hire students from colleges like ours because they know how to learn, and will keep learning forever.”
Wade also plans to build on the College’s more than $40 million research profile by connecting faculty and students across departments and fields.
“There are some kinds of questions that can be better answered by building bridges across traditional disciplines,” she says. “People from different fields have different perspectives, are trained in different ways, and can help each other solve problems that have never been solved.”
Wade says that to do her job well, she will keep talking to people in all corners of the College throughout her tenure, and will shine a light on the students, faculty, and staff who quietly support the University’s mission–down to the very last laboratory animal cage-cleaner and egg-counter.
“I want to find the people in this College who are doing great work out of the spotlight,” Wade says. “We have so many of them, and they make this university tick.”
By Christine Buckley | Story courtesy of UConn Today