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October 27, 2008
By John Trent
He had been there almost from the very inception of the College of Science, serving first as associate dean under Dean David Westfall when the college came into being in 2004.
When Westfall stepped down as dean in 2007, Jeff Thompson was the logical choice to serve as interim dean.
And, this week, the administration of the University of Nevada, Reno decided that the logical choice was also the best choice when it was announced by Provost Marc Johnson that Thompson would become permanent dean.
Thompson, known for his low-key, self-effacing demeanor, met on Wednesday with staff members of the College of Science’s dean’s office to break the news.
“They were all pretty surprised,” Thompson said of the gathering on the second floor of Ross Hall. “I hadn’t given them any clues. We had gotten together, and I think they were expecting me to tell them who their next boss was.”
And when they heard the name Jeff Thompson?
Cheering and hugging broke out almost immediately.
“It was pretty loud, yes,” Thompson said, allowing himself a well-earned smile.
Scott Mensing, the former chairperson of the Department of Geography and one of the campus’ most decorated instructors, applauded the announcement.
“I’m really pleased to hear this,” Mensing said. “Jeff has done a very good job in the interim position to keep the college growing. He’s kept the building (the Davidson Mathematics and Science Center) on track, and he has really done a good job of supporting the departments within the college. His work has really helped make it a thriving college.”
There were many factors playing into Thompson’s appointment, perhaps the strongest being Thompson’s deep feelings regarding the mission of the College of Science. The college, which was created in 2004, represents a broad amalgam of teaching and research expertise. It is second to the College of Liberal Arts in the generation of student credit hours (more than 38,000 per semester) and is first on the campus for the management of research for grants and contracts (more than $26 million in the last year alone).
“Jeff has a strong resume of teaching and research productivity,” Johnson said. “His leadership performance over his career and the work he has done thus far has shown me he has the ability and passion to lead the college through this difficult budgetary time and position it for growth in the near future. In conversations with members of the faculty of the College of Science, it was apparent to me that Jeff is a well-respected leader who has shown he has the vision, the enthusiasm and the talent to foster the future of one of our largest colleges.”
Glick agreed with Johnson.
“Under Jeff’s leadership the College of Science has advocated strongly for student success and has made some notable inroads in the areas of recruitment and retention,” he said. “He has also shown a keen appreciation and sensitivity toward the role of his faculty and staff, particularly during difficult budgetary times. He recognizes the critical role of research to the future of the University and the state and the importance of competitive funding to maintain and enhance the University’s research profile.”
Thompson said he was humbled by Johnson’s announcement.
“I wish to thank President Glick and Provost Johnson,” he said. “I am going to do everything I can to ensure that the College of Science continues to grow and continues to be known for its strong emphasis on student success, on excellent teaching and research known both nationally and internationally, and for playing an integral role in our community.”
The 47-year-old Thompson , even before his role as interim dean, had long taken a lead role in the college in curricular and student success issues.
He has been at the forefront of the college’s creation of innovative initiatives such as the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program, and has worked to create programmatic synergies across the college’s seven departments and the Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering.
WISE, a living/learning program designed to encourage more female students to pursue majors in the sciences, mathematics and engineering, has been a notable success since its inception in fall 2007.
“We went from having no program to having a program in six months, and now we have a waiting list (for the 36-student program),” said Thompson, who praised WISE director Katherine McCall for her role in making the program a reality.
McCall, in turn, said that without Thompson’s guidance and support, the program would not have succeeded.
“This has been, in many respects, Jeff’s program from the very beginning,” McCall said. “He realized early on how a program like this would benefit our students, our college, and perhaps most importantly of all, the University. It really has helped create a community of people that the WISE students can keep with them throughout their college years.”
Thompson said he thinks the future of the College of Science is bright, even with more state-mandated budget cuts looming.
“Seeing the steel go up (for the college’s new $50 million Davidson Mathematics and Science Center) for the building has been fantastic,” he said. “It’s hard to believe that we’ll be ready to move in about a year or so. That whole process, of working with the many people involved with that project, has been a wonderful experience.”
Thompson said he has also been pleased with how well the college has come together since its creation in 2004.
“From the merger with the Mackay School and some of the units of the former College of Arts and Science, we’ve come a long way,, and we’re no longer at a point of, ‘How do we make a school?’” he said. “Now, we’ve learned to use our strengths and synergies to build other programs on what we have. Now we’re at a place where we can talk about how we can improve as units, how can we provide more opportunities for our faculty and students.”
Thompson said he believes the school’s best days are still to come.
“We have a great faculty and student base,” he said. “As I say over and over again, we are internationally known for what we do. Our students, when they leave us, go to professional or graduate schools all over the world. When they go to work, we hear about what great employees they are.
“It’s imperative that we continue to build on our strengths, so that when we come out of the current economic climate, we have haven’t lost any of our strength and we are ready to move forward.”
THE FILE ON JEFF THOMPSON:
Jeff Thompson, new dean of the College of Science, received his bachelor of science degree from the University of California, Los Angeles and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Tennessee. He did post-doctoral work at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He joined the Nevada faculty in 1991 and served as chairperson of the Physics Department from 2001-2004. His research is in the area of atomic and molecular physics and he continues to be active in the field. His students have been placed in a number of prestigious national internship and fellowship programs over the past decade.
John Trent is senior editor of news and features in digital initiatives.