Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Talking with CAS Acting Dean, Gabi Starr

starr.jpgG. Gabrielle Starr has been Acting Dean of the NYU College of Arts & Science since August 1, 2011, following in the footsteps of Dean Matthew Santirocco. Having been Acting Dean for almost two semesters, Gabi has already initiated some exciting changes. We were very grateful for the opportunity to speak with Gabi earlier this week about new developments in the College of Arts & Science, her experience as Acting Dean, and even an anecdote from Gabi's first few days in the position. It must be thrilling to go from Chair of the English Department to Acting Dean of the College of Arts and Science. So far, what is your favorite part about being a dean? It has been a great honor for me to be able to lead the College this year. I’ve spent 11 years at NYU, but I still have so much to learn about the greater NYU community. We have an exciting, complicated, rich university and an extraordinary student body; getting to know the place and the people differently and better has been the best part of my job so far. Has your new role opened you up to any new perspectives or taught you any unexpected lessons? The complexity of NYU is one of our greatest strengths, because it means that we have the ideas and the perspectives to solve just about any problem; it’s just a matter of putting the pieces together. What sorts of changes do you think will take place over the next decade at the College of Arts & Science? We will continue to attract the best students in the country, but increasingly will draw the best the world has to offer because of the unique appeal of the College as part of the global network university. Are there any new developments within the college that alumni might find interesting? Beginning in Fall 2012, the College of Arts and Science will launch an exciting new co-curricular initiative, the Collegiate Cohort Program (CCP). The CCP will ultimately furnish a framework for the four years of university life in CAS, and will provide students with micro-communities that are diverse in intellectual range, and that become crucibles for debate and scholarship, as well as a welcoming Collegiate home. Students’ first encounters with their cohort will be in the Freshman Dialogue, during Welcome Week; activities throughout that first week will begin to engage students with each other and with the dynamics of life both here in the city and in our broader, global presence. As students circulate throughout the global network university and as they transition to the wider world of work, the Collegiate Cohort will anchor them, providing a home at NYU and a portal for continued engagement with the College. In the first year, freshmen will work closely with a CAS advisor and a College Leader (an advanced CAS student) as they shape their own visions of Collegiate life at NYU. Over the next 3 years, cohorts will become the focus for some of the essential building blocks of CAS, including advising, mentorship, and academic curiosity. We will be asking alumni to join in as mentors as the cohorts mature, and I look forward to welcoming many of you back in that role! What would you say is currently your main area of academic research, and do you still find time to pursue it outside of work? I just finished a book on the neuroscience of the way we experience music, painting and poetry, called Feeling Beauty. The world of the aesthetic is dynamic, even strangely so. We all know that tastes and arts change, and that what counts as art to one person or one culture is nonsense to another. In this book I argue that the dynamic nature of aesthetic life is linked to the way that our brains encounter aesthetic pleasures. The book will be out next year, from Johns Hopkins University Press. Research is still possible for me as a dean, and I find time to do it because I love learning new things, and because it helps me feel closely connected to the life of the mind, which our students and faculty share. I work with students in my lab and as research advisees, and that keeps me grounded in the work we do. Have you read any good books lately? I’ve been reading books for the Freshman Dialogue this year. There were three amazing finalists, but we’ve chosen The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht. It’s a beautifully written, compelling account of family and humanitarianism in a time of war. Do you have any favorite lunch spots in the village? It’s too hard to choose! But I have a soft spot for the Knickerbocker on University Place. Do you have any fun stories that you could share with alumni about your experience as Acting Dean? People talk about being swept away in a new job. I started being Acting Dean in August, and we immediately had an earthquake and a hurricane; seeing the scaffolding swaying from the 9th floor of Silver was a dizzying experience.

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