Wednesday November 9 marked my 100th day at SMU and I wanted to write a blog post about it, but since it was also the day after the Presidential Election I obviously had other things on my mind besides writing this post. So here is, a little delayed, my perspective about SMU and Dallas.
The one thing you have to know about SMU and Dallas, especially if you're not from there, is that Dallas is the 2nd fastest growing metropolitan area in the country and SMU, in the words of someone local who did not graduate from SMU and does not work there, has the reputation in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that Stanford has in the country. It helps that so many alumni find work locally at one of the many companies headquartered nearby, such as American Airlines, Frito-Lay, AT&T, Exxon Mobil, FedEx Office, Neiman Marcus, Southwest Airlines, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, Symantec, Atmos Energy, Samsung Telecommunications, and more. It is also refreshing to be able to place top students close to the university where they graduated and hopefully develop strong relationships with industry partners over the years. A healthy situation for a university is when it can train students to later enter the workforce nearby if they so choose and do impactful work commensurate with their talents.
People might wonder about the influence of the Methodist church on university affairs, but its influence is limited to this: half the members of the Board of Trustees must be Methodist and if SMU wants to sell land (the way it did for the George W. Bush Presidential Library) it needs the approval of the Methodist church. And that's it. One thing I particularly like, although I'm not sure if it's due to SMU's Methodist origins or not, is that the commitment to being a force for good in the world pervades everything SMU does. It's already clear in its slogan, "world changers shaped here" and is also emphasized in centers such as the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility and the Hart Center for Engineering Leadership. It feels good to work there. There is a sense of possibility in the air that is difficult to find elsewhere.
I like that SMU is on the top of its hill and cares a lot about research but is also committed to providing students with the best education - classrooms in my building are cutting-edge, all the classrooms are equipped with top-notch distance-ed capabilities with all lectures being videotaped - and has such a supportive and loyal alumni base it recently raised over $1 billion for its Centennial campaign. While SMU already enjoys a stellar reputation regionally, it also has ambitious ideas for innovative academic programs and far-ranging research, and the means to realize its ambitions. I have to admit I have a privileged perspective since I was nominated for the Emerging Leaders program this semester at SMU, which has allowed me and a small group of SMU faculty to meet with top administrators, including the President of the University and the President of the Board of Trustees, in meetings led by the Provost. Let me tell you, SMU has the right people at the helm. It has been inspiring to hear their vision for the university.
My department, Engineering Management, Information and Systems, is led by Sila Cetinkaya who was in the Industrial and Systems Engineering department at Texas A&M until about two years ago, and she has great ideas for the department too. Our graduate students have a great can-do attitude, even when they see my exams (and if you are a former student of mine you know what I mean.) I haven't taught undergrads yet but I have two undergraduate Research Assistants and have been highly impressed by their work ethics and analysis skills. It feels good to see everyone aligned behind SMU's mission, which is to "create, expand, and impart knowledge through teaching, research, and service, shaping world changers who contribute to their communities and excel in their professions in a global society. Among its faculty, students, and staff, the University will cultivate principled thought, develop intellectual skills, and promote an environment emphasizing individual dignity and worth. SMU affirms its historical commitment to academic freedom and open inquiry, to moral and ethical values, and to its United Methodist heritage." A lot of mission statements are full of platitudes, but based on my 100 days here, this one tells the truth. I got into academia to make a difference in the world, and SMU is the right place to do it at.
So far I've found the quality of life to be exceptional. SMU is located in a wealthy part of town with amazing dining options for someone who is health conscious like me (there are plenty of BBQ joints if you prefer). My commute door to door is less than 10 minutes. One of my favorite activities is to go to the SMU Meadows School of Performing Arts, which is one of the leading schools in the nation, for a free program during lunch time (dance, chamber music) or a concert or theater performance after work. I have also enjoyed the vibrant exchanges of the Tate Lecture Series, which have brought leading public figures such as Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Gergen and Tom Brokaw to campus. SMU has many innovation-related programs and activities, including the Deason Innovation Gym, the Master's in Engineering Entrepreneurship and its own TEDxSMU programs.
I can walk from home to the symphony, the opera and the museum, all of which are of first-rate quality. (The Dallas Symphony Orchestra music director Jaap van Zweden will become the New York Philharmonic music director in 2018.) The permanent collections of the Dallas Museum of Art are free, allowing everybody to enjoy them independently of their ability to afford a ticket, and the people the most fascinated by art I've ever seen were teens and families with young minority children, admiring the works of art one by one at the DMA on weekends. I am most in awe of the DMA's collections on the arts of India, Southeast Asia and the Himalayas, which are superb. The presence of these remarkable works of art in Dallas is mostly due to the extraordinary generosity of David T. Owsley. If you like Buddhist art, the Crow Collection of Asian Art next door to the DMA is worth a stop too. Or you can cross the street and head to the Nasher Sculpture Center, which hosts the collection of Raymond and Patsy Nasher. Nasher was responsible for founding the NorthPark Center, currently the second largest mall in Texas (and 5 min drive away from SMU). NorthPark nearby doubles as an art gallery, with shoppers strolling past statues, paintings and photographs of renowned artists such as Bruce Weber. (If you don't know who Weber is - he has done amazing black-and-white photographs of public figures such as Georgia O'Keeffe.)
When I told people I was moving to Dallas, a reaction I sometimes got was "I would never move to such a conservative city", including by people who have never been there. So far, no one has asked me where I went to church or what my political party was. Given the influx of people from all parts of the country, Dallas is a much more cosmopolitan place than many cities in, say, the Northeast. I also like how successful businesspeople have shown a commitment to philanthropy, whether by supporting Dallas institutions such as the Winspear Opera House or the Meyerson Symphony Hall, or by donating to SMU. For instance, the Lyle School of Engineering would not have the amazing resources it has today without the amazing generosity of Bobby Lyle.
Since I've written so many good things about the university and the area, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention we're hiring, and although the deadline to apply was last Monday, the committee will continue to review applications until the position is filled. Here is the ad.