School prepares for next phase of its evolution
Over the past seven years, Arizona State University School of Earth and Space Exploration Founding Director Kip Hodges has guided the first phase of a bold new experiment in academia: The creation of a new school that combines both science and engineering. On July 1, he will be stepping down from his position to return to teaching and research full time.
In July 2006, ASU launched the School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) as part of a university-wide initiative in transdisciplinary research and education. SESE was designed to nurture the collaborative conceptualization, development, and application of new technologies for scientific exploration by scientists and engineers.
Since his arrival in early 2006, Hodges has worked with the SESE community to develop a clear vision of what SESE could be and to take the first concrete steps toward building the school.
“I was attracted to Arizona State University by the opportunity for us to build an unprecedented and unique academic unit. At that time, the School of Earth and Space Exploration was no more than the conceptual notion that researchers could expand our understanding of the universe most effectively by thinking differently, tearing down disciplinary boundaries and fully integrating engineering research and technology development into their scientific studies,” said Hodges.
During Hodges’ tenure, SESE has become internationally recognized as a unique school on the cutting‐edge of an intellectual trend toward combining modes of analysis from the earth, space and engineering sciences.
Under his stewardship, the school implemented three new and decidedly non-traditional undergraduate major programs: a B.S. in Earth and Space Exploration, a B.A.E. in Secondary Earth and Space Education, and a B.A. in Earth and Environmental Studies, the latter billed as ‘a liberal arts program with an emphasis on basic science literacy’. All were designed to provide curricular flexibility in response to the changing needs of ASU students. As a consequence, SESE has seen the number of its undergraduate majors skyrocket, increasing nearly 300 percent since the school’s first year of existence; the school now has one of the largest undergraduate programs in the United States in the earth and space sciences.
At the same time, SESE’s graduate programs have grown in breadth and stature, with progressive maturation of the school into a recognized leader in the mentoring of career earth and space scientists in academia, government agencies, and private research institutes.
Hodges cites his proudest accomplishments during his time as director as the successful hiring of 23 new tenured and tenure-track faculty members, and construction of the 293,000-square-foot Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV, the signature building for the school that houses not just state-of-the-art laboratory facilities to support research, but unique facilities for education and outreach.
“I’m also proud to say that our faculty has achieved an extraordinary record of research productivity,” he added. “SESE sponsored research volume in FY2013 will be almost double the volume for the first full year of the school’s existence (FY2007), a rate of increase that exceeds those of all other academic units in the natural sciences and engineering at ASU over the same period.”
Despite having come so far in such a short time, Hodges said the school is still only in the earliest stages of exploring the frontiers of transdisciplinary science and engineering.
“If we are to realize the full potential of SESE, we must redouble our efforts to be more than a confederation of disciplines under one academic umbrella. All of our current and contemplated strategic initiatives in the directions of astrobiology, astrophysics, cosmology, educational research, the geological sciences, planetary sciences, and systems engineering must be measured against their contributions, real and potential, to achieving the broader collective vision we have established for the school,” said Hodges. “We must work harder to draw our colleagues from other academic units here at ASU, from national laboratories, and from private enterprise into this vision as we move forward. Working together, and with the continuing support of the ASU administration, we will succeed.”
While he has thoroughly enjoyed his role in helping build an identity for SESE, Hodges looks forward to getting back to full engagement in research and teaching.
“I sometimes have to remind my friends and colleagues – and even myself – that I am, first and foremost, a scientist and an educator. Administrative work can be rewarding, but I know my greatest legacy will be the success of the students I teach and my own contributions to a deeper understanding of the processes that shape our Universe. I’ve done my best to make time for those endeavors over the last seven years, but it hasn’t been easy. Now that SESE is firmly established, it’s time to jump headfirst back into addressing the challenges that motivated me to become a scientist and professor in the first place,” said Hodges.