Q & A with Dean Janet Rifkin
The following interview appeared in the Winter 2006 issue of Foundations, the Newsletter of the UMass Amherst Foundation.
Q: How has private giving made a difference at the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences?
A: The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) is the largest college on campus, with more students in its majors—more than 5,000—than any other. It's the rare student who doesn't have contact with us. Offering majors in anthropology, communication, economics, legal studies, political science, psychology, and sociology, among others, we are at the core of the undergraduate experience.
Student support is a top priority. We attract students from all over the country-indeed, the world. Many of them are drawn to our innovative curriculum, which incorporates community service into the learning process, as well as internships and study abroad. Students benefit immeasurably from being immersed in the core culture that they're learning about. Equally important is participation in internships or summer programs, which contribute significantly to students' success in the job market after graduation. In fact, SBS has more students involved in internships than any other school or college on campus, and the number of our students studying abroad increased dramatically during the last five years. Last year, thanks in part to private giving to our Dean's Opportunity Fund and other named funds, we offered 70 scholarships.
Private funding has also made a critical difference in growing our faculty, attracting more top-notch scholars, and enhancing research opportunities. To give just one example, the recently endowed Rudd Professorship enables us to recruit a world-class scholar to our Department of Psychology and also energizes our current faculty. With its emphasis on adoption, the Rudd Professorship also promotes synergy among SBS disciplines; the topic is relevant to all of them. So it fosters interdisciplinary interactions, and it will particularly augment the national reputation of our Center for Research on Families.
Q: What does The Campaign for Amherst mean for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences?
A: Key campaign priorities are raising funds to foster excellence in teaching and research. We're very excited about how the Campaign will enable us to attract faculty to what are already very strong departments; our Department of Psychology, for instance, has been ranked among the top departments in the country. As well, the Campaign will give us opportunities to build relationships with our more than 38,000 alumni. The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences is a relatively new entity, having previously been one part of the College of Arts and Sciences. We want our alums to know that they're part of a dynamic college with a developing national reputation for excellence.
Q: What are the College's priorities within The Campaign for Amherst?
A: A key Campaign for Amherst priority is encouraging superb teaching and research. One interest of SBS is promoting research and teaching across disciplines. For example, nanotechnology is an area of scientific interest on this campus-and beyond. It's critical that the social sciences engage in conversations about the larger meaning of such scientific developments. What are the risks? The benefits? How will it affect society? Our College's new Science, Technology, and Society Initiative is designed to further such discussions. Through support from The Campaign for Amherst, we'll be able to hire scholars with expertise in the subject, fund research, and promote the exchange of ideas through lectures and seminars.
Another priority for us is to increase the number of endowed chairs within our departments—this allows us to recruit and retain preeminent faculty, and continue to build our national reputation. We also want to build a new Brain and Cognitive Science Lab during this Campaign. Our Neuroscience and Behavior program brings together an internationally recognized team of researchers—they need outstanding facilities and greater funding to do their cutting-edge work. Finally, we want to increase our support for our students. Through their experience here, SBS students gain a fundamental understanding of the world, of the emerging global reality. Many go on to work in social services, but many also enter the business world. Wherever they go, they take with them critical thinking skills, commitment to active participation in the world, and the ability to function in a variety of milieus—assets they have acquired in the classroom and outside of it, in community service, internships, and study abroad. With the help of our alumni, we want to create more named scholarship funds, study abroad awards, and internship grants. These awards provide opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to any UMass Amherst students.
This interview appeared in the Winter 2006 issue of Foundations, the Newsletter of the UMass Amherst Foundation.