Ed Stricker is Honor’s College new dean

By Andrew Shull

In four decades at Pitt, Edward Stricker has worn many hats.

He has worked as an… In four decades at Pitt, Edward Stricker has worn many hats.

He has worked as an administrator, a researcher, a dean, a University Professor and even the founder of the neuroscience department. But above all, he’s been a teacher.

It was that drive to teach that led him to his current position as the dean of the Honors College, a position he officially stepped into on July 1. Stricker replaced interim Dean Steve Husted, who filled the position after the passing of G. Alec Stewart. Stewart had served as the dean of the Honors College since he helped found it in 1979

“Alec’s passing was something I hadn’t counted on,” Stricker said. “Alec was someone I knew for a long time, and he contributed very importantly to this University.”

George Klinzing, vice provost for research and chairman of the Honors College dean search committee, said that Stricker was chosen out of the 80 applicants for a number of reasons

“Many of Dr. Stewart’s characteristics were very desirable, but we were looking for new ideas as well,” Klinzing said. “[Stricker and Stewart shared] a passion for teaching and an interest in their students.”

Klinzing cited Stricker’s experience founding the Neuroscience department and making it successful as one example of his dedication to bringing forward new ideas.

Stricker’s experience teaching an honors class, honors introduction to neuroscience, also stood out to Klinzing.

Stricker said that after he closed his neuroscience lab in 2008 he thought he would spend the rest of his life teaching. But when George Klinzing, the head of the search committee, asked him to seek the deanship, he did so because he felt that he could continue to be as effective of an educator as dean.

Stricker said the deanship was a “great opportunity to promote the idea that a first-rate undergraduate education [is] available at this University.”

Despite his new responsibilities, Stricker will continue to teach Introduction to Neuroscience and Honors Introduction to Neuroscience, but he said he might have to give up an advanced elective that he taught every other year, depending on his workload.

One of the issues Stricker said he wants immediately to address as dean is the perception that the opportunities offered by the Honors College require membership.

“Anyone can take honors classes,” he said, noting the distinction between automatic eligibility for honors classes and any kind of membership in the Honors College.

Students are eligible for honors classes if they have a 3.25 GPA or meet the strenuous automatic eligibility requirements for incoming freshmen. But additionally, any student can take honors classes with the permission of the instructor.

The common misconception was held by one Pitt senior, Keith Woomer, who has not taken an honors class.

“I thought you had to be accepted into the Honors College [to take honors classes],” he said.

But Stricker was quick to point out that just because a student takes an honors class doesn’t mean that they will automatically be the highest-achieving students in that class. He said that sometimes students who aren’t at the top of the class will want to take honors classes for the experience and challenge.

“Not all students want to take honors classes,” Stricker continued. “But when you’re ready for us, we’ll be here.”

In addition to his goal of changing the perception of the Honors College, Stricker is also working on a project to extend the Brackenridge Summer Research Fellowship. This program, which the Honors College will also run in the spring and fall semesters, gives students a stipend to do a research or work on a scholarly project under a faculty member.

Stricker said that the Brackenridge program, unlike other summer research programs in the country, emphasizes interdisciplinary communication in addition to scholarship and research.

Participants in the program are given a $3,500 stipend and work under a faculty mentor. Students from every discipline ultimately present their work to the entire group, which Stricker said leads to a great diversity of thought.

“The need to communicate is tremendous,” he said.

Lorraine Keeler, a Pitt junior and a recipient of a Brackenridge Fellowship, said that her experience with the program allowed her to think in ways that challenged her previously held beliefs.

Keeler, an environmental studies major, said she was insulated in an “environmental bubble” in which she and most of her friends in her major shared the same views.

But in the course of her project, which examined the way hydraulic fracturing was marketed to land owners, she attended a workshop with a number of farmers that addressed what they should do if approached by a natural gas company for drilling rights.

Keeler said that the experience changed her. “I would say I’m less rabidly against it now,” she said. “I’m much more pragmatic.”

Keeler said that experience would have only been possible through the Brackenridge program.

However, she did say that she would not consider adding to her work load by participating in the same program in the fall or spring.

“I tend to take on more work than I can handle,” she said. “But I’m sure there are some people out there who can do it.

The Brackenridge program also gave Keeler the opportunity to speak with Stricker and make a variety of suggestions on how to improve the Honors College.

Keeler said that the participants had an impromptu “whine session” when Stricker solicited their suggestions. Keeler said the first complaint they had was regarding the lack of communication about the Honors College, the basic issue that Stricker said he wanted to address.

“An interesting thing that he said was that he hadn’t even heard of the Brackenridge until a student asked him to be his adviser,” Keeler said. “Even professors don’t know the opportunities they can point out to promising students,” she said. “It’s an endemic problem.”