To the School of Biological Sciences Community:
This newsletter marks my last as the School of Biological Sciences Dean, as I will step down as faculty member and dean on October 31 after nearly 40 years at UCI. It has been gratifying over the past seven years of my deanship to see such a robust growth throughout the school. This growth has been seen in the numbers of undergraduate and graduate students and through the addition of new degree programs such as the Biology/Education major, the Human Biology major and the Master’s program in Biological Sciences and Educational Media Design. Our research enterprise continues with an impressive list of accomplishments, even with recent federal funding challenges. Many new publications and interviews may be viewed at https://www.bio.uci.edu/newsroom/press-releases/.
Our External Relations programs have also grown remarkably in recent years. The Bio Sci Mentor Program is in its 13th year, going strong with an average of 350 students and mentors participating. Our growing Bio Sci Alumni Club has nearly 150 members. Attendance at the annual Allergan, Schneiderman and Gerard lectures continues to be high, providing opportunities for faculty and students to interact with community members. This past year we instituted the Dean’s Fund for Excellence, which has received 105 gifts in the few months since it was founded. To everyone who has supported the school through this fund or other means, thank you very much.
As I step down and Interim Dean Brandon Gaut steps in, I encourage you to think of how you can become more involved with your school. The involvement of our alumni and community friends, combined with the work of our dedicated faculty, staff and hardworking students, there are many exciting days to come. Please support Interim Dean Brandon Gaut, and I will pledge to do the same. After being away from campus for November, I will return in December as Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives, working with new campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Howard Gillman. As UCI and the School of Biological Sciences approach the 50th Anniversary milestone, I look forward to seeing what is to come.
A Special Word from Chancellor Drake
After nearly 40 years at UC Irvine, Al Bennett will step down from his appointments as dean and faculty member on October 31, 2013. Please join me in thanking Dean Bennett for his many achievements on behalf of UC Irvine and the School of Biological Sciences.
Dean Bennett is widely respected for his leadership, particularly during the difficult and challenging budgetary times that we have recently experienced. He is also highly regarded for his broadly inclusive approach to overseeing this dynamic school. During his tenure, Dean Bennett has shepherded the School of Biological Sciences through transformative growth in faculty, students and programs, including a 40 percent increase in demand for its undergraduate major. Under Dean Bennett’s leadership, the school has launched several new degree programs including a Biology/Education major, a Human Biology major, and a Master’s program in Biological Sciences and Educational Media Design. Moreover, the graduate program has thrived, with all four departments ranking highly in the National Research Council’s most recent ratings. During his tenure as dean, the faculty members of the School of Biological Sciences brought in more than $300 million in research funding.
Dean Bennett first joined UC Irvine in 1974 as an assistant professor in the Departments of Developmental & Cell Biology and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. Eventually, he became the chair of both of those departments, remaining the chair of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology for eight years following three years leading Developmental & Cell Biology. Following two separate terms as acting dean of the school, he accepted the role of dean of Biological Sciences in 2007. He has served with distinction in the seven years since then. Most recently, Dean Bennett did an outstanding job co-leading with me the search committee for the provost and executive vice chancellor.
Building community support has been a hallmark of Dean Bennett’s tenure, and he is deeply involved in numerous campuswide initiatives that are having significant impact beyond our campus. He has been a driving force in expansion of science and math activities on the campus through the Cal Teach/National Math and Science Initiative. He has also spearheaded efforts to create new research opportunities with the Center for Environmental Biology and the new Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center, which is being utilized by UC Irvine researchers as well as by faculty from ten other universities, the U.S. Geological Survey, and an international nature reserve. He has forged new community relationships with such organizations as the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, Crystal Cove State Park, and the Crystal Cove Alliance. He led the creation of the Dean’s Leadership Scholars Program in 2008 and the Biological Sciences Alumni Club in 2009.
Dean Bennett has secured many new gifts, including a lifetime membership for the school in the Organization for Tropical Studies from Biological Sciences alumnus Brian Atwood. This membership allows UC Irvine researchers access to increasingly important tropical ecology challenges at field stations in Costa Rica. Dean Bennett was subsequently named the inaugural School of Biological Sciences Dean of the School of Biological Sciences.
Dean Bennett has also been an outstanding scientist, studying the evolution of physiological systems in a variety of exotic species. Even during his tenure as dean, he continued to study how bacteria adapt to novel thermal environments and in a tour de force that was published in the premier journal Science, he and his colleagues showed how nearly 100 populations of bacteria changed their genotypes under different selection pressures.
Al Bennett is an outstanding colleague, a valued administrator, and a treasured friend. We all are fortunate in that he will not be leaving the campus entirely, as he has accepted the position of vice provost for academic initiatives working with Provost Gillman beginning in December. Luckily, we will continue to benefit from his dry wit and his remarkable wisdom. We all thank him for his many years of outstanding service to our campus and wish him the very best as he steps down from his position as the School of Biological Sciences Dean of the School of Biological Sciences.