Text title treatment: Dialogue with the Deans

College of Arts & Sciences

Lee Nordt, Dean and Professor of Geology


What is the greatest challenge or opportunity that students in Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences will face, and how is Baylor preparing them to address it?

Our undergraduates--in the midst of expanding technological resources, society's complex and challenging needs and wide-ranging career choices--must weigh and discern what course of study to pursue given their interests, skills and values. "Who am I?" is a question most students bring with them to college, even if they have some facets of themselves already sorted out.

It is our responsibility to help them answer this question with assistance from a vibrant curriculum and professors who will not only talk with them seriously about their academic concerns, but will also care about them as persons. I think the college has always seen this as one of its defining purposes and continues to give priority to it through advisors and professors. Many of our students would say this is a hallmark of the education they receive here.

What do you hope students in the College of Arts and Sciences gain during their time at Baylor?

In association with their selected major, our core curriculum helps instill in our students a wide range of broad-based and discipline-specific skills. When engaged learning experiences (i.e. study abroad, undergraduate research or internships) and faculty mentoring in a Christian environment are added to their classroom efforts, students are indeed prepared to enter the workforce or succeed in advanced studies and eventually take up worldwide leadership roles.

Our undergraduates learn how to think critically, analyze the written word and write and speak clearly. No matter what the future of the job market might be, these are attributes that separate those who are able to advance society from those who do not.

We should also not forget about our graduate students. They play an equally important role in the standing of our institution in the academy and in the future of our nation in medicine, law, politics, business and other forms of leadership.

I frequently hear from both our undergraduates and graduate students how much better trained they are than many of their peers--whether in medical school, graduate/professional programs or in the workplace. I hear this often, and it makes me very proud of all aspects of the College of Arts and Sciences.

What is the most significant thing Baylor graduates from the College of Arts and Sciences offer to the world?

At each graduation ceremony, I have the privilege of shaking hands with each of our undergraduates and wishing them all the best as they take that first important step beyond college. My hope is that all of them leave here with real skills that can be applied to whatever they choose to do in the workplace or in graduate study.

But more than that, the distinctive that undergirds our graduates and enables many of them to become caring citizens and well-regarded servant leaders in their fields is undoubtedly their grounding within their Christian identity. My sense is that many of our graduates have exceptionally mature judgment. They are competent in making decisions about their private and public lives based on their faith commitments, and on values tested and galvanized within that framework.

I hope additionally that our graduates always feel the undergirding support available within our community of scholars and caring staff members. We are proud of our graduates, and we sincerely want them to call on us if we can be of assistance at whatever stage of their careers they are entering. We want them to come back to see us, and if they want to tell others why they should also choose Baylor--well, that's fine with me and with the College of Arts and Sciences.

What is the most exciting thing about being dean of Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences?

The most exciting thing about being dean of the College of Arts and Sciences is experiencing its diversity. We have 25 departments spanning the humanities, fine arts, sciences and social sciences. What is most meaningful about being dean is having the incredible fortune to lead such an historically important academic unit in a nationally ranked institution for 10 years.

To me, what I have learned working among such diversity has been the greatest educational experience anyone could ever hope to achieve. Furthermore, as gratifying as it is to create new academic programs or expand faculty lines or facilities, the moments that are the most memorable to me are the ones when we are actually able to assist individuals or small groups in some meaningful way that helps them achieve their goals.

Finally, what I did not expect when I began as dean was that I would be able to make so many lifetime friendships with faculty, staff, students and alumni.

Do you have a mentor/memory or experience from your time at Baylor (or elsewhere) that deeply influenced who/where you are today?

Having worked with some incredible provosts during my 10 years as dean, I have taken something from each of them that has made me a better person and administrator. Outside of Baylor, I cannot put into words how influential Norman Borlaug, winner of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize and "father" of the Green Revolution, was to my life. I could never hope to achieve in my lifetime even a fraction of what he achieved for the sake of humanity during his lifetime.

Is there anything you want alumni or parents to know about you or your plans for the College of Arts and Sciences? Please explain.

In the fall of 2014, after two years of hard work with contributions from five task forces, the College of Arts and Sciences introduced its new strategic plan called A&Spire. I am so grateful for the work of the faculty, staff and deans in the College that brought forth such a bold and ambitious document.

We are focused on the implementation of this important plan. A&Spire is setting the trajectory for achievement of our goals in the College of Arts & Sciences in the coming decade for undergraduate and graduate education, research, and resource procurement. To find out how A&Spire will guide us during the years ahead, I invite you to examine it yourself at www.baylor.edu/artsandsciences/strategicplan.