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Dean's Letter - Winter 2021

19 March 2021
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Tracy Langkilde

Dear Friends of the College,

It is a privilege to be chosen to lead the Eberly College of Science, one of the few named colleges of science in the nation. The Eberly Family Charitable Trust made a historic $10 million gift to our college in 1986, and 30 years ago the Penn State Board of Trustees saw fit to name the college after the Eberly family. Several articles in this issue of the Science Journal tell the story of that gift, the Eberly family, and the important impact they have had on a generation of scientists and will have on generations to come.

Our previous issue of the Science Journal focused on the origins of life on Earth. Here, we extend this theme to the origins of our universe. Guest editor Donald Schneider, department head of astronomy and astrophysics, provides a peek into the history of this fascinating field and the role that the Eberly College of Science has played in pushing the boundaries of research in this area. 

This issue also highlights how our faculty have gone to great lengths to ensure a high-quality learning experience during the pandemic. Teaching Professor of Biology Carla Hass tells how the biology department has provided important hands-on training while maintaining the safety of students in laboratories by using a blended approach of in-person and remote instruction. This is a difficult task, but instructors and students have shown incredible resilience and embraced new technology to achieve this. Meeting the educational challenges posed by COVID-19 would not have been possible without the support, training, and resources provided by the college’s Office of Digital Learning, led by Melissa Hicks, as our faculty leapt from the classroom to the Zoom room in just a few days’ time last spring and as we developed a pedagogically robust approach to teaching and learning remotely this past fall.

Eberly College of Science researchers have also played a prominent role in understanding COVID-19 and how we can best manage the novel coronavirus. Associate Professor of Biology Matt Ferrari co-chairs the University’s Public Health and Science Assessment task group, and several other researchers have received seed grants from the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and the National Science Foundation to quickly advance the science around the virus. We highlight some of these efforts in the special COVID-19 insert in this issue.

Alumni from the Eberly College of Science are also making a difference—from a group of medical school students who collected and distributed PPE to hospitals, to physicians who met COVID-testing and patient support needs at this critical time. One notable example is Dr. Ala Stanford, who created a mobile clinic to provide free COVID-19 testing to Philadelphia front-line workers and residents in underserved communities and other viral hot spots, who otherwise may not have had access or been able to afford to get tested. We are extremely proud of the commitment of all our alumni who have used science and goodwill to help our communities and our college through this difficult time. 

The challenges that the college faces from the pandemic are profound and have highlighted issues around equity and accessibility. We are meeting these challenges and changing the game. I believe in the ability of scientists to lead us through this crisis and know that we will come through it even stronger than we were before. This issue of the Science Journal tells some of our stories of innovation and adaptability.

Kind regards,
Tracy Langkilde
Verne M. Willaman Dean