It is only fitting that the walls of Carol Folt's office are decorated with paintings of the brooks and wetlands found in the Upper Valley of the Connecticut River—images that reflect her work as an internationally acclaimed biologist studying aquatic ecosystems. While still immersed in the teaching and research through which she seeks to solve very real problems, Folt is also dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences—the first woman to hold that position at Dartmouth. She embraces her administrative role with the same enthusiasm and energy she imparts to her academic work.
"Dartmouth is in a perfect position to address some of the 21st century's most difficult issues," Folt says. "We have an ideal combination of exceptional faculty and talented students, and we understand that complex problems don't respect conventional academic boundaries. We must encourage interdisciplinary work and develop emerging fields and global understanding."
Strengthening the student-faculty relationship has been a natural part of Folt's experience during more than 23 years on the Dartmouth faculty. She has mentored more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students and received the John M. Manley Huntington Award for Teaching. She was also one of the first faculty mentors in Dartmouth's innovative Women in Science Program and, through her collaborative work, she has been a pioneer in the new interdisciplinary nature of the academic enterprise. She is associate director of the collaborative Superfund Basic Research Program, which draws on faculty from the arts and sciences and Dartmouth Medical School to solve environmental and health problems associated with mercury and arsenic pollution.
"Dartmouth is looking to the future as a world leader in the transformation of higher education," she says. "It is the logical extension of what we do so well. Students come here expecting to be challenged and they want a dynamic and personal approach to their learning. We're at our best when we break new ground in research and link it to innovative teaching."
The key to Dartmouth's future, Folt says, is the development of the faculty—attracting and keeping the leaders in their fields who are also passionate about teaching, increasing their numbers, and giving them the means to offer an outstanding curriculum in each discipline. "We must give our faculty the tools that will enable them to remain at the top of their fields and to be outstanding teachers, and we must provide our students with exciting and innovating learning experiences that will allow them to become global thinkers and leaders," she says.
Over the past two years, she has helped recruit almost 50 new faculty members. "These talented faculty will help us keep a thorough grounding in the liberal arts while allowing for disciplinary growth and evolution," she says. Folt and her associate deans have also worked with alumni to establish several distinguished endowed professorships in emerging fields, including a chair in digital humanities, an interdisciplinary writing program, and the Neukom Institute for Computational Science.
"We're preparing faculty and students for leadership roles that require them to reach across disciplines and cultures," she emphasizes. "Never has there been a greater need for the skills and international perspectives that the best liberal arts institutions can provide."
Expanding the faculty also ensures that class sizes remain small, and that faculty members are available for individual learning opportunities with students. Folt notes, for example, that Dartmouth undergraduates completed over 1,000 independent credits last year, each one overseen by a faculty member usually as an addition to his or her regular teaching load.
Folt's other initiatives include a competitive program to support faculty innovation, the establishment of new endowed chairs to recruit additional top-ranked scholars to Dartmouth, growth in off-campus programs, increased support for professional development and student-faculty interactions, and funding for innovation centers across the institution.
Folt approaches her role organically. No issue is too big to be examined in detail and no detail is too small to be ignored. "There is an excitement to this place," she says, "Dartmouth is greater than the sum of its parts. The College must embrace its role as the premier liberal arts institution." She adds, "We have an obligation to provide a transformative experience for students that prepares them to take what they have learned here and use it to change the world.
"We are extremely fortunate to have generous and caring alumni, a dedicated and intellectually vigorous faculty, and a highly talented student body to continue Dartmouth's rich tradition of academic distinction, while living in a setting that inspires us daily."
By JANE CARROLL
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Last Updated: 5/30/08