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Provost's Perspective on Research, Scholarly and Creative Activities

David Dowell Someone asked me the other day, "what keeps you motivated?" I have thought about a lot so my reply came quickly: curiosity. I suspect that I share this trait with most of the faculty.

As a teenager I read voraciously, mostly about science, especially cosmology books such as Relativity Simply Explained by Martin Gardner. A math major when I entered college in the heady days of the early 1970s, I looked for a way to combine my interest in science with social relevance and found psychology.

My earliest research experiences as an undergraduate involved watching and recording very specific behaviors of schizophrenic and developmentally disabled children in home and classroom settings. In graduate school, I spent a semester watching and recording very specific behaviors of spotted hyenas in a zoo. (Spotted hyenas are ferocious, matriarchal predators and contrary to popular impression, lions scavenge more from hyenas than vice versa.)

Over the years my research shifted from analysis of specific behaviors to program evaluation, combining science with relevance. I worked on projects in mental health settings and probably the most influential work I did was an evaluation of the Community Mental Health Centers Program supported by the National Institute of Mental Health. I was later invited to speak about this work at quite a few places including international locales (Madrid, then-Yugoslavia, Oxford). This, no doubt, helped the case for tenure for a young assistant professor.

Mental illness is linked to homelessness, so my excellent colleague Dr. Gail Farmer and I conducted research in the City of Long Beach for a Mayor's Task Force on Homelessness that helped form the case for expanded services. The resulting Long Beach Multi-Service Center continues to this day to provide unusually well-integrated services for very needy individuals and families. This was an example of the combination of science and relevance that I had been seeking as a young man.

In many of these projects I was privileged to work with outstanding student-colleagues. One, Patricia Rozee, was a close collaborator from my first year teaching at Long Beach. She later went on to receive her Ph.D. and then return as a colleague, occupying the office next to mine in the Psychology Building. Full circle! (Pat recently announced her retirement; what's wrong with this picture?)

When I went over to the dark side as an administrator, I discovered that my background with program evaluation concepts and facility with data provided unusual preparation for dealing with higher education issues. My applied psychology background was good preparation for work in the 1990s that developed the Long Beach College Promise Partnership, now a nationally-lauded model.

In Academic Affairs I found that "evidence-based decision making" is a buzz phrase these days (used to be "culture of evidence"). I expect that most academics applaud, in principle at least, a decision making philosophy that emphasizes evidence over whim, bias, or inertia. However, not many academic administrators have training relevant to developing and using institutional data to guide decision-making. I enjoyed working with institutional research in developing quantitative tools to support our student success mission. I have been fortunate to be invited to quite a few places to speak about these tools, including one wonderful invitation to Japan and another to Vietnam. Again, the combination of science and relevance appears to fit with my disposition.

It was certainly an honor for the whole university to be recognized for our student success achievements first by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities with the inaugural award for Excellence and Innovation in Student Success and Completion and then by the White House with an invitation to the College Day of Action. I like to think that our attainments are in part the result of combining science and relevance with a focus on the success of our students.

Our research and scholarly activities (RSCA) are, in effect, brain food to help satisfy, albeit temporarily, our intense curiosity. In this sense, our RSCA nurtures us as faculty members. I am pleased to have been at the helm of the academic division this year when we made the largest-ever allocation to RSCA - $2 million. The university is in an excellent position to nurture and thrive as we go forward. I am grateful to each scholar who has contributed to mission through RSCA and student success.

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