What are three fun facts about yourself that others may not know?
As a graduate student, I designed and implemented a touchscreen keyboard that would fit on a cell phone. Steve Jobs visited our lab, and we showed him how this could be done—this happened in the late 1980s—18+ years before the iPhone was introduced.
Most of my graduate education was funded through a NASA fellowship. I also had the opportunity to work with NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, and I traveled to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston to consult with engineers on how touchscreens could be used on the space shuttle.
I had plenty of pets when I was a kid in rural Maryland, including a goat. As an adult, we have had as many as 19 animals living with us at one time. This probably contributed to someone referring to me as the most zoologically interesting dean at a university where they had an agricultural science program.
Queen. A band my wife listens to quite often and I’ve come to really enjoy their music as well.
Best question that a student has asked you?
Many students have asked something along the lines of—there are so many directions one can go; how do I know what the right path is for me? When asked this kind of question, I encourage students to be open to exploring options, trying new things, learning what they enjoy doing and what they don’t enjoy doing, and exploring continuously. Always be willing to take on bigger, more challenging tasks, even when you don’t feel you may be 100% ready. Be ready to adapt and take a new path. Each step in my career, up to becoming a dean, was not really part of a plan—it was a result of my being willing to take on bigger, challenging opportunities for which I wasn’t fully prepared.
Most interesting travel experience?
The earliest travel experience that really stands out was sailing a boat from Puerto Rico to Annapolis (Maryland). It’s a long story, but it involves having the engine die along with our modern navigation equipment, cutting our only anchor lose, running out of food while at sea with no clear sense of where we were, a hurricane, a sinking dinghy, and being towed to port by the U.S. Coast Guard.
While that was memorable, a trip to Istanbul may be a better answer for “most interesting.” It was a great opportunity to experience a different culture, eat some great food, learn to navigate a city where most people did not speak English, all while being able to spend a day visiting Europe and Asia without leaving the city.
Best advice you’ve received?
I tend to be rather analytical. I enjoy understanding details, analyzing problems and coming up with rational solutions. While this is a very useful skill when leading, the best advice I received was to let others see the “human” side of me—to better understand who I am. Maintaining a balance is critical—thinking through things carefully while ensuring that those who work for you know that you really do care about and support them.
What most appeals to you about living in Central New York?
My wife and I are looking forward to getting back on the biking trails that are so prevalent in the area. We’ve lived in Central New York, but we haven’t had a chance to explore this side of the Finger Lakes, so that’s something we’re looking forward to.
The best advice I received was to let others see the ‘human’ side of me—to better understand who I am.—Andrew Sears, dean of the iSchool
How do you bring out the best in your students?
I encourage students to be willing to step out of their comfort zone. Stretch themselves. Take on experiences and tasks that might feel a little beyond what they think they are ready to handle. If they wait until they feel they are fully prepared, they will have waited too long.
And I have to pitch internships. Internships are a great way for students to explore possibilities, learn more about what they want and don’t want to do, while positioning themselves for life after college.
What are you most excited about in your role as dean?
I’m excited to see how we can move the iSchool forward in the coming years. The key will be looking forward and focusing on how we can make the school a great place for the faculty and staff to work while we work to strengthen and expand our academic programs and research portfolio.