On March 26, 2021, President Fry announced that Dean Bouchard will step down as Dean of College of Arts and Sciences to become a provost at Chapman University. The interim dean, Professor Kelly Joyce will replace her. She is currently a professor in the Department of Sociology and agreed to talk with the Triangle about her new position. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Ioana Racu: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and what you did before becoming interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences?
Kelly Joyce: I’m a sociologist of medicine and science, and my research looks at the sociological dimensions of medical practice in the United States. I have been at Drexel for nine years as a tenured professor in the Sociology Department and the Center for Science, Technology and Society. Before that, I was a tenured professor at the College of William & Mary in Virginia in the Sociology department. Drexel was expanding its investment in the Humanities and Social Sciences, and that’s why I left William & Mary, which I love very much, to join the Drexel community.
IR: What are your academic interests, specifically in sociology, what have you been doing in the sociology department?
KJ: In terms of research, I focus on the sociological dimensions of medical technology development and use. I have been part of a project here at Drexel that works with a team from the College of Engineering and the Center for Functional Fabrics. We’re working together to create new smart textile medical devices that would replace the plugged-in machines and hospitals. I do the sociology part. I do focus groups with doctors, nurses, patients and caregivers to figure out what their priorities are and also to bring their expertise into the innovation process so that we make a device that actually works for them and supports their knowledge, instead of causing problems. My other area of interest is around aging, science and tech. In the United States, our population is aging. We’re going to have what’s called a graying of the population, so we’re going to have a bigger percentage of older people in the United States than we’ve had in the past. There’s a lot of research and development going on to think about how we’re going to support this older population. I look at the values and politics that drive that research and development, to see if elders’ perspectives are front and center or if they are kind of sidelined in that process.
IR: How do you feel about starting this position now, in a transitory phase with COVID-19 restrictions being lessened?
KJ: Just like you, we’ve all been working from home. I feel pretty lucky, honestly. The university, Dean Bouchard and her whole team really did the heavy lifting during the pandemic and now we’re coming back to campus. This is not the hard part, right, this is exciting, we made it we’re here, and I think it’s going to be a wonderful fall quarter. What I’m trying to say is I don’t have to come up with all the plans. The university has provided a lot of support and we’re on the tail end of this, we’re going back to campus in September. I really feel like Dean Bouchard did all the heavy lifting on this one and should get the credit and a long vacation.
IR: A lot of colleges were extremely affected by the pandemic. Zoom changed students’ and faculty’s lives tremendously from teaching methods to everything else.
KJ: Oh everything! I mean everything! I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how you make education, because it’s not just teaching online, it’s teaching online in a pandemic. I’ve been so impressed by my colleagues and the people who put a lot of effort into thinking about what it would look like to teach online in this pandemic. That was a high learning curve, but people did it. And for the students, what does it mean to do your work during a pandemic from home? I mean, this has been a heavy lift on everybody’s part and — you know, we’re making it we’re almost done it’s been an incredible hopefully once-in-a-lifetime year.
IR: What are some of your goals for the College of Arts and Sciences or some plans you have for the future as the interim dean?
KJ: We’re going to be launching a national search for a replacement dean, so I might be here for a year, a little longer if they need me, and then I’ll go back to being a professor in sociology. In terms of this year, we’re hoping to hire tenure track faculty and staff we haven’t been able to hire for the last few years because of fiscal austerity, and I think that will be really exciting. It’ll be great for the students to have new faculty coming in. So any of the hires we do, we do the searches this fall and then they would start September 2022, but [it’s] very exciting and so we’re working on the hiring plan right now.
Also, we are starting to engage in discussions about curriculum at both the undergrad and grad levels. Are there ways that we can make our undergrad curriculum more nimble and more flexible? I don’t know what your experience has been but a lot of times we hear from students that it’s very hard to double major at Drexel. The major itself takes up so many credits, they can’t really explore a lot of other options, and so I want to collectively think with the department heads in Arts and Sciences about what other universities on the quarter system are doing at the undergrad level: how their curriculum looks like, what their major requirements look like and what we are doing in comparison and how we could make our undergrad curriculum more nimble so that students can double-major and have more time to explore, because I think that’s a really important part of the undergrad experience. I feel like the students are very creative, trying to double- or triple-minor to compensate, so I say that under Dean Bouchard’s leadership, Arts and Sciences has been looking at the core curriculum to see if we can reduce the number of credits and standardize it so it’s easier to double-major.
The second part is to have the conversation with the department heads and my colleagues this year as well about how many credit hours are required for each major, and is that in line with natural national standards or other universities.
IR: What do you have to say, as the interim Dean, to the current and future College of Arts and Sciences students?
KJ: Well, I would go even beyond that, I would say that almost every student at Drexel takes a class in Arts and Sciences. I think Arts and Sciences is the heart of the institution where every student comes through. Hopefully, every student gets pushed to think a little differently and develop skills like writing, critical thinking as well as knowledge about whatever topic they’re in. I love teaching sociology of medicine. I love teaching classes like that, because I get every major under the sun in that class and the discussions are so interesting in the material. Hopefully, they’ll take out every possible career and use it, you know what I mean. So anyway, I would say to the Drexel students, welcome to Arts and Sciences, we can’t wait to have you in our classes, we look forward to interacting with you in the upcoming year and we’re going to be on campus!
IR: Classes in Arts and Science are where you meet people from all around Drexel that have nothing to do with your major because everybody from every single college will have to take math or something like that.
KJ: You know, that’s such a good point, I never thought about it that way. Arts and Sciences doesn’t just teach every student at the College, but it becomes a node that connects all the students. We’re in class together and you get to know each other right with all the small group activity or hanging out. It also builds community. You share your expertise. One of the things I really enjoy about teaching at Drexel is the co-op. When I teach the sociology of health and illnesses, many of the students have had experience in a hospital or some kind of our public health policy, and then we can share that and learn from each other, even as we’re learning the material in the class. I think you know it’s unusual for undergrads to have so much work experience, and I really see that as an asset in the classroom. We come together across our different majors and we get to know each other, and then we also get to share what we know with each other.