A university education ought to be so much more than lectures, labs and tests, says Jeremy Qualls, the University of Southern Maine’s new dean of the College of Science, Technology and Health.
“You come here for something that’s going to impart knowledge and a curriculum,” Qualls said. “You also come to change your mindset and change the way that you view the world, hopefully in a more positive way. Hopefully you’ll be a more Informed citizen: logical, connected, accepting and aware.”
It’s the kind of transformation that Qualls, a native of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, made after he enrolled in a biology program. He aimed to follow in his father’s footsteps, a family physician who delivered “an insane number of children.”
However, at East Tennessee State University, he discovered a love of physics and a kinship with the physics faculty.
“They treated me as an equal,” he said. “They let me come into labs and do research with them. I really got to know them.”
He changed his major from biology to physics.
“It made me realize something about education: that it’s the human connection that has the greatest impact on the trajectory of the student,” he said.
When the Tennessean graduated, he went on to Florida State University. As he earned his master’s degree and doctorate, he worked at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.
Again, he was welcomed into a community of physicists. Soon, he had an office next to a Nobel Laureate and was working with extraordinary resources.
“I had famous scientists all around me,” he said. “I saw again that same kind of community aspect.”
He published, traveled and gave talks.
Physicists seemed to see in him a curiosity about the physical world, he said.
“It’s about being able to step back from the personal side and look at truth,” he said of his research. “You have that opportunity to look at the world and try to remove some of the filters, and you do it in a supportive community.”
Prior to coming to USM this summer, Qualls served as the director of Academic Resources and Planning for the School of Science and Technology at Sonoma State University, located an hour north of San Francisco.
While there, he led the development of a year-long course to provide first-year students with the foundational skills and academic and social connections to be successful in college.
At USM, Qualls wants to find a way of sharing the kinds of experiences he had as a student, including the chance to do research or work with new, innovative equipment.
“I would love to share that and create a funnel of opportunity for students to come here to have those cutting edge experiences,” Qualls said.
He plans to create a makerspace and he’ll be working to encourage mentoring relationships between faculty and students.
“I want to create a culture of mentorship and belonging,” he said.
“I think USM has wonderful faculty who are really dedicated to their students,” he said.
“Professors are more than just a book or a reference source, they bring in insight and have the ability to share their experiences and the wisdom in their discipline.”