IST Dean David Hall leaves legacy of innovation, growth

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The first few deans at a relatively young college -- like Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) -- have a unique opportunity to shape the mission of the college and instill a vision for future growth and success.

David Hall, who concluded his deanship of the College of IST on June 27, has left a legacy of innovation, expansion and – perhaps most importantly – a college shaped by his genuine and engaging personality.

“Dave’s passion for the College of IST and its students, faculty and staff was at the forefront of everything that he did each day as our dean,” said Karen Brewster, administrative assistant to the dean. “He firmly and gently led, and he was successful at gaining consensus among faculty, staff and students to fulfill his vision of IST.”

Hall, who was named interim dean in November 2009 and appointed dean of the college in September 2010, is also a professor of information sciences and technology and the founding director of the Center for Network Centric Cognition and Information Fusion (NC2IF). Previously, he was the associate dean for research and graduate programs at the College of IST. He will take a sabbatical in the fall of 2014 and will return in a full-time faculty role through the end of the 2015-16 academic year. 

“I think that the college has gone through some excellent maturation and growth since 2009,” Hall said. “This was due to the efforts of many people in the college.”

Hall, along with the previous IST deans and other administrators, have had what many educators may see as an enviable task — laying the foundation for a cutting-edge college that draws upon the infinite opportunities of the digital age. The School of Information Sciences and Technology was founded in 1997 and approved by the Board of Trustees in 1998 based on a need perceived by the University and advisers from government and industry for educating students in the emerging field of information science and technology. The school was renamed as a college (upon approval of the Board of Trustees) in 2006.

Starting with five key faculty members at University Park and an initial enrollment of less than 100 undergraduate students, the college has grown to offer classes at 19 campus locations around the Commonwealth, supported by 153 faculty members, with an undergraduate student enrollment of 2,100 students (with an additional 500 nonresident, degree-seeking undergraduate students). 

“Jim Thomas, our first dean, installed in 1999, was the ideal ‘startup’ dean and IST ‘evangelist,’" said Hall. “He led the college from a small number of faculty members and students scattered around temporary locations about campus, to transition from a school to a real college having its own building, identity, college administrative structure and solid status including an undergraduate and graduate program.”   

The College of IST’s second dean, Hank Foley, who was appointed in 2006, “led the college to a new level of maturity," according to Hall. During Foley’s tenure, the undergraduate major in Security and Risk Analysis (SRA) was initiated along with online professional master’s degree programs.  

“Hank brought in a number of new faculty to the college and developed some themes that sought to consider the theoretical basis of information science,” Hall said.

In building upon the achievements of his predecessors, Hall said, he overcame a number of administrative challenges, including addressing and responding to the university level review of all academic units, and the need to mature and formalize the college administration and policies and procedures. Accomplishments made at the College of IST during Hall’s tenure include encouragement of an increased level of faculty self-governance through establishment of scholarly interest groups and faculty representation on the Dean’s executive council; growth of the online undergraduate program to over 700 degree-seeking students in both the IST and SRA majors; and growth of the online graduate program to three master-of-professional-studies degrees comprising nearly 400 degree students.

“I hope that my leadership brought IST to yet another level of maturity and growth,” Hall said.

In addition to online education, the College of IST made strides in the areas of entrepreneurship, research and fundraising under Hall’s leadership. As part of an effort to develop future business and technology leaders, the college is participating in Penn State’s new entrepreneurship minor and initiated the annual Startup Week, which celebrates entrepreneurship and brings many young information technology entrepreneurs to campus to share their success stories. In addition, Hall has overseen the founding of two university research centers including the Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL) and the Center for Enterprise Architecture.

The College of IST has continued to receive donations from individuals and organizations that are interested in supporting the college’s goals, as well as students who might not otherwise be able to afford a college education. On June 30, Penn State will complete the For the Future campaign, a $2.16 billion fund-raising effort. The College of IST played an instrumental role, raising $34 million during the seven years of the campaign and far surpassing its goal of $18 million.

“Dave has provided a guiding vision and great enthusiasm about important new directions for our undergraduate students, including our new entrepreneurship minor and related activities, plus our signature annual event, Startup Week,” said Mary Beth Rosson, associate dean for undergraduate studies at the College of IST.

While the tangible achievements have been rewarding, Hall said, he has derived the most satisfaction from his interactions with IST faculty, staff and students, as well as taking pride in their successes.

“I am proud of the excellent placement of our undergraduate students, their accomplishments in national competitions and their enthusiasm,” he said. “I’m also proud of our internationally recognized faculty and the absolute ‘can do’ attitude of our faculty. I’ll miss the opportunity to brag about our faculty, staff and especially students. It’s a great joy when parents and employers are enthusiastic about the education that we provide.”

Several of Hall’s colleagues commented that his leadership style has been relaxed yet decisive, and that he displays a genuine interest in their lives beyond their professional roles.

“Beyond being my boss and mentor, Dave is a great friend,” Rosson said. “Almost every day, he asks me how things are going, and he's not just asking about work issues -- he really does care about my life. He is always ready to listen, encourage and even entertain me on all kinds of topics. Lucky for me, that part of our relationship will keep on keeping on, even after he steps down.”

Jeff Rimland, a research associate and instructor at the College of IST, echoed Rosson’s comments about Hall’s approachability and laid-back demeanor.

“Dave is a great researcher and a great administrator -- but there are lots of those out there,” Rimland said.” The thing that really sets him apart is that he approaches the work with an open heart and a genuine concern for people. I believe that’s why students, staff, and faculty are all happy to work with Dave.”

While Hall may be stepping down from his role as dean of the College of IST, his plans don’t include “taking it easy” anytime soon. During his sabbatical this fall, he will be working on a new book on citizen science (in which volunteers assist scientists via observations, data analysis, and model development). 

“I will be providing a new framework to support research in citizen science and visiting several universities and agencies that conduct such research,” he said. “In the spring, I will return to my professorial faculty position and continue research and teaching in information fusion.”

Brewster, who has worked more closely with Hall than many others at the College of IST, said that his understated yet firm leadership has enabled the college to reach new heights and has inspired the people around him to achieve their potential.

“It was John Quincy Adams who said, ‘If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader,’” Brewster said. “Indeed, Dave is one of IST’s finest leaders.”

Last Updated January 10, 2015