Q&A with IST’s new associate dean for undergraduate and graduate studies

February 24, 2021

(Editor's note: A condensed version of this Q&A originally appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of iConnect, the alumni magazine of the College of Information Sciences and Technology.)

Jeff Bardzell

Jeffrey Bardzell, associate dean for undergraduate and graduate studies at the College of Information Sciences and Technology

IMAGE: Provided

Bringing academic and research expertise in human-computer interaction design from Indiana University Bloomington, Jeffrey Bardzell joined the College of Information Sciences and Technology as associate dean for undergraduate and graduate studies last fall. In his role, he aims to pursue excellence in all areas connected to teaching and learning at IST — advancing top-notch curricula; crafting and engaging learning experience; and creating growth opportunities for students, faculty and staff.

Q:  What are your top priorities as associate dean for undergraduate and graduate studies?

A:  My primary goal is to pursue excellence in all areas connected to teaching and learning. This includes creating and maintaining top-notch and up-to-date curricula; crafting an engaging learning experience from beginning to end; and creating opportunities for growth and development for students, faculty, and staff. 

Q:  What new initiatives are you looking forward to implementing?

A:  In the immediate term, I hope to better distribute expertise, while building leaders for the future of the college from within; and relatedly I hope to help develop agile curricular processes—from course development to evaluation and renewal. I am also hoping to contribute to the integration of the values of diversity and inclusion throughout the college.

The longer, more visionary goal is to better prepare students for the future of work, whether it is in industry, the non-profit sector, government, or education. This will include focusing not only on technical learning outcomes, but qualities increasingly sought after in workplaces: creativity and innovation in the era of artificial intelligence; a thoughtful and ongoing commitment to different manifestations of diversity; emotional intelligence, both individual and team-based; and increased opportunities for undergraduate research as well as industry engagement. 

Q:  How have you acclimated to your new role and new institution during the pandemic?

A:  Acclimatizing to a role like this in a new institution basically comes down to a lot of listening. Most of the time, I am in meetings — whether one-on-one meetings with faculty, staff or students, or sitting in campus- or even University-wide meetings. In this way, I get to know how things work at Penn State, who does what, people’s personalities, and so on. For the most part, I am able to do that through Zoom, Teams, email, phone calls, and so on. But I really miss the brief hallway encounters, the ability to pop into someone’s office for a quick chat. 

Q:  How have you worked to ensure great academic experiences for students during the pandemic?

A:  Arguably the most difficult systematic issue related to the pandemic is that of engagement. For all of its numerous benefits and features, Zoom makes it a little too easy to disengage. I hear professors complain that students all turn off their cameras and microphones, leaving them to teach into a void. I hear students complain that no one seems engaged. What I have tried to do is present this as a cultural and organizational challenge, rather than an individual one. In other words, it’s not whether a particular teacher is good with Zoom or whether a given student turns her camera on; it’s about whether everyone in the class makes a commitment to be present to and for each other. For faculty, that means possibly changing some of what has worked for them in the past. Working with IST’s Office of Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, we have offered workshops, created resources, and regularly engaged faculty on how to teach effectively during the pandemic. And when I meet with students, I remind them that if they turn off their cameras and “Zoom-out,” they are robbing themselves — and their peers — of one of the best developmental opportunities of their lives. 

Q:  What was appealing to you about this position?

A:  When, under considerable pressure, I somewhat reluctantly first took an administrative role some years back at my prior institution, I assumed that that work would come at the expense of my research and teaching. But I was wrong to assume that. Research, teaching and service can mutually inform and support each other. In my case, I learned about how my research related to that of my colleagues. I found myself better able to situate and explain my research within my research community. I found it easier to explain research to students, prospective students, and parents. The design of most contemporary universities, including Penn State, is such that research, teaching, and service are supposed to be integrated. When I got into administration was the first time I really saw how they all came together—it was exciting! 

And when research, teaching and service come together, it puts me in a position to help different people do what they want to do. I can help faculty more tightly couple their teaching to their research, bringing cutting edge knowledge—and passion—into the classroom. I can help students meet their goals—to prepare them not only for the next stage of their careers, but indeed, for a lifetime of learning and achievement. I can help staff reach their goals, hopefully retaining them in the college as they move through their careers. 

Q:  Why is the College of IST the right fit for you?

A:  The College of IST is an intellectually exciting place to be. We are in a time of change, with artificial intelligence, campaigns of mis/disinformation, e-democracy, the Internet of Things, the sharing economy, and so on. We see how social disruptions transform technology, and how technology contributes to social disruptions. IST has all the right ingredients, with strong research and teaching in data science, social informatics, cybersecurity, and my own area, HCI. IST also has an interdisciplinary vision that is commonly asserted at colleges like IST, but I felt that that vision was put more meaningfully into action here. 

But honestly, what put it over the top for me was its people. When I visited IST last winter, I was impressed not only with the expertise of IST faculty and staff, but also with the collegial ways that they interacted with each other—creating synergies and a vibe that I knew I had to be a part of. 

Q:  What are you most looking forward to in this role/at the college?

A:  In his book, “How Universities Work,” John Lombardi writes that universities are “quality engines,” continuing, “The American university depends on quality people to operate and fuel the quality engine that drives the enterprise” (p.188). Perhaps what I hope to do above all is to help everyone — students, faculty, staff and leadership — to develop and to grow. The success of any of us in the college benefits all of us. I hope to contribute to that. And I hope and expect to grow and develop myself. 


Last Updated February 24, 2021