My welcome message for undergrads in Bear Facts

Here’s my message that appears in WU’s orientation book:

As the provost of Washington University, let me be one of the first to welcome you to St. Louis.

“Great,” you think, “what is a provost?” The provost is the chief academic officer, so I’m responsible for all of the schools, classes, student life, research, and, well, pretty much everything that will be part of your life at Wash U. But I’m not as famous as my boss, the chancellor, so I mostly work behind the scenes. If you see someone in a suit on campus that you don’t recognize, that’s probably me.

You made two bold decisions when you decided to come to Wash U. The first was to attend a research university. That means that the faculty who teach you in your classes are also involved in original research – in doing and trying and writing things that have never been done before. Don’t leave Wash U without taking advantage of that. Be part of making the history of knowledge: ask your professors about their research and get involved in undergraduate research.

The second bold decision was to come to a place that was smaller and more committed to undergraduate education than most other major research universities. Yes, your faculty members are very involved in their research, but they chose to be here because they wanted to be at a place where they could be active scholars and heavily engaged in undergraduate teaching.

When you put these two things together, there’s something else that is likely to happen that is more serious: you’re going to learn a lot about the great problems facing the world. Climate change, poverty, conflict, inequality, disease. We like problems at Wash U, because we believe that all of you have the energy and brainpower we need to get them fixed, particularly when you’re in this intimate and innovative environment. And whether you study engineering, biology, or the humanities, you’re going to think a lot about these problems.

I know our brochures are filled with smiling students sitting on the quad and enjoying Thurtene Carnival. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of all that here. But we’re going to challenge you, too. We’re going to invite you into the messy, complicated world of problems we live in. We want you debating these problems with your fellow students and the faculty and staff. Because when you leave here, you’re the ones we’re counting on to do something about it.

We want you to challenge us, as well. If you see something at Wash U that you don’t like, let us know. Push us to do the best for you with your education. We don’t know it all. Sometimes the questions you ask make our research better or make our university better. Put your hand up.

You probably thought you were coming here to learn the answers to questions. Actually, you can find the answers to most questions on your iPhone. We want you to learn what questions to ask. Questions like “Why do things have to be this way?” and “What can I do to create change?”

Of course, you probably also want to ask, “Did Chancellor Wrighton really invent glow sticks?”

You can’t find the answer to that on your phone. You’ll have to ask him yourself.

Welcome, Bears. We can’t wait to see what you folks come up with.

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