5 Questions with Shaily Menon, Ph.D.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Shaily Menon, Ph.D., joined Saint Joseph’s University in August of 2017. Since that time, the University has announced the first new school in decades and a partnership with a world-renowned art and horticulture institution. So, she’s been busy. But she took time to share her thoughts on the College's priorities, new initiatives, and how higher education can evolve in the future.

Now that you’ve been on Hawk Hill for over a year, have your first impressions changed?

When I first arrived on Hawk Hill, I had the impression of an institution with a remarkable history and legacy which is also poised for change in order to meet the needs of the world in the 21st century. I continue to be impressed by the level at which students and faculty are engaged in the work of the institution and making progress on our strategic priorities, improving our policies and processes, improving campus climate, and working on social justice initiatives. I have enjoyed collaborating with students, faculty and staff on campus-wide efforts, such as launching a new professional school, designing innovative spaces and programs, and working on issues related to diversity and inclusion.

The College of Arts and Sciences provides the core of the liberal arts education here at SJU. How do you explain the importance of the liberal arts when talking to students and parents?

Every student, regardless of major, takes general education classes in the College of Arts and Sciences. It is here that students experience the excitement and the value of the liberal arts. Students make new discoveries about themselves and learn lasting lessons about the world. An education based in the liberal arts and sciences inspires intellectual curiosity and a desire for life-long learning, and instills in students critical thinking, analytical, ethical and communication skills that will serve them well in any career that exists today or new careers that will emerge in the future. Liberal arts education at Saint Joseph’s is steeped in the tradition of Jesuit academic rigor and excellence. It is about action and application, research and inquiry, ideas and creativity, reflection and engagement. Jesuit education, based on Ignatian values, is truly transformative, affecting not only a student’s first job, or professional career, but a lifetime of working with and for people.

You’ve had a leadership role in some big initiatives here, including the School of Health Studies and Education and the Barnes Arboretum at SJU. Are there other initiatives that you are particularly proud of or have enjoyed working on?

Launching the new professional School of Health Studies and Education has been a major initiative and collaboration with faculty, staff and student representatives. We have successfully completed the search for a founding dean of the school, which we will announce soon, and we look forward to welcoming our colleague to campus this summer.

Another major initiative is the partnership of Saint Joseph’s with the Barnes, a world-renowned institution in the arts and horticulture. The SJU / Barnes Partnership will allow us to advance the arts and sciences at SJU and at the Barnes arboretum and gallery in new and creative ways.

Another new initiative in the College of Arts and Sciences is the SJU Biotech Incubator Program in partnership with a biotech startup. This pilot program has offered our students and faculty an opportunity to interact with entrepreneurs and biotechnology experts. Students working as volunteers or interns in the incubator space have gained skills in new methodologies in translational medicine and have learned about entrepreneurship in the biotech world.

Faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences are working on several other initiatives such as establishing or exploring programs in cybersecurity, data sciences, fermentation studies, geographic information systems, global and cultural studies, and speech language pathology. Students in the College have been working with me to establish a Student Advisory Council and we plan to meet and collaborate on a project annually. Members of our advisory board are working closely with us on projects to further the strategic priorities of the College. I am proud of all of the many collaborative initiatives the College has undertaken.

Higher education faces many challenges, from affordability to financial viability. What keeps you up at night when you think about the higher education ecosystem?

Higher education is part of a larger societal and physical ecosystem that is in a state of flux. At the same time that society is questioning the value and purpose of higher education, it has great need for the skills provided by a liberal education. Institutions of higher education must rise to the challenge by anticipating societal needs, finding new partners and novel partnerships, and adapting and innovating their curricula, structures, and modes of delivery to meet the needs of students. We must prepare students to thrive in an increasingly complex and changing world, and to shape the future of that world.

What is one thing that most people would be surprised to learn about you?

I have done research as a scientist in a circadian biology lab, a tropical rainforest, and a predictive modeling computer lab, and I enjoy learning languages and writing short stories.

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