Tsunami scientist Professor Brian G McAdoo has been named the inaugural Rector of Yale-NUS College, where he will play a pivotal role in shaping the community of learning at the College.
As Rector, Professor McAdoo will oversee the social and cultural life of Yale-NUS students, as well as the complex physical space of the residential college. He will play an integral role in building a cohesive community, creating bonds amongst students, and instilling in students a sense of belonging at the College. He will also tap on his personal and professional networks to facilitate programmes and activities for the students. During 2013-14, all Yale-NUS students will live in a single residential college on the University Town Campus of the National University of Singapore. Beginning in 2014-15, they will live in three separate residential colleges on the new Yale-NUS campus. Two additional rectors will be appointed by 2015.
“I see the Rector as the link between the intellectual, physical and spiritual lives of the students. During the course of their educational experience, the students will be exploring a wide variety of material in the classroom, library, laboratory, field, museum, archives… you name it. But if the intellectual life of the students is not supported with a balance of options, we risk doing a disservice to the students. As Rector, I hope to help ensure that this balance is maintained in such a way that the best learning can occur,” Professor McAdoo shared.
Yale-NUS’ President Pericles Lewis expressed enthusiasm about Professor McAdoo’s appointment as the inaugural Rector. “We are creating a unique environment that is not only conducive for students to study and learn, but also encourages social interactions with their peers and their professors. As Rector, Professor McAdoo will be living with the students on campus, and inspiring them to embrace a culture of creativity, curiosity and critical thinking. As a scientist passionate about his work and its impact on society, he will be someone that students can look up to and aspire to emulate,” he said.
As the first Rector of a new liberal arts college in Singapore, Professor McAdoo finds this an extraordinary opportunity to perform his role differently. He notes that the inaugural batch of students will come from a diversity of backgrounds, and they will learn from one another as much as they will learn from their professors. His goal, therefore, is to help facilitate the creation of memorable experiences for the students and to ensure that a variety of options emerge that will appeal to a diverse range of students.
He explained: “What can a student gain from a conversation with a leading scholar? What about attending a performance by a magnificent artist, followed by a conversation over dinner? Is a strenuous hike up Mount Kinabalu something that one might remember in 50 years? Or, perhaps the most important thing is a quiet refuge where one might regroup and allow everything to settle? The opportunity for me and their other teachers lies in creating an environment that best supports them during this time of discovery. Should we offer a variety of outlets for their physical, creative and intellectual energies? Or, should we act as facilitators for student-driven initiatives? I look forward to exploring options with the students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the broader community, so as to blend our different approaches into a unique learning environment.”
As an earth and environmental scientist, the Yale-NUS Professor of Science spends a lot of time in the field, often with students, trying to figure out why things are the way they are. He shared that his teaching approach involves a dialogue of teaching and learning on multiple levels, and one can expect to see this approach being replicated in the shaping of the learning community at the College. Having spent a fair amount of time working in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, Professor McAdoo believes that there is a need for interdisciplinary education in this region given the many complex social-environmental challenges that require out-of-the-box approaches, and he hopes to play a part in helping the College realize its potential.
The avid geologist was once an economics major at Duke University. After taking a geology class to fulfill a science requirement, Professor McAdoo fell in love with the subject and went on a Fulbright Scholarship in New Zealand, to study the Alpine fault, which separates the Indo-Australian and Pacific plates. During his PhD studies in Earth Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Professor McAdoo completed eight dives to the bottom of the ocean in the deep-sea research vessel Alvin while researching submarine landscape evolution. This line of research eventually led to an interest in earthquakes and tsunami. Following the 2004 Indian Ocean disaster, he was asked to join UNESCO post-tsunami reconnaissance teams in Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia. He felt that subsequent disasters, such as hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, the earthquake in Haiti, and tsunami in the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Java, and Japan, show that researchers do not communicate effectively across disciplines, and lack the framework to work with those in charge of recovery.
Professor McAdoo is currently working with UNESCO, the Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to design transdisciplinary post-disaster surveys where critical information can be effectively delivered and regions can indeed build back better. From 1998 to 2012, he taught at Vassar College.