There are two personal objects in Michael Klein’s office on the fourth floor of Conwell Hall.
One, a convocation gown hanging on the back of the door in a dry-cleaning sleeve, is a remnant of Klein’s first official duty as the interim dean of the College of Science and Technology.
The second, a plain looking office chair, was brought in after the former occupant of the space, former dean Hai-Lung Dai, took it with him when he left to take on his current position of interim provost.
“As you can see, I haven’t had much time to unpack,” Klein said in an interview last week.
Klein, who was hired in July to assume the role of interim dean of CST, has been spending the majority of the last two months leading his college through the construction of a research center, hiring more faculty, developing service programs and preparing for the start of a new semester with fresh faces.
Klein, whose background comes in researching the way molecules behave, said that he was surprised when administrators first asked him to fill the role of interim dean.
“I was kind of pleased that the provost had this confidence in me to fulfill the role,” Klein said.
Dai and Klein worked together for more than 20 years at the University of Pennsylvania, where Dai was the chair of the chemistry department, sharing a relationship Klein described as “close personal friends.”
Dai was appointed to the role of dean of CST in 2007, and was faced with the tasks of hiring new faculty, developing programs and beginning the design on a new facility for the college.
“Dai, when he moved across here, really had in mind to improve the place on every level,” Klein said. “Being interim dean is really holding the steering wheel and not losing any of the momentum that was built up by now [Interim] Provost Dai.”
Since 2007, CST has hired 42 tenured, or tenure-track faculty members, Preston Moretz, a staff writer for University Communications, said in an email. Between 2009 and 2012, 15 faculty members at CST have retired and an additional 12 are expected to retire during the current academic year.
The hiring of new faculty will continue to be one of the focal points of his administration at CST, Klein said.
“I think we need to hire at least 30 stellar faculties,” Klein said, adding that he would also like to see a rise in SAT scores and competitiveness of undergraduate students.
The plan for a new science building has developed into a new construction site along 12th Street, near Polett Walk, for the science, education and research center, expected to be completed in 2014.
While Klein praised the new building, he said it is more important to focus on the people who will inhabit it.
“It’s not just bricks and mortar,” Klein said. “The most inspiring thing I think is the vigorous undergraduate research program.”
Klein also stressed the importance of offering career advising programs to students who find difficulties in their planned areas of study.
“People get to universities and then there are other opportunities, so having built this infrastructure here for career guidance…to help market yourself, in the best possible sense of that word, is a fantastic resource,” Klein said.
Klein added that CST is working to add research fellowships that are important to helping students get started on their career paths, as well as make the college more attractive to bright students.
“It is what made me a scientist, doing research in my final year as an undergraduate,” Klein said.
Klein will fill the role of interim dean until at least Dec. 31. At the start of the new year, Dr. Neil Theobald will become the university’s next president. There has been no word from the president’s office, or CST, as to whether Dai will take on the permanent position of provost, return to CST or take another post.
“[If Theobald appoints a new dean] I will go back to being a scientist, publish more papers, raise more grant money, educate some more post documents…that’s what I do,” Klein said.
For this semester, Klein said his biggest concerns are adding six to eight new faculty members, expanding research, overseeing construction of the research center and reaching out to students, which he did for the first time at his school’s convocation.
“When I was their age, the transistor had been invented, the laser had been invented, the first NMR measurement had been invented, and the Russians put up a satellite. Think about in 50 years what has happened,” Klein said. “This is the message I gave to the young kids. You have to be technically savvy if you’re going to appreciate it.”
John Moritz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JCMoritzTU.