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Playground of Ideas (and Solutions)

My colleague Scott Fraser, who came to USC Dornsife from the California Institute of Technology last year, describes the USC campus as a playground. Without even questioning his word choice, Scott will recount how biologists and engineers make plans to “play” together. They compare ideas and goals, and work in teams to devise new ways to address long-standing issues.

The global challenges we face in 2014 are no doubt formidable, but at USC Dornsife, our faculty, researchers and students come prepared to address these problems enthusiastically and collaboratively. There is nothing like seeing a scientist’s eyes light up as he describes how a type of solar technology may hold the key to curing certain eye diseases or a student’s excitement when she secures an internship with a high-profile congresswoman.

It’s interesting — a good playground can be the glue that holds a community together. It’s where families meet and children learn to socialize and connect. Among many powerful examples of “play” at USC, we have students who introduce literature to local elementary school students through the Joint Educational Project (JEP), a faculty member who studies what it takes to motivate underserved youth to excel, and a graduate student who analyzes gratitude using the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive of stories from genocide survivors, among so many other powerful examples.

My goal as dean of USC Dornsife is to make sure that we break out of the traditional academic bubble. After all, problems can’t be solved without dismantling boundaries, combining disciplines and looking far further than just inside our own textbooks, classrooms, city or even country for answers.

We must teach our students how to use their own resources to enact political change, imbuing public health initiatives with cultural sensitivity — or even cure cancer or arrest climate change by encouraging collaboration among scholars in different fields. In essence, Scott is right. USC is a playground — a playground for ideas, strategies, collaboration and, ultimately, solutions.

Steve Kay
Dean of USC Dornsife
Anna H. Bing Dean’s Chair