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Message from the Dean

I’m often asked if I remember the moment when I decided to become a scientist. I know that for many, this choice was motivated by something specific — a eureka moment that pointed them down the path to their future career. But for me, there really wasn’t such a moment. What I do remember is growing up curious. 

A photo of Dean Amber Miller

I’ve always been interested in not just how the natural world works, but also how people and societies work. My dad was a do-it-yourselfer, and I remember following him around, asking why this or that happens. Not every question had a simple answer, and I would often be sent to search through an encyclopedia (remember those?), to take a trip to the library, or to call a relative or friend of my parents who was an expert. That sense that questions were answerable, and that I had the ability to find those answers, was empowering. It led me to deeply value the research university environment, which is all about asking hard questions, challenging assumptions and pushing the boundaries of knowledge.

We tend to expect the sensational story of that moment when a perspective changed or an idea formed. But perspectives don’t always take shape in a moment. It is an accumulation of knowledge and lived experiences that influence the way we understand the world. We at USC Dornsife embrace the idea that the most valuable memories are not those of facts, but of experiences. We don’t expect our students to remember every idea or theory or experiment. Instead, we want them to remember how to explore issues broadly and deeply. We want them to remember how to approach complex problems, how to separate fact from fiction, and how to debate with civility. By the time our students graduate, we want them to leave us with the confidence that they have developed the capacity to solve a wide range of problems on their own. It is that memory that sets our students up for careers as leaders and innovators — no matter what they have chosen to study.

This issue of USC Dornsife Magazine explores a wide range of ideas related to memory. I think about what we will remember about this uncertain moment, and I hope it is the human kindness, innovation and creativity that has surfaced amid so much tragedy and frustration. And I believe it will be the memories we continue to create together through this challenging time that will keep us strong.

Amber D. Miller
Dean of USC Dornsife
Anna H. Bing Dean’s Chair