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Dean David HallWhat do the mythical “McAlevy’s Fort Symphonic Orchestra,” Prairie High School’s Senior Day, Star Trek, and being Dean of the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) have in common?

It all starts with that fabled orchestra… During the 1970s, a popular local radio announcer would play a comedic song during finals week at Penn State. He claimed it was a recording of the “McAlevy’s Fort Symphonic Orchestra.” The song would begin as a traditional symphony, but as it progressed it would systematically degrade as you realized that orchestra members were becoming out of tune, playing other songs, or dropping out. This progression became increasingly funnier as you heard the acoustic disintegration.

In the 1960s, the Prairie High School band leader, Mr. Kleesner, would hold a “so you want to be a band leader “day. He would invite graduating seniors to come forward and serve as conductor, leading the band in a selected piece. As you might expect, the songs quickly fell apart. The seniors learned that the band’s normally flawless performance had less to do with the waving of a baton, and more to do with the practice, training, and respect for the band leader. The band leader’s baton movements were merely frosting on the cake of the band members’ dedication, joint vision, and collective talents. The bandleader does not simply wave a baton, but rather coordinates practice, encourages excellence, selects appropriate and challenging pieces, and acts as a spokesman for the members of the orchestra.

These thoughts came to mind when I began to think about my tenure as Dean of the College of IST. When I was appointed Dean, I was concerned that faculty and staff were seeking a “leader.” I recall a Star Trek episode in which the crew is exposed to deadly radiation that prematurely ages them. Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy become impaired with age-related mental decline. The Captain is removed from command because of his mental decline and replaced by a youthful, but inexperienced officer. Of course, the Starship Enterprise becomes endangered by an attack from the Klingons and is rapidly failing. As the inexperienced commander is near surrendering, a miraculous cure is found for Captain Kirk. He returns to the bridge, takes command, and begins firing out orders, thereby saving the Enterprise. You can practically hear the cheers of the crew and the audience.

I was initially concerned that the faculty and staff were searching for a dean equivalent of Captain Kirk. As anyone who knows me can attest, my personality and leadership style are nearly opposite of Kirk’s. Despite these differences, I hope that I’ve had a positive impact on the College. I’ve come to believe that a Dean does not need to be a savior – rather, a Dean needs to play a number of roles: mentor, nurturer, cheerleader, representative, spokesperson, friend, and negotiator –a kind of organizational bandleader.

To me, the ideal leader is one who can enable an organization to flourish and grow, whether or not the leader is still “in the room.” My favorite moments of being a Dean have been the times when I could celebrate and brag about the accomplishments of our faculty, staff, and students. It has been a great pleasure to hear industry leaders rave about how they love our students and will hire more of them. Or to see our faculty members make significant contributions to real-world problems, both on an individual basis and as part of a larger, interdisciplinary research team. Finally, it is wonderful to experience the “can do” attitude of our staff who unfailingly support faculty and students.

At the end of June, this Bandleader/Dean will hand over the baton to another worthy candidate. I am confident that the College will flourish and grow and not exhibit the disintegration of the mythical “McAlevy’s Fort Symphonic Orchestra” or the Prairie High School band. The IST organizational band can perform with excellence, regardless of the band leader!

Thank you all for the opportunities and joy that I’ve experienced in “leading the band” these last several years. It has been an honor to serve the College of IST in this capacity.

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