New dean Wendy Suzuki wants to maximize brain power at CAS
In a Q&A with WSN, Wendy Suzuki shares how her passion for neuroscience will impact her new role as dean of NYU’s College of Arts & Science.
Sep 19, 2022
Wendy Suzuki, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at NYU’s Center for Neural Science, started as dean of the College of Arts & Science this month after 24 years as a faculty member at the university. She hopes to use her background in neuroscience to reduce stress among students and make resources more accessible within CAS and across NYU.
After Gene Jarrett — who had served as dean for four years — resigned in August 2021, former CAS dean Matthew Santirocco returned from retirement to serve as the interim dean for one year. A committee of CAS faculty chose Suzuki in March, and she officially started her new position on Sept. 1.
Suzuki spoke with WSN about how her research will inform her new role as dean, what she is most looking forward to in her first year and the advice she has for CAS students.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Before applying to serve as the CAS dean, Suzuki said that she was asked by NYU president Andrew Hamilton to be a co-chair of a committee working to ensure NYU’s compliance with standards needed to maintain accreditation. She added that she fully immersed herself in the experience and enjoyed addressing large-scale questions and concerns about the university’s future.
When she was asked to consider applying for the position, Suzuki said she originally declined because she wanted to focus on her work on the accreditation compliance committee. Santirocco, however, encouraged her to apply for the role; she said she is grateful that he did.
WSN: What does a typical day as dean look like?
Suzuki: Meeting after meeting after meeting after meeting. A little time to rest, and then more meetings. It’s very intense — more intense than it has ever been. But what I try and do is keep those big goals in mind. There’s a lot of things for me to pay attention to, and I just have to remember what my goals are and spend my time in those areas, even though there’s meetings coming at me all the time.
I have a lot to learn as a dean. I’m just a baby dean. I’m taking this next year to really try and find my footing, find my mentor deans and my mentors in general. One of my goals is to meet as many students in the college as I can. We’re going to have three new dean welcomes — two for students here and one specifically for students studying abroad. We’ll have lots of good food and fun, just a moment for me to introduce myself to everybody and be able to meet as many people in the room as I can. I’m also having monthly meetings with different student groups. They’re going to be shifting between “Tea with the Dean” or “Walk with the Dean.” I’m looking forward to that.
WSN: What else are you looking forward to in this new role?
Suzuki: I’m looking forward to making NYU and the College of Arts & Science at NYU the college of good mental, cognitive and emotional health. It’s easy to say and harder to do. I’m really looking forward to gathering a group of advisors to help make that a reality. I’m already starting with my freshman seminar that is called “How to Build a Big Fat Fluffy Brain.” It’s going to be taught in the spring. It’s about gathering all of that knowledge base that we already have at this college and being creative about ways to spread that in classes like freshman seminar, but also in programs — and in that way, creating a whole culture that values mental, cognitive and emotional health. That’s the dream. This is the perfect time to do that because there’s a lot of desire for more consideration of mental and emotional health issues in students, so perfect time, perfect place. We’re going to get it done.
Suzuki developed a love for neuroscience during her time at the University of California, Berkeley, where she took a first-year seminar course called “The Brain and its Potential.” After studying alongside Marian Diamond, who is considered one of the founders of modern neuroscience, Suzuki went on to earn a Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego. She also completed a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, and continues to research long-term memory and the interaction between aerobic exercise and learning.
In 2021, she published her second book, titled “Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion.” The book addresses the underlying non-clinical cases of anxiety that affect millions of people.
WSN: What parts of your neuroscience background will carry over to your new role as dean?
Suzuki: Everything. My job is to help maximize the brain function of all the 9,000 students in CAS. I think of my charge as brain enhancement for 9,000 brains. I know the tools that can enhance the brain, decrease stress and improve connection between students. Can we get rid of waitlists? Can we make it easier for you to get to those fascinating courses in your major and not be weighed down by too many requirements?
There’s 60 majors in the college and 68 minors. That’s a great choice that can be wonderful, but maybe sometimes a little bit intimidating. Can we make pathways so that it’s easier to get through that and take advantage of other things that NYU is known for, like our global experience?
All of these administrative strategies are all used in service to bring those 9,000 brains through four years that maximally improves their cognition and improves their prospects for a happy, healthy life in the future.
While she is dean, Suzuki said that she hopes students will be able to maximize their experiences while minimizing their overall stress at NYU. She said she wants to make a positive impact on CAS and NYU overall.
WSN: What’s your favorite thing about NYU and specifically CAS?
Suzuki: My favorite thing about CAS is the diversity of students. At the same time, we are the largest private undergraduate college in the country. That’s just so cool. It also slightly scares me that I now am dean of the most undergraduates — that’s a lot of students. But that is my favorite part. That is what makes us so strong as a group, this diversity.
WSN: Is there any final advice that you’d give to the students of CAS for this upcoming school year?
Suzuki: Please join me in considering this a new beginning. We’re finally more normal. I hope that it will feel and look completely pre-pandemic soon and that we’re able to take advantage of the things that we learned during the pandemic. But it is a new beginning with lots of lessons learned and lots of potential to come. It feels like the start of the semester, but a really special start of a new fall semester. I hope all the students can join me in that new feeling.
Contact Bruna Horvath at [email protected]