• Fondren Jones Science Center Phase II

This past fall, Southwestern University continued to fulfill its mission of fostering the highest standards of scholarship and academic quality by opening a new school, the Jack and Camille Garey School of Natural Sciences. The addition entails a fundamental restructuring of campus departments that Southwestern hasn’t seen in almost 20 years. The Garey School joins the Brown College of Arts and Sciences, which was named in 1975 and now houses the humanities and social sciences, and the Fayez Sarofim School of Fine Arts, which evolved into its present configuration in 1999 and contains the Departments of Art and Art History, Music, and Theatre.

The new school comprises the natural sciences and consists of five academic departments—Biology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Kinesiology, Mathematics and Computer Science, and Physics—offering 12 majors and minors. The objective of the new school, says Professor of Political Science and Dean of the Faculty Alisa Gaunder, is “to amplify the University’s vision that this is an area where we excel.” Through faculty research grants and publications as well as undergraduate research, Southwestern has demonstrated strength in science and mathematics fields, and the new school signals increased resources in those disciplines. That strength has drawn students from across the country to study at SU, with premedical being the most popular pathway elected by first-year and other incoming students.

However, the creation of the Garey School of Natural Sciences will also foster interdisciplinary connections with the humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. What many current students and alumni already know is that the premedical pathway is actually a terrific entrée into the liberal arts. Many Southwestern students may initially enroll in premed coursework but will complete the pathway in addition to majoring in nonscience fields such as Spanish, business, or psychology. Others will change course entirely, beginning their college careers in biology and chemistry but discovering a passion for theater or art history and pursuing those courses of study instead. By encouraging such exploration, Gaunder says, the new school “speaks to what we’re trying to do: responding to national trends [in science-related disciplines] with the value added of the liberal arts.”

The creation of the Garey School is the natural outgrowth of Southwestern’s continued strategic vision of integrating ways of thinking across the University. Recently, SU introduced four new minors: data science, health studies, animal studies, and design thinking. These innovative offerings are distinctive because with the exception of the environmental studies program, no prior interdisciplinary major or minor included the natural sciences as a required component. Similarly, the conception of the new school entails a dedication to enhancing students’ perspectives by making intentional connections within the natural sciences and between the sciences and other subjects.

This commitment to multidisciplinary research and learning is a core tenet of Southwestern’s distinctive approach to education, Paideia, which integrates seemingly disparate fields across the curriculum. But this goal also reflects the future of the natural sciences more broadly. As organizations such as the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense, and NASA have shown, tearing down the traditional boundaries between such subjects as chemistry, engineering, and computer science is crucial for innovation and problem-solving. “Science today is so intertwined, with different disciplines working together to develop solutions to major problems,” says Professor of Biology Ben Pierce. “The future of science no longer revolves around working in silos but in collaborating across multiple areas.” The Garey School of Natural Sciences is intentionally designed to encourage similar collaborations, preparing students for 21st-century interdisciplinary careers, from medicine and epidemiology to social sustainability and environmentalism.

The new school was funded by the largest single private gift of the University’s 178-year history. Southwestern Life Trustee Jack Garey, with honor to his late wife Camille Garey, has given $15,000,000 to the University in support of faculty development, academic programming, need-based scholarships, and high-impact experiences. “It was important to me to make this gift now because we are at a crucial time in education in this country, a crossroads of sorts,” said Garey. “I was inspired by what President Burger is doing and wanted to see that vision move forward in a significant way. … I believe that Southwestern University, under the leadership of President Burger, is going to play a major role in the evolution of higher education—not just in Texas but the nation as well. I wanted to invest in that transformation.”

In addition to the creation of the new natural sciences school, that transformation will include increased support for faculty development, including midcycle competitive sabbatical semesters for tenured faculty members across the University as well as five endowed chairs in the natural sciences. These sabbaticals and endowed chairs will “provide incentives for our teachers, scholars, and university citizens to excel in the teacher–scholar model,” says Gaunder. For students, the gift also supports high-impact experiences for 32 Garey Scholars in their sophomore and junior years, academic programming, and need-based scholarships through the Financial Aid Office. The Garey School and other initiatives facilitated by the gift will expand faculty research support while increasing opportunities for science and math professors to engage SU students in their research programs.

“This unprecedented and transformative gift, which has been fully allocated to the University’s endowment, will build upon our reputation as a world-class institution that is transforming higher education and as a national leader in high-impact learning and intellectual growth,” said President Edward Burger. Garey’s gift and the new Garey School of Natural Sciences will have a lasting impact on “the entire Southwestern community,” Burger said, as well as on “generations of students and faculty to come.”