Many colleagues have heard me tell the story (possibly more than once) about how, as a graduate student at the University of Kansas, I hosted an acquaintance who was driving across the country from the east coast. He was headed to a teaching job in Utah, and I recall thinking (but not saying…my frontal lobes were still intact in those days): I would never even apply for a job in Utah! Fast forward several years, at which point I had graduated and had a job I enjoyed, when a mentor encouraged me to apply for a new faculty position in cognitive neuropsychology at the University of Utah. The job ad was compelling, and when I visited I was impressed with not just the strength of the faculty, but the energy and innovation apparent in the department. At the time, the field of cognitive neuropsychology was just coalescing; this department recognized the new direction early on and capitalized on it by reorganizing the then separate experimental and physiological areas to form what is now the Cognitive and Neural Sciences program. The department faculty were productive, forward-looking and collegial, with many people eager to work with others across programs and even departments.
If that sounds eerily similar to the character of our current department, it should. Obviously, the department I am now retiring from is very different from the one I joined 34 years ago. But I am struck by how much the essential character of the department has been maintained over the years, to the great advantage of the department. I served as department chair for many years, and one of the benefits of that position was the opportunity to become deeply aware of the exciting scholarship and the innovative teaching being done across the department. It has been impressive. Individuals are intensely committed to advancing their ideas and methods, and yet the department as a whole has retained a kind of agility to move forward in new directions, whether in research or curriculum development. If I recall, not long after the integration of the CNS area, the department committed resources to the cross-area Health Program, then to joint hires with Ethnic Studies and with Gender Studies, a Quantitative emphasis, Clinical Neuropsychology and Child Clinical specializations, a Human Factors emphasis…to name but a few. It should be said that changes and transitions have not always been easy, pleasant, or even successful. But the point is that the vision of individuals in the department and the willingness of the faculty to think in innovative ways has made our department an exciting and energetic one. The department has gotten much stronger over the years (over the decades!), and I am so impressed with the outstanding quality of our faculty, graduate students and staff. It truly has been a privilege for me to be a part of such a community.