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2001


In some circles, Reed is thought of as a progressive institution that places a particular emphasis on the arts and humanities. Those who truly understand Reed, however, know that our very real strength in humanistic studies is — to put it mildly — complemented by some of the strongest and most rigorous natural science programs in the country. Our devotion to serious, high-powered study in laboratory and theoretical science has long been a fundamental and distinguishing feature of the academic program.

The pantheon of Reed faculty giants includes, indeed gives a certain pride of place to, professors such as Knowlton and Griffin, Kleinholz and Scott—to mention but a few of those who brought national prominence to our science programs. The achievements of their students are undeniable. Of all American colleges and universities, only Cal Tech and Harvey Mudd have sent a larger portion of their graduates on to earn doctorates in science. In biology alone, Reed is far and away the nation’s leading per capita producer of Ph.D.s. Over the years, Reed graduates have been elected to the National Academy of Science in numbers far beyond what one would expect from a small school, and our alumni are well represented on many of the nation’s most distinguished science faculties.

You may have recently read about one such outstanding alumnus, Wise Young ’71, in the August 20 science and medicine issue of Time magazine’s ongoing “America’s Best” series. Young, a Reed biology major, a neurosurgeon, and head of the Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at Rutgers University, is doing breakthrough spinal cord research. He was one of 18 scientists that Time calls “brilliant researchers who are the envy of the world.”

The tradition of excellence abounds. Last year Reed ranked 18th in the nation among all colleges and universities in the number—not the percentage, but the actual total number—of seniors majoring in physics. Enrollments are similarly healthy in chemistry, biology, psychology, and mathematics. The division of mathematics and natural science accounts for about 40 percent of all graduating seniors, and when psychology students are added, the figure approaches one half. We take special pride in the comparatively large number of female students who perform with distinction in the sciences and who go on to pursue important and rewarding scientific careers.

Serious science requires serious infrastructure, and we have worked hard to make sure that our students and faculty have the kind of equipment they need. The chemistry building is surely one of the finest of its kind anywhere, and the psychology building is similarly impressive. The recently completed biology addition and renovation is a terrific facility, and we continue to pursue major ongoing improvements to our physics labs.

At the heart of the program, however, is a teaching faculty that I would characterize as brilliant. Reed long ago pioneered a research-oriented pedagogy that puts students in labs early on, that thinks of students not primarily as note-takers but as active investigators, and that culminates, of course, in the senior thesis project, itself conceived as an original exercise in systematic scientific inquiry. Today’s faculty continues to pursue this approach with enthusiasm. It’s not at all unusual for Reed undergraduates to publish in scientific journals as co-authors with their faculty advisers, and the overall quality of student work is, by any measure, extremely high.

The other articles in this issue focus on Reed’s biology program. But the undeniable success of that program needs to be understood in the context of our larger commitment to a first-rate education in science and mathematics. And if the focus here is on students majoring in science, it’s important to emphasize as well that the faculty requires every Reed student, regardless of major, to take at least two full courses in laboratory science as a prerequisite for graduation. At Reed scientific inquiry is an integral and essential part of how we understand a liberal arts education
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Peter Steinberger is Reed’s acting president and the Robert H. and Blanche Day Ellis professor of political science and humanities.

Reed Magazine Footer
Link to Reed Mag  Home
2001