Sean Goheen (Host) 00:00:01
Greeting scholars and welcome to Following the Gong, a podcast of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State.
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Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our Scholar Alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar Alumni have gone on to shape the world after they rang the gone and graduated with honors and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Goheen, class of 2011, and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back.
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Sean 00:00:55 Dr. Patrick T. Mather, Class of 1989 is the fourth dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State. D Mather returned to Darold State after a career that was launched with the US Air Force Research Lab, and several stops with increasing responsibility in academia, including the University of Connecticut Case, Western Reserve University, Syracuse University, and most recently, Bucknell University, where he served as the Dean of engineering. He earned his BSS with honors and MS degrees from Penn State in engineering science and engineering mechanics respectively, following which he went on to receive his PhD in materials at uc, Santa Barbara. In 1994, Dean Pat joined following the go to share his career story and life and career advice for scholars from his unique perspective as both an alum and as dean, including lessons in material science, the thesis, liquid crystals, academia and leadership. He also shares his musical talents. In this episode, recorded live in Atherton Hall's famed Grandfather Clock Lounge. You can read Dean Pat's full bio in a more detailed breakdown in the show notes on your podcast app. With that, let's dive right into our conversation with Dean Patrick Mather, following the gong.
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Sean 00:02:15 The musical stylings you are hearing is none other than Schreyer Honors College Dean Patrick t Mather. Dean Mather, thank you for joining me here on Following The Gong. It's great to sit here with you in person in the Grandfather Clock Lounge here in Atherton Hall. And we're gonna chat about your story as both an alum and as a dean of the college. But to tell that story in proper, I want to go back to high school, pat. So how did you begin your Penn State journey? What brought you here circa 1985? Sure.
Pat 00:02:45 Uh, uh, it's great to be here, particularly in Grandfather Clock lounge, which, uh, feels very much like home to me and then to you as well, I'm sure. Um, so you mentioned high school. I was not really an academic in high school. I was, um, uh, quite social. I liked to run, although I wasn't really an athlete, I was mostly a musician. And my, uh, part of my identity was in a band called The Casabas, and I was the lead guitarist and, uh, I had some aspirations to make a go of it as a music career, maybe 10th, 11th grade. But my father was sort of a coach, <laugh> and a mentor. Uh, he didn't go to college, but he, uh, was, um, uh, wise, uh, enough to suggest, hey, you know, that physics class you took that you sort of enjoyed. Maybe there's a direction, uh, you can take related to that.
Pat 00:03:41 Uh, so I pondered physics. I I didn't do that great math to be perfectly honest, but, um, in my limited explorations, I settled on engineering and I knew Penn State was a great engineering school. We were huge nit lines fans, uh, where I grew up in Westchester, Pennsylvania. So applied to a couple places, and I'll remember to this day when I, um, I was working at a supermarket. I was a checker at Fury's Supermarket. My mom brought the letter from Penn State down. Uh, I had to, you know, ask my customer to pause for a moment, and I opened the letter and it was an acceptance. There was hugs, <laugh> tears, uh, and um, and that's all she wrote. So I was, you know, immediately upon getting accepted to Penn State, I decided to, to go there and major in, uh, originally electrical engineering, uh, which wasn't exactly for me.
Pat 00:04:35 Um, but I did, I did well in my first year well enough to get, like the president's freshman award and, and engineering science invited me into their fold. Uh, I still remember that letter, which was after my first year. I was down at the shore, I think Avalon or Stone Harbor. And, uh, and I saw the word research and I asked my dad and my siblings, you know, what is what, what is research? I kind of heard of this before. And as I looked into it, I got sold, uh, on the fact that research was curiosity driven, clean slate, the ability to apply what you're learning in the classroom into sort of hands-on stuff. And, uh, so that was the beginning of where I am today. I can literally trace my entire arc of professional life all the way back to that moment of joining engineering science and thereby the University Scholars Program.
Sean 00:05:31 Yeah. So I wanted to ask about that. How did you actually go about becoming a scholar?
Pat 00:05:35 Just accepting that invitation. I, I, as a first generation college student, I wasn't seeking things out. I just got lucky things found me. I did work hard. I I was fairly shy in my first year. Uh, so I, I still remember Friday nights at the library practicing calculus problems that would, um, that wasn't all I did, believe me. I, I had some typical first year mischief going on, but I, I, in terms of entering into the University Scholars program, it, it was through, uh, engineering science, seeing in me a great potential. And given that I was willing and interested in research, um, that was a, a great match. What I came to learn also was, um, and it didn't influence my original decision, but wow, this is great. The professors in these smaller classes, uh, not just engineering classes, but the electives I took know my name, they, I couldn't hide.
Pat 00:06:33 For example, I remember a class, uh, I'll paraphrase the title, the Great American Novel, uh, but I also took a poetry class. I took a really cool class on American comedy, and what I loved was the engagement, the conversations they read, my journal entries, and all of this made, uh, my nascent emergence as a, an intellectual really enjoyable. And I f my identity sort of, uh, started to take on from just guitar player, musician, Hey, maybe I'm also, uh, an intellectual or a scholar or, or something like that. That was, uh, um, now that I look back, I, that was starting to become part of my, my clothing, my, my tapestry, uh, my identity.
Sean 00:07:21 So you talked about all these liberal arts electives that you were able to take as part of the gen general education curriculum, and you originally were pursuing electrical engineering, but ultimately you found your way into engineering science. And I've heard you describe yourself as a material science or material scientist, I should say. So how did you discover that? Was that through some experience on campus? Walk us through that process of like, what lit that bulb for you?
Pat 00:07:46 Well, I will say what it was not, it was not a class <laugh>. I took a class called Material Science, and I got a B in it. <laugh>,
Sean 00:07:53 For those of you listening, the dean of the Honors College just said he got a B in the class. It is okay to get a B now
Pat 00:07:58 That it became my passion also, so
Sean 00:08:00 It's okay, it was his major.
Pat 00:08:02 Um, and that was, that was frustrating at the time. But I did sort of see, okay, there's some cool stuff going on there, but it, I got exposed to material science as, uh, as a discipline in a hands-on way. At some point I found out I needed to do a thesis, um, just like, oh, okay, I gotta do a thesis. So I met with some professors in this, uh, uh, professor named Tom Hahn, h a h n. He, he was here at Engineering Science and Mechanics. He's, uh, now I think he's still at U C L A. Uh, he had an, uh, an opportunity, pretty big lab in the lowest level, I guess you call it, the basement of Hammond Building, uh, that I toured and I got to meet his team. And it was like one of those moments, you probably have a few in your own life where you kind of like look around up, down <laugh>.
Pat 00:08:53 It's like, I've never seen anything like this. Like the first time you see a live band or the first time you go to like this killer amusement park. That was that moment for me. And I saw the machinery. I saw just a hustle and bustle, lab coats, uh, noise, high ceiling machinery. And then I met this, uh, PhD student named Song Chu, who took me under his wing. He assumed I already accepted joining the lab, says, okay, when can you start? And <laugh>? And I was like, okay, I guess this is how this rolls. Uh, Monday <laugh>. So all of a sudden I was in this lab and we were making epoxy, you've probably used epoxy for crafts or whatever. Uh, I studied this project. That song told me about how epoxy cures from a liquid to a solid, and this is important for aircraft.
Pat 00:09:40 It's like, okay, I never really knew there were glue in aircraft. Modern aircraft now, uh, use composites that have a epoxy matrix. And the thing that really hooked me was he says, we're gonna use sound to study that. It's like, oh my God, <laugh> the, the marriage of my passion for music. And, and so it didn't really turn out that it had anything to do with music. It was sound. And we used sound waves propagating through epoxy to, um, to measure the advancement from liquid to solid. And you might already know this, but if you don't, the speed that by which sound propagates through water or other liquids is slower than it propagates through, like steel or plastic. And so just by monitoring, measuring that simple thing, the sound speed through a medium can give you a measure of the, uh, advancement of the cure state of the material.
Pat 00:10:31 And so I spent a, a couple years doing precisely that. I guess the, the negative Nelly way of describing that is I watched or I listened to Glue dry <laugh>, uh, but it was much more exciting to that, and I would show everybody my results, whoever was willing to listen. And as a senior, once I turned 21, 1 of the PhD students, and I, his name was Scott White, rest his soul, we would, uh, hang out at Cafe two 10 West, you know, cafe West. Uh, and I, at that point, I was like, I got, uh, I felt like I was a scientist, and we would pontificate over, you know, a beer about what the future of the field was. And I was one year in <laugh>. Here I am, 35 years in, uh, still working on these problems. That started way back then.
Sean 00:11:18 And you mentioned the thesis, and I think your thesis was, was probably related to this particular research. Can you offer your insights on the thesis process, the research, writing it, and what advice you have for scholars as they're navigating that process that both of both of us have gone through?
Pat 00:11:36 I can describe it at the moment when I was doing it, and now looking back the moment, it was a requirement for me, but it was a welcome requirement because my colleagues and not my classmates, and I, we did it together. I still remember there was a computer lab that we would, we were pretty disciplined as a group to, to have like these writing sessions at the, you might re if you've ever seen sort of a computer museum, the Macintosh as it had just come out, the, you know, there was a mouse, oh, what's, what's a mouse? You know? And then a little bit, we had the Mac plus, I think. So we sat around the room and we would just have like these writing sessions and making progress. I think my thesis ended up being, I don't know, 60 or 70 pages, something like that.
Pat 00:12:20 But we, we definitely took the building block approach. Let's get a couple pages done and then we can work on other things together. We were great friends in engineering science, and one thing I did realize that I enjoyed a lot was the artistic element of writing a thesis. So I had these graphs of sound speed versus time and, and variations thereof. And I really took great pleasure in a graph well constructed. And then what I found is whenever I had a graph made, I could start to build a storyboard like you would if you're making a movie. And so I would lay out these graphs that I would print out in the computer lab and say, well, what is the story? And my, my professor helped a little bit, but this became sort of a, the artistic element for me that that really drove the writing of each chapter.
Pat 00:13:11 And so once I had these images, I was so proud of, and I wanted to convey to my professor, the other grad students in, in my, uh, classmates, the story, the thesis began to write itself as shown in figure two. Uh, were plotting sound speed versus, and, and it just rolled out. Uh, and this is the advice I have always given to my PhD students, my undergraduate researchers, is work on the storyboard and the thesis writing it practically writes itself because you just imagine, Sean, if you were, uh, sitting next to me, I had 10 figures, uh, that might be how I describe it. And if you just hit the record button virtually, or actually then you can write these paragraphs and pretty, I mean, if you take that approach, it's 10 pages a week. And so, uh, to, to pull that off. And it's, it's, um, it's enjoyable.
Pat 00:14:00 Now, as I look back and over time I've come to realize, and this is, this won't come as news to you or many of our listeners, but writing is an extension of thinking. In fact, it's a, it's a way to get what you think you have figured out in your head. Uh, it really tests that when the moment you take, uh, figuratively pen to paper, it really tests the logic that that might, it might seem to have everything figured out as soon as you try to draw a conclusion like, Hmm, that doesn't act, uh, A plus B does not equal C as I've written it. What that says to me is, there's power in writing, uh, whether it's your daily journal or your thesis, and it needs to be done as you do research. Because <laugh>, if you try to do, do it just at the end, sort of like I did as, uh, as when I wrote my senior thesis, my, my, um, honors thesis, uh, it's risky business because your writing itself will introduce questions you didn't pose when you're in the lab or in the studio.
Pat 00:15:05 So you better get some of that writing done as you go. So, oh my gosh, I need to do this other experiment. 'cause I really wanna be able to write this sentence and authentically believe it. Uh, and, and it be proven. So I always, uh, recommend a living document that has a paragraph here, a figure there, um, and type as you go. Um, I think the students that really thrive in this area are writing as the data, the experiments rolling, just see what can you say about that? And one paragraph a day is kind of a good pace early, and then it accelerates from there.
Sean 00:15:37 Great advice for those of you listening, both of us have done it. Definitely do not wait until the last minute to complete your thesis. Now, pat, you mentioned you spent some time at Cafe down on College Ave. So obviously you weren't always in Petite Library, you weren't always in the lab. Were there any other things that you were involved in on campus, kind of in our mission tenant of creating opportunities for leadership and civic engagement or just finding ways to relax and enjoy the fact you were a Penn State student?
Pat 00:16:05 So, um, I did lots of things. I, now that I'm back at Penn State, I realize how little I did <laugh>. 'cause as, you know, uh, somebody further along in life, I realize, oh my God, center County, state College, um, the Commonwealth at large is a playground. Like I'm a runner. I love outdoors. I love hiking. I didn't do any hiking when I was here as a student. I can't believe I didn't. Uh, but I did do, uh, uh, lots of engaging things. We had a student or society of engineering science that I was one of the sort of, I was never the president, but I, I did help run the meetings. I, I had some title, um, and I really loved, um, work, working, doing work on behalf of the other students. I drew some, some, uh, fulfillment from doing that. And I learned some early chops about how to, how to organize a meeting and that kind of thing.
Pat 00:16:57 And so I'm pretty good at this. Uh, even though, uh, I'm an introverted, uh, person, I found fulfillment, enough fulfillment in doing that, that it was worth sort of the, the stretch for my natural state of being. So I did that on campus. Um, I also joined a band, uh, called Absolute Fifth. I think I joined that band in my second year. Um, and that went for a few years. And we would play downtown at most of the bars. We played at a few fraternities, top 40, but during the eighties, which I think was fantastic music. So, and basically I played electric guitar, um, some rhythm guitar, some lead guitar, and I would do vocals on talking heads the cars, things that were kind of in my range. And a little bit like nothing like Journey or anything like that where <laugh> where you actually needed a good voice.
Pat 00:17:52 But, um, uh, so I, and I don't know how we had like 80 songs we could do. Nothing was written down. If I tried to play all these songs, like from memory now, no way. My brain, my 55 year old brain would, wouldn't be able to handle it. But 19 year old me could remember 80 songs, no problem, <laugh>. And we, we had a blast doing that. And that was my main social life. Um, I, which was great for a somewhat introverted personality. I could engage in that community, but not have sort of the social pressures as that would be introduced as soon as I would take the guitar off of my body <laugh>, you know, and, and have to engage in, in, uh, that kind of world, which was not my comfort zone.
Sean 00:18:32 Now you mentioned you have, uh, this love for state college, for Happy Valley. For Center County. You actually stayed an extra year here to complete your master's degree. What was that experience like? Oh, that was,
Pat 00:18:42 It was different. So, um, I loved it. So in my fifth year, I was a graduate student, so a master's student in the same research group. But it was like, the experience was night and day. I had far fewer classes to take. So I had a lot more freedom to spend time doing my new love, which was being in the lab and taking, taking a deeper dive on my research. And I felt like in the group I was in, my, the things I would say were in an elevated level, people would be like, oh, he's the expert on this. And I, I just felt, uh, a different stature. Uh, on, on the personal side, I moved, uh, from, uh, a townhouse. I had shared with my roommate all through undergrad, mark Roka. And I, um, great friends that, that was great. Uh, I moved in with other grad students that were more in my discipline.
Pat 00:19:32 I, I got more into cooking then I had to kind of feed myself more than, like, when we, uh, I don't know, as undergrads, I, I don't know what I did for Food <laugh>, but, so I kind of got into more adult living. But I, I, I still didn't have a car. I was always on the kada for everything at the, my entire five years at Penn State. I, I just got around on Kada, which was cool. I mean, I did have to know the schedule. I had that yellow ca pass for five years. Um, so, and, and then I wrote a master's thesis that by that time, I, I knew, I knew, I knew how that works. And, uh, if I go by extension into PhD, um, I was able to complete a PhD in just three and a half years, because I knew, uh, where the average was like five or six years.
Pat 00:20:18 I just was all business all the time from day one, <laugh>, it was amazing. I went to University of California at Santa Barbara. I learned about it through some faculty at Penn State. The materials program at Santa Barbara was highly ranked in Vasu Radan. One of my professors in engineering science, I was comparing Cornell and U C S B. And, uh, she very promptly told me to go to U C S B, not because of the institution, but because of the discipline I that was available to me there, materials versus mechanics. She said, oh yeah, materials, uh, has so many opportunities for you, and you've already got some experience in that. Um, and I had a brochure, so they invited me. I had gotten an N D SS e G fellowship, um, that's kicked in while I was still at Penn State. I didn't know what that somebody encouraged me to apply.
Pat 00:21:30 I got paid a stipend to do research. I was happy that I got that. I didn't know that it had national meaning, meaning. So when I applied to U C S B, I think within days they accepted me, and later they told me, well, you, you came with money. Why would we not <laugh>? You know, not, and I had some strong credentials through, uh, through Penn State. Um, and what I found there was a whole different way of living. Instead of CATA bus, I was bicycle every, I rode my bike. Uh, I did eventually get a car, but I rode my bike everywhere. There was trails to get to work. And there I learned how to do design. And that was where sort of the artistic creative side of me really came to life. Uh, and the reason I needed to do design, and I didn't do that much of it as an undergraduate, like true, like engineering design.
Pat 00:22:23 I did some of it, but there, I needed to make something that my professor said, here's the project study how liquid crystals deform and flow. And to do that, you need to make them flow and you need to look at them under the microscopes. I said, okay, how do I do that? He said, well, that's the problem. We don't have a microscope to do that, and we don't have a flow machine <laugh>. So I said, okay. So I couldn't do my research until I built the equipment to do the research. It's almost like, uh, getting a job to be an astronomer, and sorry, you have to build the telescope to, you know, it's exactly what it was like. So I spent a year working with, uh, Hans Rudy Stuber, this amazing, uh, head of the physics machine shop at Santa Barbara. He, um, very sophisticated.
Pat 00:23:10 He loved life. And so we would have a cappuccino and talk about my design, and then we would go into the shop and start drawing. He said, young man, you need to learn how to do, you know, engineering drawings. So he taught me all on paper, not a single computer. Layering those thin pieces of paper you can see through. And, and eventually I had this amazing three-dimensional design of a radiological microscope. The radiological was the flow, and the microscope was the looking at microstructures. And after about a year, that thing was built and it existed. And boom, I was like, oh my God, I have a thing in front of me that enables me to do experiments nobody else in the world can do. And it was in my mind, and now it's on the table. And that was transformative for me. And I hope any scholar, uh, whether you're a first year student or a graduate student or an experienced scientists can experience the joy of, of making something that never existed before.
Pat 00:24:08 And then it worked. So, um, I I, I, you can't see this on the podcast, but I'm smiling now because the memories of that, those weeks when it first worked and we were getting data, nobody else had available to them, sort of like the web telescopes, like, oh, nobody's seen this before. The data that was on the, the images that were coming up on the screen for me, nobody had ever looked at before. So everything was immediately publishable. It was, uh, of course with, with peer review. Uh, but it was a moment of absolute joy combined with hope, because I knew, oh, this is going to work. I will get a PhD <laugh> and I will get to share the news of this interesting science for those interested in liquid crystals. Uh, and it, and it worked.
Sean 00:24:56 So for those of us who have no engineering background, what exactly do you use liquid crystals for? Ah,
Pat 00:25:02 Liquid crystals have the optics of crystalline materials and the mobility of a liquid like water. And in society, they're used in displays like your computer. Uh, you, you have liquid crystal right in front of you, <laugh>. Uh, and the reason, uh, liquid crystals are used in displays is that with a tiny little electric field, you can rotate the molecules from one direction to another, and that, uh, makes a pixel, uh, a certain color. And so, uh, since locally the, you can differentiate which pixels, uh, have the rotation. You can have images, a screen of a Word document or a picture, and that, that was transformative for the computer, uh, world. Uh, and since then, uh, liquid crystal displays and liquid crystal technology has appeared in like privacy shields. If you ever see windows that change their shade, uh, the shading automatically, uh, generally under an electrical stimulus. So apply an electric field, the molecules rotate, they look different.
Sean 00:26:03 So if you are using a laptop or listening to on your phone right now, you can thank Dean Mather for contributing to that. I have my, uh, laptop up here with my questions for the dean. So thank you, pat, for your contributions to that, to that field.
Pat 00:26:17 Happy to help you <laugh>.
Sean 00:26:19 So you didn't initially go into academia though, with your PhD you actually went into, I'd say, kind of a public private role. And I'll let you explain it, but how did you go about landing that first job after your, after you got your PhD?
Pat 00:26:33 That's a great question. You know, as a first gen student, like, I always felt responsible for paying for my education. So I didn't realize in grads, a lot of grad students, they get, like, teaching assistantships or somehow they get funding, uh, through their professors. I didn't, nobody told me that trick. So as my, um, so I applied for fellowship from the government that helped me get through part of my PhD. And then I saw the money was, okay, I've not done my PhD yet. Uh, and I didn't even feel like I could go to my professor and say, Hey, what are we gonna do about this financial situation? So I started just looking, well, how can I raise money? And I, in a conversation on campus, I, somebody said, Hey, have you heard about the Palace Knight program? 'cause I was explaining, what am I gonna do about money?
Pat 00:27:24 I said, what's the Palace Knight program? He says, oh, if you're interested in, um, uh, federally, uh, federal labs, like Department of Energy, department of Defense, uh, department of Commerce, they actually want to recruit PhD, um, students into their laboratories so that after you have your PhD, you can be a staff member doing really cool government research, government funded research. So, okay. And Palace Knight was specifically for the Air Force. So I did some reading about, well, what's the Air Force up to? I never really thought of science connecting to Air Force, but if it may sort of makes sense for the Air Force to do all the amazing things, it, it does, uh, to protect us. There's technology everywhere and not just in the aircraft. So I found that, oh, there's basic research being done by all of the Department of Defense agencies, the Air Force being very strong in that area.
Pat 00:28:19 And I found out they even have a project related to liquid crystals. <laugh> not for displays, but for, uh, structural components that are lightweight for rockets in particular. Uh, so I, but a bing, but a bang, I found out that, oh, they would pay for the rest of my PhD if I committed to joining their lab for like three years, for every one year that they supported me. And so I looked into it still further, my professor drove, drove with me to Edwards Air Force Base, which is north of Los Angeles, and got to see the lab. It was up on a mountain. Why is it on a mountain? Because that's where they do rocket test firing <laugh>. It's like, oh, I got to see, you know, rocket engine. And I said, this is a great deal. I don't, I I've not done my PhD yet, but I will have a job at that lab doing licor crystal research for, uh, a, a decent salary. And, and that's how I ended up doing, um, not as a civilian doing basic research for the Department of Depen defense, particularly the Air Force. And, and it was all about, not about fighter jets, it was all about their mission to, uh, uh, to deploy satellites in space for the Department of Defense and all the materials issues associated with making that happen. And I did, I ended up doing that for five years.
Sean 00:29:33 I want to go back to one point, and you were talking about earlier with the funding. I think I've said this on previous episodes, but a piece of rec advice I always give to students is, you're probably paying for your undergrad. Maybe your family's helping you. Maybe you have scholarships or loans always, if possible, with maybe the exception of law school or medical school. Get somebody else to pay for your graduate education. That can be a TA or an ra like, like Pat was saying. Or if you're going back for an M B A, get your employer to pay for. A lot of employers offer benefits like that. So pursue that if you can. But as I'm gonna put your dean hat on for a minute here. If a student is experiencing a situation like yours at the undergrad level, and they're a scholar, what can they, what can we do for them in the Honors college to help them if they're in a sticky situation?
Pat 00:30:18 I, I would say the first, um, um, piece of advice is to speak up. Uh, uh, if, if you remember nothing else is, uh, uh, for, for those, uh, current scholars or future scholars listening, uh, there is, uh, a staff member here for you. You could start with me. My door's always open, uh, and I can point you in the right direction to help you find resources. Sean, you're, you're absolutely right that, um, every situation is a little different. So the conversation's really important. Tell me more. You know, uh, what are your interests and what might you be eligible for a financial support, um, in, uh, there are so many different sources, and we don't expect our students to know all of that information. But, uh, but if you take the first step to reach out to one of us, just go to our website and you'll see, uh, uh, who to make an appointment with.
Pat 00:31:07 We try to make that as easy, uh, to navigate as as possible. Um, uh, and if, uh, but if you do meet with challenges, just, uh, send me a note, [email protected]
. Come to my office hours, come to Dean with donuts with the dean, sorry. And, and, and I'll, uh, set you, uh, in the right, uh, direction. Our staff are here, by definition, for scholar success. Sometimes part of that success, sometimes, or often it is, uh, has a financial element to it, just like it did for me, just like I'm sure it did for you. Uh, um, you know, we live in a world where, you know, you have to pay the bills sometimes that, that is very challenging. And so we're, we're here for you. And we, um, um, we're, we feel, um, very fulfilled when we connect students with pathways to success, whether it be financial or academic advice.
Sean 00:31:56 Well, you heard what to do if you are in a situation like that and how to get help. Now I wanna go back to your journey, pat, you did eventually obviously get into academia since you, as we just mentioned, are the dean of the Honors College. So what drew you to get into academia from the Air Force Research that you were doing, and how did you go about that? And tell us about those first couple of roles that you had prior to Syracuse, because I want to talk about that one specifically once we get through this next stage in your story. Sure.
Pat 00:32:26 Um, I never pictured myself as a professor when I was at Penn State. I did have a couple experiences that sort of planted seeds. However, I was a TA for a class called Engineering Graphics, I think in my junior year. And boy did I love that. I love being able to help students navigate the laboratory that they were in and building circuits and whatnot. Uh, so I found that very fulfilling and then just, uh, bookmarked that and never really thought about it much. Uh, and then when it came to Calc three <laugh>, I forget what the number is, I really got calc three somehow that just gelled with my brain. So I knew vector calculus like the back of my hand. And I did find informally that I helped my classmates do well in that class by chalkboard kinds of late night studying. I was like, and they were very appreciative of that.
Pat 00:33:17 And I felt that fulfillment of just helping them succeed. And it, and I benefited from the reinforced knowledge that, uh, of that field that I, I really liked the vector calculus. So then, uh, but I really held faculty as a whole different breed, <laugh>, that, that, that I was not a member of. Sorry, to mix metaphors there, but, uh, I just did not identify as being a faculty member because they were so smart. <laugh>, uh, even though I was a scholar and got a PhD still, you know, I just meant, you know, I just did the work. You know, I just did the work and got my PhD. Uh, now fast forward, I, I was publishing a lot as an Air Force scientist, so I was at meetings, materials Research Society, American Chemical Society, you name it. I was out a lot presenting my work, primarily just to tell the story.
Pat 00:34:09 This is cool data, you know, and the Air Force is doing really cool things in this area. They, um, I was doing basic research. So much of it was either patented or published in peer review journal articles. And this, this gentleman named Bob Weiss, who's professor at University of Connecticut, approached me after my talk one time. He said, you would be great in the classroom. And I, I sort of <laugh>, uh, took a step back and, uh, we were having lunch and said, I never, uh, never even dawned on me, like, tell me more. And he said, well, the way you explain things, you really bring it down to a, a level for the, that works for the audience. And you, enthusiasm is infectious. Obviously, you're a good scientist. You'd probably be able to get funding for your researchers as part of being a successful professor.
Pat 00:34:55 He says, I, I came to learn. He had a motivation. They were hiring <laugh>, they were hiring in kind of my area, polymer science. He said, just, just apply. I think, you know, um, he's, he said, I'm not even on the search committee, but if you applied, I bet you you would, uh, be, uh, a good candidate. So I applied and I got the job <laugh>, and, um, I was scared. I was so scared. Well, first of all, I had to go from a 12 month salary with the Air Force to what academia pays as a nine month salary to professors. And what they told me at the time, which is true still today, is if you get funding for your research, what happens is that each grant can probably be constructed. So you get one month of summer salary for that grant. So if you can get three grants, you can have a 12 month salary based on the, uh, addition of your academic salary and your summer salary.
Pat 00:35:48 So what it boiled down to is the decision is do I have faith enough in my ideas that I will be able to reconstruct 12 months of salary? And so I'm real, I'm inhaling. 'cause I remembered the moment, uh, it was like a leap of faith. And the faith was in, do I have faith in my ideas? And it was a, it was a thing to be debated and to be thought about. And I, I went for it. And boy, it worked out really well. So I got lots of funding, <laugh>, I had this financially, it was, uh, it was fine, you know, uh, and I felt good that, oh, people care enough about my ideas in National Science Foundation. I got a career award, air Force, I got a basic science award, which is funding. And I quickly grew a group that, uh, was highly successful, patenting publishing.
Pat 00:36:38 Uh, and I was off to the races teaching. Uh, when I first got in the classroom, I was so scared, but I came to learn. It was not, I was not scared about can I teach them polymer science or thermodynamics. It was, these are 30 strangers I'm about to walk into a room with and <laugh>, and the same fear I had there as walking into any social situation with a bunch of strangers. So, uh, once I figured that out, then I was like, oh, okay. I just need to get to know every student one at a time. And then the fear completely diffuses. These are just normal human beings that wanna learn. And, uh, so, and that's been my approach ever since that first couple years of academia that start with relationships and then the learning can happen.
Sean 00:37:21 Now, I have a question that I didn't have, but your, your comments, I think raised, obviously a lot of our students are drawn to the honors college for the research opportunities, much like you were now. Can you explain the difference between how you go about picking research topics when you work for, say, the Air Force versus your time at Yukon? Is there, are you told what you're researching versus what are, you mentioned your ideas and what you were interested in, was that balance look like?
Pat 00:37:46 Yeah, interesting. So in the Air Force, um, we did have some freedom for the how, but the, what, what we were focused on did come from above somewhere <laugh>. So there was like a strategic plan where the Air force was going. And I would never, like doubt this planning. It was done by really smart people that have been doing satellite sorts of work for quite a while. And what, when the problems got to us, we were never told how to achieve the desired outcomes, make this material, this film survive in space for at least three years. Oh, okay, that's a problem. I can wrap my head around <laugh>. And so we would set about designing experiments to do that. So the freedom came in, in the how and the methodology. And then the exciting part was you never knew what would work. You sort of went, followed your nose, went with hunches, and then you, I was able to be creative either with the molecules that we designed or the apparatus we designed, going back to my PhD days of making things that never existed before.
Pat 00:38:51 Uh, so I found a lot of joy in that, even though the goals were established by the Air Force now in academia, it was w totally open-ended, which for some people can be intimidating for me. Uh, it was fine. You know, I, I had, by the time I got into academia, I had some really clear ideas about, uh, what was needed in the world of material science. And I had just gotten into what's called shape memory, which is kinda like flubber <laugh> if you, if you ever, so materials that change shape upon command, I was very excited. One of the earl I was one of the earliest, uh, inventors of, of that type of material. So, so the, the projects just took on a life of their own. And then what I found is that once you, hopefully not
Pat 00:39:42 Actually like <crosstalk> not actual life. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, some people I guess are working on that, but, uh, in AI and whatnot. But anyways, uh, um, and then as I published and patented, um, I did find that companies started coming to me as, Hey, could shape memory, or could this other technology that you just published or patented about work in our products. So Boston Scientific, Nike, Proctor and Gamble, Avon <laugh>, uh, came to me to, to just, and I would do these, um, projects with them multiple years to see how the effects I was studying in the laboratory might influence their product design. That was really, uh, um, that was, uh, quite wonderful at U Unicon and then at, at, um, Syracuse after that.
Sean 00:40:26 And that's perfect tee up. 'cause I wanted to ask about Syracuse, because two stops back on your journey. You were up the road at Syracuse and you were able to start and lead an entire research institute. So I wanted to ask you what drove you to start that and what you learned from that experience. Maybe that even helped, you know, you step towards becoming a dean.
Pat 00:40:45 Sure. Uh, that's a great question because it, it was a, a big moment in my arc of a career at the, just before Syracuse, I was a case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. That's why I am a Cleveland sports fan. <laugh>, if you ever wondered. And there, I, I started to do some administrative work, mainly because, you know, if, if I didn't raise my hand, nobody else would. Faculty, um, who I love <laugh>, uh, do tend to focus on their research and their classes. And when it comes time to do administrative work, uh, they usually disappear <laugh>. So I was willing to do some administrative work just to experiment with it. And I did grad, the graduate program, how to recruit graduate students, help them be successful. And I also got involved in assessment for accreditation, which is in the world of engineering. Uh, so I had some chops, you know, how to organize information, how to motivate people.
Pat 00:41:40 I started to find I'm pretty good at leading and influencing. I never read a leadership book in my life, but I was doing it. Um, so I gave a talk at Syracuse University, invited by Chen Ren, who is still there, uh, just 'cause I knew him from Yukon. He was a PhD student at UConn. When I was there, he said, Hey, pat, come give a talk. I go there to give a talk. And I, either they had a strategy or spontaneously they saw that I could do what they needed. Multiple people said, Hey, there's a white paper floating around campus about a center for biomaterials that would be interdisciplinary and would, uh, bring together physics, biology, chemistry, engineering, uh, the Upstate Medical University for applications of materials for healthcare. Uh, but we need somebody to lead it and sort of bring it all together and take it from a piece, literally one piece of paper to an institute, or no, to a center.
Pat 00:42:33 So they said you should, and Oh, I'm sorry. There's an important part here. There was a family, uh, mil, Milton and Ann Stevenson from Syracuse. Uh, the Stevenson family had built a company called Nplate, which does, uh, metal finishing. Uh, and they were very grateful to their education. Both Milton and Ann, uh, who are neither are, are living with us any longer, but at the time I met them and that they had established a professorship that, uh, Ann was a nurse and Milt was a chemical engineer when they were students. They wanted to bring those two together. And materials for healthcare was perfect. So somebody there at Syracuse saw an opportunity to combine their passion as donors, this white paper as a vision. And then me as a nascent leader who had never really led anything to come in, the provost and the vice president of research got on, uh, the, the, the engine <laugh> that drove this and recruited me there.
Pat 00:43:31 And I had enough knowledge, enough insight to know when you can negotiate. So before I accepted the position, I negotiated for space. Somehow I had that wisdom, and that proved to be very, uh, important. So I got two floors of a building called Bound Hall. As you know, I've, my thought was, if we're gonna build something, we need to co-locate the, the, and have a center of influence for, for this work. So that negotiated I and some faculty lines that I knew would be important. I signed the bottom line. And, um, so I got there and we got to, I recruited faculty from all these different departments that were already on campus, made new hires, did the renovation project, helped faculty raise money, and it became the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute and Partnership with Upstate Medical University and Syracuse University. It was a huge success. It was so enjoyable, so successful.
Pat 00:44:26 And it was a different model for doing research, interdisciplinary research where the designs were all centered around the students, not around the faculty. Now faculty were heavily involved and they benefited, but the design of our, uh, the floors in that building I mentioned were all about what does a graduate student need to be able to do interdisciplinary research. Whereas the typical model is you work for a professor, and that professor has this expertise in an interdisciplinary field. No single professor has all the knowledge you need to succeed with your graduate research. So I had to build this structure and the relationships among the faculty so that every, every PhD student that would go through, there'd be like three or four faculty in the room, uh, at the defense, and each brought their expertise. So the students graduated as an amalgam of all this knowledge of three or four faculty driven by the design. And that's why today to this day, I realize the impact of, uh, of architecture, spatial arrangements on human behavior, including collaboration, uh, something I'm very interested in for at, for Atherton Hall in, in fact. So that was a huge success, and it has morphed into something called the Bio-Inspired Institute, which is pervasive at Syracuse now. It's sort of built upon that early success within interdisciplinary Institute.
Sean 00:45:43 So for those of you listening, pat was just blowing while he was talking about this institute, the center at Syracuse, but you left that in order to become the dean down the road at Bucknell. So what drew you to that opportunity and to, to leave this center that you founded? Well,
Pat 00:46:00 There's a professional and a personal element, as is often the case with big decisions. I was drawn back to Pennsylvania. I had, um, um, I had gone through a divorce and I had fallen in love <laugh>. Uh, and, um, after, after a couple years of just living, you know, solo <laugh>, uh, Tara and I, uh, my wife, uh, we, um, uh, found each other. Uh, we happened to have been college, uh, boyfriend and girlfriend. She was at Cornell. I was at Penn State way back when we found each other again through Facebook. And, uh, and she lived in Pennsylvania. And so did my parents or my father who's, uh, still living and my, my sister. So I was kind of drawn just to be back somewhere closer. The Syracuse, uh, the travel to come back and forth was extensive, uh, from Syracuse. So I had this general personal drive to, to get back to Pennsylvania.
Pat 00:46:56 So that's personal side. On the professional side, I was really enjoying administration. Ah, can you believe it? Uh, I loved sort of, and what I loved about administration was the people part. So helping faculty and students be successful by things I had helped to design and structures I had helped to create. So as you recall, I'm very interested in design molecules apparatus, uh, interior design, architecture hall org. Yeah, <laugh>, organizational charts, you know, who would be interested in that. But I find the power of, uh, all through people was really interesting. And so the next level for me in this opportunity came up, a search firm contacted me about Bucknell University, was hiring a new dean, and I was like, oh, I never thought about being a dean. But Bucknell was interesting because it was very student focused, particularly it's an undergraduate focused institution, uh, which I had come to love at.
Pat 00:47:52 I didn't mention it before, but at Syracuse, one of my strong suits. And one of my approaches was a lot of undergraduates in my lab. So I really felt like I knew what made undergraduates tick, you know, how to get them excited about research and so forth. So the, the Bucknell opportunity really was a natural progression of my administration geographically. It brought me back to Penn State and, uh, uh, had, Bucknell has a wonderful reputation, and I said, oh, okay, this will really, um, help me do even more organizationally to help advance a college. And it was, uh, I'd done a little bit of strategic planning at Syracuse. This was going to be big strategic planning. And oh, and the final thing that was very attractive to me was that Bucknell small enough that the deans are right on the President's Council. What I anticipated, and what, what came to be true is the ability to see how a university works, which is very interesting to me.
Pat 00:48:45 Uh, and being on that president's cabinet, I got to hear about the big financial decisions. I got to see a university go through the early days of Covid. I got to understand what a general counsel lawyer is at a university. And, um, and then I got to see the power of multi-college collaboration. We had a college of management, college of Arts and Sciences and College of Engineering, which was mine. It was a challenging job because I had never been a dean before. 75 faculty, 750 students, three buildings, one of which I helped, uh, to launch the construction of a lot. It was all so different. So the learning curve was as steep as it was when I was an undergrad. I, I don't regret a single day. It was fantastic. I was there for five years and, uh, it was a time of tremendous personal growth, tremendous growth, uh, as an academic. And I kept doing research the whole time, <laugh>. So I had a lab, I had undergraduate researchers in my lab. We, uh, published quite a few cool things about nano fibers. Uh, and, um, so I was able to keep, uh, my foot in the laboratory there as well.
Sean 00:49:49 So you're obviously an engineer, you're a scientist by trade, but becoming an an administrator requires a lot of different skillsets, and there's some things that translate, like you said, with design. So how did you go about learning, even if informally through books or other mediums to pick up any skills that you needed that you didn't already have to take on that kind of leadership role that would be helpful for students to be able to translate maybe to their experiences? Well,
Pat 00:50:14 First I did hire a coach. I had heard that there's such a thing as a coach, a life coach. I, as, in my case, it was called an executive coach. He, uh, he did not give me advice. He helped me find the answers that he knew, uh, were within me. And, uh, uh, so I would describe the, the challenges and the goals that I had. And then he would help me navigate this whole other literature, uh, library, uh, and experiences that was maybe common for somebody that, that maybe goes through management education, but total, or psychology, but totally different than me. So I was like, oh my gosh, every book I read that would lead to three more books. And then, uh, none of them were just like intellectual sort of perspectives. They were, I always chose books that were about the real world of relationships, influence what makes people tick, motivation, personality types.
Pat 00:51:07 So I, I started, uh, I went through a season of just, um, extensive reading. I learned how I read <laugh>, uh, uh, which, uh, sidebar, I, I like to listen to auto audible books while I read physical books at the same time. Then I can go through about 50 books a year or something like that, just if I do only audible or only the, uh, hard copy paperback or whatever, probably one book every couple months. I don't know why. It's the way my brain works. I get distracted. So anyways, I just, uh, uh, became so interested in what, uh, makes human nature management, uh, theories and so forth. And I was putting it to work just in time <laugh>. I learned about, um, all, all sorts of good, bad and ugly about human behavior. And the next day that thing would happen, <laugh>. And so I felt like, uh, that's why the learning curve was so steep and and exciting.
Pat 00:52:01 I was, I was like, oh my God, I gotta read that next chapters that might happen tomorrow, <laugh>. So now my library, if you come into my office, like half of it to the left are all the science and engineering books about half <laugh>, you know, some other 300 books are all the things that you, you know, Patrick, Len, uh, five Dysfunctions of a Team, books like that, Brene Brown, her, I love her stuff. And that's what I read these days. I, I, I still like for fiction, I love like Mysteries, big John D. McDonald fan. And then on the, um, people <laugh> nonfiction, I love biographies and I love, um, uh, all of these sorts of books I was just describing that are how pe what, what makes people tick, whether they're faculty, staff, students, uh, we're all humans,
Sean 00:52:44 <laugh> and it's really funny, if you ever get a chance to visit with the dean in his office, uh, we're recording here in the G F C, but if you're ever in his office, it's really funny to see his bookshelf because it's a book that's like some really technical polymer and right next to it is a Brene Brown book or some, you know, leadership habits book, which is just really funny to see. And I do wanna say, this is not sponsored by Audible, but I'm sure there's several other podcasts that you could listen to where you could get a discount code for your free book. So, uh, this one is not sponsored by Audible, so nobody asked Pat to say that that was just as authentic, uh, representation of how he consumes his, his books. Absolutely.
Pat 00:53:17 You're right Sean.
Sean 00:53:18 So this is coming out, we're recording in summer. This will be debuting in the fall. So when you're hearing this, pat, you've have been here for a year, but going back two years in fall of 2020, our previous dean, Peggy Johnson, announced she was retiring. And obviously you're one of our alumni. So you saw the announcement. What was your initial thoughts on if that was an opportunity for you and what led you to pursue coming back to Penn State to lead the Honors college? Can you talk, and then also what is actually like the search and hiring process like to become a dean? I know we have some other alumni that are deans. Definitely something that I could see some of our students being interested in down the line or any alumni listening. So walk us through what you can of that experience. Sure.
Pat 00:54:00 So as context and I, were, were living in Lewisburg, I'm working at Bucknell. We did find ourselves coming to State college quite often, <laugh> just to like go downtown or to go to a football game, or you name it. I just, we just found ourselves making excuses to come out here. So, and being close, it was fairly close, you know, could, we could just do it and sometimes we would just stay over in a hotel. So that's context. I was like, oh, it's one of the nice features of working at Bucknell right next to Penn State. And I did get, uh, more and more involved with the engineering science and Mechanics department, Judy Todd, uh, who, who was the department head, uh, was very welcoming to me, uh, whenever I was on campus. Um, so then I did see the Peggy, uh, Johnson, who I've been monitor, you know, saw as she was doing such a great job with the college.
Pat 00:54:49 Uh, as an alum, I was just paying attention. So I got the magazine or a read somewhere that she was going to retire. So it did plant a seed in my mind, like, well, I'm just gonna keep mon mon. 'cause dream always dream would be, especially once I became a professor, it's come back to Penn State. No opportunity had ever come across my desk about that kind of thing. So I hit pause, and then a search firm, uh, contacted me about the opportunity as I happy to <laugh>, you know, I just, I did not hesitate. I just applied. Um, and now a search like this at a dean level and, uh, that involves a search firm. There's, um, such asked about process a little bit. There's, it's really nice because the search firm is somewhere in between the university hiring you and the candidates. So they're really friendly with you.
Pat 00:55:35 They give you all, answer all of your questions so that you can put your best foot forward. So I, I had a lot of questions for the search firm and, uh, it was able to construct what I thought was, you know, my best package. You know, my CV cover letter that expressed my vision, things that I would be interested in bringing to Schreyer Honors College were I to be. Its next, its next. Dean. This was during Covid. So everything, I think everything about the process was on Zoom <laugh>, which is funny because as I think back, the relationships I have now started on Zoom, and it's hard for me to exactly remember if it, it didn't seem like it was negatively impacted by the, the nature of the, the, uh, zoom framework. So we had a couple passes through, like, I guess I was in a shortlist candidate, so I, I went to one when a meeting where I just had like 30 minutes, you know, tell us your vision for honors education, <laugh>.
Pat 00:56:29 And so, uh, so I did my best and made it to the next round and became a finalist. And then there's, there's a couple, uh, uh, details there. But in the end, I still remember very clearly I got to meet President Baron, our former president as part of the interview process. That alone was like for me. Wow. I've made it, you know, <laugh> to, and so I did my ba I was a little nervous, but he was very warm and helped the conversation to be real. By his very nature. It was in his, I think it was his home office. And, uh, he asked me, um, about all of my transitions. His interview style is, tell why did you make that move or that move. He, he told me later when I got to teach with him a little bit in Presidential Leadership Academy, that that's his met, he says, that's very revealing about a person's values, sort of their thought processes and so forth. And then I, I got the job. I remember Nick Jones. Uh, then I got to work with, uh, uh, provost, uh, Nick Jones on former provost on sort of the final negotiation and things like that, which went very smoothly. And then before you know it, couple months later, I'm here in my, you know, uh, Lisa Milot showing me my new office, where my parking spot is. And, and then the students came and it was like a whirlwind. And it was just fantastic.
Sean 00:57:44 And I just need to remember, because your first day was move-in week, so there was no, no pause there or anything.
Pat 00:57:52 No pause. It was, I, uh, August 15th officially was my first day. And it, the, the uptick in, you know, lines in, in downtown and cars and students smiling and laughing, it was all happening at the same time. I wouldn't do it any other way. It was a fantastic way to start.
Sean 00:58:08 Now you've mentioned, you know, obviously the provost is your boss, right? And in a company, obviously universities use the same title for general counsel, right. But we have a lot of unique terms like provost, like Dean, and I think, you know, we're both first gen students and for any others listening, we have some weird terms in higher ed, if we're being honest. Registrar bursar. What, what are these things? So how would you define the role of Dean? How do you approach it, especially for such a unique college, like the Schreyer Honors College, where it is interdisciplinary, it is focused on undergraduates. We don't have our own faculty. We partner with all the other colleges across the university, both at University Park and across the Commonwealth. How would you define the uniqueness of this compared to your previous role as a more traditional dean at Bucknell?
Pat 00:58:57 I'd like to think of deans, uh, whether at, uh, traditional like Bucknell or Penn State or wherever as a general manager, uh, in that, the, um, they're responsible for everything in that unit. So, uh, in my case now as Schreyer Dean, I'm responsible primarily for the scholar success. So scholar first, you know, and that means getting to the Honors college, navigating Penn State, navigating Schrider Honors College and succeeding with the research and off into the world, uh, and everything that that entails. We happen to do that by a living learning community, uh, with fantastic staff that specialize in different elements of scholar success. And so there's space, there's people, there's, uh, academic sort of, uh, navigation and all of it matters, <laugh>. And so, um, meantime, uh, so that's, it might sound, that sounds sort of operational meantime. I am, uh, I've given the mandate of, uh, ever improve the, the thing you're leading.
Pat 01:00:02 And so you have to think, uh, like the Wayne Gretzky kind of thing. Where's the puck going? <laugh>, uh, and then be, the college needs to be there. So I like to think of, uh, current eighth graders in K 12. Uh, what, how should we prepare so that when they come to our college, should they do so we're ready for them because we need to start now for those eighth graders. 'cause it takes time to change, especially in a, in, in higher ed, just like in government things, things move, uh, with the basic timescale of an academic year. So if you wanna do something next year, you gotta start last year <laugh>. So in that sense, there's the general manager kind of feel, but there's also the owner, uh, you, you know, owners of small businesses, if they're not doing it, it's not getting done kind of mindset.
Pat 01:00:45 And so, uh, there's a certain kind of passion that's like, um, la first one to turn on the lights, figuratively, it's last little turn off the lights. Like, and thinking about, are we starting now? What needs to exist for the success of current, today's current eighth graders? And that, that is super exciting to me. It complicates the job a little bit. You can't just do well right now. You have to be thinking about the future and, uh, what do we change now? So that's why strategic planning comes about assessment. Me measure what matters is one of the books on my shelf. I view Schreyer Honors College, since you mentioned Compare with Bucknell as a horizontal college, as opposed to a vertical like a, a dean of engineering or a dean of communications, whatever. They're responsible in a vertical way for majors that happen to exist within that college.
Pat 01:01:38 We have all majors. And that's why I view us as sort of fabric that stitches together horizontally across all of the disciplines. Super exciting as, as a dean. And so what that means is partnerships are everything real, and a good partnership starts with a good relationship. And so, uh, thank God the, um, deans, uh, here at Penn State are so collaborative, so friendly, so welcoming. They always take meetings with me. They always reach out, very friendly. Uh, and so, uh, we have conversations about, Hey, where, where's the future going for you? Where's the future going for me? How can we partner? And so I think as time will tell, but I imagine lots of different synergies, win win, win-wins, <laugh> Scholars win first, and then, hey, with that thing you're trying to accomplish in arts and architecture, I think Schreyer students may be the best ones to pilot that, that those kinds of, uh, uh, partnerships and collaborations.
Pat 01:02:35 So in a sense, because it's horizontal, it's very, very provost like, to use one of those terms in scope. It covers all the disciplines, uh, which works for me because gathered by now, I'm interested in music as much as I am in polymers is as much as I am, is human behavior. So, um, I, when I'm be a student and they're telling what you up to, what are you up to in the world? And they tell me, I'm like, it's all interesting to me. And I'm, I'm, I'm curious by nature. So, uh, definitely not your typical engineer. Uh, and I think this job requires people that not just appreciate, but are passionate about all the disciplines that make up a university.
Sean 01:03:14 So I do wanna ask you about work-life balance in the music and everything, but I do have one question that popped up while we've been talking. You've mentioned negotiating a couple of times, and particularly about kind of your more recent roles that are further into your career. But what advice would you give to scholars that are negotiating maybe that first or second job out of college to get the most, you keep reading as we're recording in July around all these headlines of tight labor markets and all these things. So certainly scholars can be in a position of strength maybe that they haven't, would not have been able to be in in past markets. What advice would you give them as they're approaching maybe that first role or, or negotiating a, a research package for grad school? What have you found that's worked for you that could translate? Yeah,
Pat 01:03:57 That's a great que very practical question. Um, there's a couple elements to it. One internal, one external. On the internal side. Uh, it's great to, one of the books I I love Crucial Conversations has this, uh, dogma, which is start with heart. And so, and that's an internal journey, which might sound a little touchy feely, but you really have to understand your own and get real with your own values. Um, and they might not be the typical values, uh, that you would know about or, or, or that you would hear about, I should say. And so, um, I'd be happy to talk with any listeners about, you know, how to ex explore that. In the class I teach, we go into that. But for example, uh, one of my values is, uh, optimism when you can see a path forward for you and others. And that's about me.
Pat 01:04:43 That's, that's, um, I'm wired that way. Uh, in interpersonal relationships, I'm looking for optimism in others as well. And if I don't see that, there might be a little tension. But then in a company, if you're, if you're deciding, you know, if you're comparing employers, uh, uh, in communities, in even fields, if you're comparing like, um, pharmaceutical industry versus another industry, as you get into that, take one of those values. In my case, one of mine is optimism and ask questions of others during that interview process to see is there hope that exists among this community that you will achieve and make a difference in whatever your world is? And for me, if there's not, if it's like, yeah, we're doing this, you know, to make a buck or whatever, uh, and, and, uh, and there's not sort of this community hope, then I would probably choose another company.
Pat 01:05:32 And that, so you view the opportunity through a lens of multiple values, that you take some time to figure out what, uh, to identify. So that's sort of the internal journey, which is challenging, but worth doing by journaling, reading books, uh, talking with others. The other one that would be maybe a little more practical is work your network. And so you may not, might not have a network yet. So in Schreyer Honors College, uh, haw would be a really, uh, great help as would Lisa Krasinski and others to say, Hey, I'm thinking about going into this industry. Who among our alumni have, uh, you know, maybe five steps ahead or 25 steps ahead of me. Can I chat with them? Can I talk with them? Or at least connect with them on LinkedIn? And then, uh, I have found, well, for personally I've had, I've benefited from these conversations.
Pat 01:06:19 What's it like there? Uh, do you know anybody there? Do they like it? Uh, is there a growth opportunity there? Uh, there, I noticed a big salary offer difference between this company and that company. Well, an alum might say, well, it's a lot to live there, so of course it should be, you should have a higher salary. So this sort of a practical advice that come from the reason I mentioned alumni is they automatically, in my experience, care about you as a person asking. And a 15 minute conversation can save you five years, literally <laugh>. Uh, so I would seek that out. And if you don't have that network yet, uh, that's a beauty of our college. Um, if you happen to be a member of the, our community, uh, uh, but even if you're at a, a different university or a different situation, the the general principle is to, uh, make connections and ask questions of those that are just a few steps ahead, ahead of you and have recently encountered that. And then, and then you have to make a decision based on <laugh>. Your decisions are difficult, but if you have that, those values to look at the thing through and some connections that can give you their lived experience, you can make an informed decision.
Sean 01:07:25 Now, you were talking about your values, which I appreciate, and I thought it was really interesting. So if you've listened to this podcast before, you know that I have a questionnaire that I send to all of my guests that helps me with research and prepping this so that each one is relevant to the conversation. For example, if somebody didn't study abroad, I don't wanna ask to study abroad question. So that's what the purpose of that questionnaire is. And Pat, you're the first person who's ever listed out all of your core values, your personal purpose, your personal vision statements, which I thought was really, really cool. How did you go about developing these? And, and also what inspired you to actually like, write them out, and how would you suggest that scholars to go about doing that for their own personal vision and values?
Pat 01:08:06 My motivation was as, as I started to try to understand other people in my different roles, like what makes them tick? Why are they, why is there this conflict between these two other people? Um, I started to realize, well, how well do I know myself? And I had read, and my coach had mentioned that if, when it comes to making big decisions, you gotta have some clarity on where you're going and what you value. So for, uh, mission and vision, I sort of took a page out of how organizations do that, and I just, uh, did it or reflected it on my applied some sort of methodology to myself. Uh, and these things are not static in time, by the way. So I have to revisit. But I, I like to write, and as I mentioned earlier, to me, writing is a form of thinking.
Pat 01:08:54 And so I could think I know what my purpose in the world is, but once I had to write down a sentence that really drove a whole lot of inquiry that took, uh, months and months <laugh>. Um, and, and clarity on, uh, I won't go into the details here, but clarity on it has been so helpful to make it made the schreyer coming to Schreyer honors college decision. So easy, <laugh>. 'cause I had clarity on my values and, and my vision for, like, when I look back, the, the vision one is like, imagine you are at a podium and you have family and former colleagues that are celebrating your retirement. What do you wanna be able to say and feel at that moment? And that can drive, you know, a vision statement. And one, an element of my vision statement is a legacy of really positive relationships and creative artifacts.
Pat 01:09:45 So a lot of things about people, but I really do like to make new things. And the artifacts could be organizations, they could be polymers, uh, whatever. And, you know, if I think, you know, at that podium, I, I'll be happy if I can look back and say, well, I have, I've had some really good relationships that then led to, uh, other people having, uh, been influenced by sort of my role in their life. Uh, and look at all those cool polymers, <laugh>. So, um, and on the values side, um, and this is something I'm really passionate about for our college and its scholars and, and staff alike, is just, um, take a moment to try and get clear, clear on your internal values, your core values, so that you can make decisions and live in integrity. And by integrity, I don't mean something judgmental. I mean that decisions you're making, actions you're taking actually resonate in a positive way with things that, that you really hold in high esteem. And then I think that generally brings joy in life.
Sean 01:10:42 I think that's really helpful for students who are listening. So highly recommend taking that time to write those out. I've started doing that myself, and it, it's definitely therapeutic. So obviously even, you know, you've mentioned things that you like to do and even a dean needs to unplug and get away from Atherton and Simmons. So what does your time away from the college look like? How do you, how do you relax and find some balance?
Pat 01:11:03 Tara and I do love this place. So just the setting is amazing. We love our neighborhood. I, um, when I do have free time and, and you have to make free time and, uh, sidebar, it's not so much free time. It's, it's, you know, people talk about time management. I think about it as energy management. So doing things that can create energy are well worth doing, even if they take an hour. So it's just a philosophy. When I'm creating energy, I like to do that by cycling. Tara and I have a tandem bicycle that's bright yellow. You might see it around town. Uh, and we also have, uh, individual bikes. So we like to explore out west of State College. There's lots of great roads out there. Tadpole, uh, road is really cool. I like to run, I did the Nittany Valley half Marathon in December.
Pat 01:11:54 It was very cold, but it was, uh, and hilly, but it was a great race. I like to have a race always on the calendar to gi give me a reason, motivation to train. And I, I still to this day was started way back, uh, even before Penn State in high school play, uh, play guitar, the music studio at home. Not, not a fancy thing, but a way to, uh, sort of like writing the thesis. If, if I'm gonna noodle around on the guitar, I like to create songs, not just write them, but then record them. Just like writing is expository. If I'm gonna record a song, kind of have to have it all together. And, you know, the lyrics have to make sense and the music has to, to make sense. So, and then I don't do anything with the songs, but I'm, I'm satisfied. This is just me, but I'm satisfied when the song is recorded, uh, because then that lit that exists and just like creating a new real logical microscope, creating a new polymer, creating a song, somehow it gives me the same sort of joy and fulfillment.
Sean 01:12:52 Well, I would certainly say it feels like it fits with your value of leading those creative artifacts. Yeah, yeah,
Pat 01:12:57 Definitely.
Sean 01:12:58 To celebrate. And obviously if you were listening at the very beginning and paying attention, you heard a little bit of the dean playing some guitar while I was introducing him. And he has it sitting here with him last week. He messaged me and said, Hey, can I bring my guitar and play on the show? And I said, yeah, that's a great idea. Um, if you have an original piece because you know, copyright infringements, and I don't want this episode taken down by Apple or Spotify. Um, I said, if you have something original and you do write your own music, as you said. So for the first time, uh, on this show, a musical interlude, before we go into our final third of reflective questions,
Pat 01:13:34 So, um, this is, this is something I wrote, um, just noodling around a little bit, the song, to be honest, the song isn't fully, uh, completed yet, but I'll just give you a little preview of it.
Speaker 2 01:14:04 If you couldn't
Pat 01:14:05 Hear, would you sing?
Speaker 2 01:14:09 If
Speaker 4 01:14:09 You couldn't see, would you draw? If you couldn't feel, who would you be? Would you be anything at all? I can't believe you cannot see the beautiful picture if you and me, if you'd only let go and let our feelings grow, our senseless passion could finally be real. It's senseless. I know. Senseless. I really can see how you and me, it's
Speaker 2 01:15:19 <laugh>.
Pat 01:15:20 So like I said, it's a work in progress, but that's the main idea that's, I wrote that, uh, when Tara and I first started dating the early parts of that long time ago. <laugh>.
Sean 01:15:30 Well, thank you for, for sharing that with us and our listeners. Uh, I hope a takeaway is that even I know our, particularly a lot of our scholars are in engineering like you were, and there's this sense of like, I have to focus on all the STEM things. And I think you, you know, you show that you can be very multifaceted. You can have pursuits in the liberal arts, in the arts, in stem and enjoy all of them at the same time.
Pat 01:15:52 Absolutely. And I, uh, absolutely. And I think we, uh, sometimes it's a challenge to embrace that mindset and it's, but it's so helpful to do so.
Sean 01:16:00 Now I want to ask some reflective questions here towards the tail end of our, our conversation. Pat, what would you say is your biggest success to date?
Pat 01:16:07 I would, the biggest success to date, I'm so proud of my children. We have a blended family, so my two sons and three stepdaughters. I guess when I'm member at that podium thing, I, I will be, um, first and foremost reflecting on how my kids have done and not much, not what have they accomplished, but how, how have they done in the realm of relationships, bringing joy, experiencing joy themselves and bringing joy to others. And sometimes that is through some accomplishments, but also through family, their families, et cetera. Uh, so that would be, uh, so I'm very proud of all, all five of them. What am I on the professional side, what am I most proud of? Oh, it's like choosing your favorite kid. It's impossible. I would say probably Syracuse Biomaterials Institute. I mean, I'm not, I ain't done yet. So it is, but at this moment, the, the creation of that institute and all that it has achieved and what it's become is, is a great source of pride.
Pat 01:17:05 I dunno if I'd say it's the thing I'm most proud of. 'cause there's so many different things. That's one of 'em. Uh, I'm finally, I would say, um, you know, I have had a lot of PhD students, whether they were at Yukon case, western Syracuse. They have gone on and done amazing things. I think there's 28 PhD students that did their PhD with me, managers of companies, professors in their own right, uh, that now have grad students and undergraduates in their lab. It's like, oh my God, it's such a beautiful thing to be in higher education because there's this ripple effect through the people. And so that, that will be endless. It's like an endowment, <laugh> an endowment of people that will be, uh, endless because they will the, uh, the next generation, the academic grandchildren and so on, will have a ripple effect. And that gives me great hope for the future.
Sean 01:17:55 So on the flip side, what would you say is the biggest transformational learning moment or mistake that you've made in what you, what you took from that?
Pat 01:18:02 Yeah, I had a lot of those over the years. Um, one of them was, um, usually it's in the area of assumptions. Um, that's why a, a reading, a writing prompt I often give students, and in my own journal prompt is what am I assuming? What am I afraid of? And what do I really want? If you're not clear on those three things, you'll have a lot of anxiety and probably make some mistakes. I'd I'd say one of the biggest mistakes I made as a professionally was in, uh, strategic planning at Bucknell. I moved at sort of the wrong pace. I had a, I misread the community under the influence of my own ambition to get something done. <laugh>, there's some details to it, but it was related to how research in scholarship makes its way into the strategic plan for the College of Engineering at Bucknell.
Pat 01:18:52 And so I misread it at Bucknell for, uh, in the college of engineering for a strategic plan to, to fly. It needs to, it's subjected to a vote and a super majority is needed. And I failed by one vote <laugh>. So I was like, oh man, one vote. And I immediately call, I was, I was fundraising at the time. I was in Texas with, with a development officer, and I got the news <laugh> and I was so disappointed. A little bit sad, you know, I called the president, the president brought me, he says, oh, you know, this is life. This is how it rolls. You know, what, what would you do differently? Or what do you want? Or what do you wanna do going forward? So I just got real, this is my main, uh, and I learned so much from this, and I later I found a quote that would've been really helpful is, uh, progress happens at the speed of trust.
Pat 01:19:39 So you gotta keep measuring in indirectly, not quantitatively. What's the level of trust among all the players and something as big as a strategic plan. And if I had had a better read on that, um, I probably would've gone slower. And then, uh, I just got real. So we had a, an all college meetings that, and I just admitted, I said I blew it. I misread where we were at with what, how research, uh, relates to our strategic plan, what are we gonna do? And we just, we went community on it, we crowdsource it, we did, you know, we had round tables, whiteboards, sticky notes. And then I had a, um, a team of about a dozen in the, that summer that just really roll up their sleeves and, and make this happen. And, uh, at the right pace with all the right people, with all the right engagement.
Pat 01:20:26 And then it, the next time it was voted on it, I was unanimous <laugh>. So, um, so I learned a lot, including humility, <laugh>, uh, it was, it was embarrassing. It was embarrassing when it didn't pass. 'cause everybody knew I was really passionate about strategic planning, which I remain today interested in that. So, yeah. But, but I learned, and now I look back, I have such f fond feelings about Bucknell, that college, all those people involved, despite that sort of failure, this is sort of broad advice, but failure is, uh, related to taking risks. So I'm proud that I took risks and sort of leaned into it. It sort of broke the branch instead of bent the branch <laugh>. So, um, but if you're not failing occasionally, you're probably not taking risks. And that's, that's not a place I want to be. I want to take some risks. Yeah.
Sean 01:21:16 How would you suggest scholars approach mentorship, both as a mentee, but also as they grow in their career to serve as a mentor?
Pat 01:21:23 Mentorship is very quite valuable. I've had, uh, I've had some long-term mentors and some short-term mentors too for sort of like, uh, ex subject matter expert kind of mentors. These are relationships. So, uh, my main advice is to just be yourself. Um, it's going to go, trust will be built, built, um, to have meaningful conversations. You need to have that trust and respect only through authenticity. So you just gotta be yourself and the mentor or the mentee will really appreciate that. I don't know. We, we as humans have a sense for authenticity. And so be, be yourself and get, and be clear about what your goals are, you know, in a conversation. You're not gonna say, what are your goals? And tell me your goals, but, but maybe, you know, it's worth saying, uh, you know, I'm really glad I got to know you. You know, is there, would it be possible for, for us to go in a direction where I tap into your knowledge about X, y, or Z?
Pat 01:22:18 Either the field or what I should do I really need some advice? Or can I bounce some things off of you and just, you know, be honest about the goals that you have, um, and then invest in the relationship. Relationships leak. To use an engineering metaphor, you have to keep filling them and fill that. You know, you invest in a really say, Hey, I haven't spoken with Eric in a while. Maybe I'll just drop him a note. How you doing? You know, I actually, I am curious, and I, we haven't spoken in a while, is the family okay? You know, and people are human <laugh> and so, uh, they appreciate that when you express an interest in them, uh, the worst thing you could do as a mentee is to just be, you know, so about yourself. That it's not a two-way street. Mentors get a lot of fulfillment when they help you, but they are human. They want, you know, it's a social contract of some sort. And so I would say investing in each other for those, you know, you want that mentor relation mentoring relationship to, to be fulfilling, to be more just like contractual, like advice that you can get by reading a book. Uh, otherwise you would just read the book and think long term, I would say think long term.
Sean 01:23:27 You've mentioned a lot of people in this conversation that have helped you along the way, your family. Is there anybody else that you wanted to give a quick shout out to, particularly from your days as a scholar or from your current time as Dean? Uh,
Pat 01:23:39 Sure. Um, in, in every case where I've made a move, so I'll start with sort of the professional. There's been somebody that took a chance on me. 'cause I was never quite fully qualified, uh, for the job, including, uh, Schreyer. You know, I, I was dean of engineering, but I'd never, you know, I'm an engineer, so like, what does he know about Schreyer? So by digging a little deeper, and these, these hiring managers, provost sardines themselves, they saw potential and took a chance with me. And I really appreciate that. And it sort of energized me to prove them, right. <laugh>. And then I, I have to mention my mom, uh, whose name I, whose name I share, she's, uh, was Patricia. She died young from leukemia in her fifties. But what she taught me is, um, uh, where my dad did, uh, influenced me in, in many positive ways. My mom taught me about, uh, encouragement. If I had to distill it to one word, she taught me how powerful it is to encourage others. And so I've lived with that than I do today.
Sean 01:24:39 You've shared a lot of great advice today. Is there any advice you wanted to share with students or potentially prospective students that just didn't come up in our conversation?
Pat 01:24:47 Yeah, I just in general, if I'm speaking to, uh, a, a scholar listening today, I would say, uh, take it easy on yourself. <laugh>, I fall victim to this and, and, and many of scholars I've met do where you judge yourself. You're, you're world's worst critic. 'cause what have you done lately? Sure, you got into Schreyer, but eh, you know, I snuck in or what, you know what, that next thing, even when you win an award or something really good happens, you're like, eh, yeah, that's, that's no big deal, but what am I, you just have to live in the moment and don't judge yourself. Just enjoy it. I, I would say, you know, instead of being critical of yourself, practice some self-love. You know, like what are the good things? You know, journaling can really help and then surround yourself to the extent you can with positive people, people that, um, everybody has judgment on, on themselves, others in circumstances, but some do a better job of holding them at bay. And I think the world would be a better place <laugh> with less judgment. Uh, and I would start with less judgment of yourself. If you need help with that, come see me <laugh>.
Sean 01:25:54 Amen to that. You mentioned it earlier, but remind us, how can scholars connect with you if they want to either pick your brain from a mentoring perspective or, or if they have challenges as a scholar that perhaps you as the dean could help point them in the right direction?
Pat 01:26:07 I'm glad you asked that. Um, PTM 1 0 1, 1 0 1 [email protected]
. I'm very responsive to email. In fact, if I see a hundred emails and three are from students, those are the first three I open <laugh> and I'll set, I'll find time with you, uh, whether often it's on Zoom in, in my office hours, uh, that, uh, change semester to semester, exactly when they are. And, uh, if, if you don't wanna have a one-on-one meeting, come see me at donuts with the dean, uh, pizza with Pat. We'll try some new things, maybe drawing with the Dean <laugh>. Uh, these things are somewhat bigger and even a sidebar conversation can break the ice. And then maybe we'll have a deeper conversation later. Um, so multichannel, I, whatever it takes, I'm on teams. Uh, e email is probably the fastest way to get a response from me, though
Sean 01:26:55 You heard it directly from him. <laugh>. Now, final question. If you were a flavor of Berkeley Creamery ice cream, which would you be? And as a scholar, alum, and dean of the Honors college, most importantly, you don't have a chance to write it out, but you can share verbally. Why would you be that flavor?
Pat 01:27:11 Okay, so this is a complicated story and it has changed. So, um, when I was still at Bucknell and I was coming out here, I would always get peachy paterno if it was there. Uh, and I liked it. I was like, um, I'm not like the biggest Peach fan, but that ice cream was amazing to me. I didn't know about scholarship, so, and I, but I love chocolate chip ice cream. Now, scholarship is, I don't know the exact formulation, but I find, you know, once I got here, like, Hey, this flavor exists. Uh, now I'm hooked. And I like it. <laugh>, how do you describe why you like ice cream? I like the texture <laugh>, the, uh, complexity I really like, for me, I like ice cream after cycling or running. 'cause there's nothing like hanging out, uh, outside Burke and with Tara and just now I eat ice cream way too fast, probably three times faster than Tara. So then there's all this, also this moment of waiting. She tries like every flavor there. But I'm, I'm now just a scholarship guy, <laugh>, I, I am influenced by the fact that that is obviously the origin story is with our college, but it's a really good ice cream.
Sean 01:28:18 Absolutely. It's a great, great remembrance for our founding benefactors. Uh, William and Joan Schreyer. So I believe, uh, uh, chocolate chip ice cream was his favorite. If you aren't familiar with the story. So that's why Scholars Chip is a chocolate chip style ice cream. Dean Patrick t Mather, thank you for coming on as an alum and as dean of the Honors College here on Following The Gone. Really appreciate all of your insights. You heard how to connect with him if you are a scholar, an alum, or a prospective scholar. And I will let you play your way out for this very
Pat 01:28:50 Special episode. Alright, it's been a pleasure, uh, chatting with you, Sean. As always,
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Thank you Scholars for listening and learning with us today. We hope you will take something with you that will contribute to how you shape the world. This show proudly supports the Schreyer Honors College Emergency Fund, benefiting Scholars experiencing unexpected financial hardship. You can make a difference at raise.psu.edu/schreyer. Please be sure to hit the relevant subscribe, like, or follow button on whichever platform you are engaging with us on today. You can follow the College on Instagram and LinkedIn to stay up to date on news, events, and deadlines. If you have questions about the show or are a Scholar Alum who'd like to join us as a guest here on Following the Gong, please connect with me at [email protected]
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