Vol. 15 No. 1
Summer 2005


by Jason Matthew Smith

It’s good to be back.

By that, I mean that it’s deeply fulfilling to be back on a university campus. Alas, I did not attend the U (might as well admit that up front), but I certainly wish I had. Since becoming editor of Continuum in December, I’ve done quite a bit of exploring and eavesdropping, getting a feel for this university that I’ve already come to love. The romantic and nostalgic trappings of any university are what always first nab your attention—students reading beneath trees, posters and flyers advertising lectures with titles like “Defining The Specificity of Receptor Tyrosine Kinase Signaling During Development”—but there’s something different about the U. I’ve found that there’s an abstract element that sets the U apart: optimism.

Vice President for Development Mike Mattsson, who retires in June, told me, “This is a good time to be at the U. The Mike Young years are going to be extraordinary.” And I’ve heard that sentiment echoed across campus, from faculty and staff to students. President Young’s inauguration has stirred the hive, and more Utes than I can count have told me that, yes, the U is on the verge of greatness. And it’s not puffed up, sugarcoated optimism either. This is the real deal, backed by new interdisciplinary programs, a warmer relationship with the state Legislature, and the seemingly ubiquitous President Young’s unflagging energy. Some years down the road, we’ll look back at 2005 as a pivotal year for the University, the year when the U suited up, cracked its knuckles, and embraced change.

And as we were putting this issue together, we realized that it was essentially about change and transformation. Mattsson’s departure marks a transition for the U’s development office, just as President Young’s recent inauguration signals a new and exciting time for the U.

But sometimes transformations are cataclysmic and tragic, such as last December’s Asian tsunami, chronicled by U professor Don Pedersen. The Earth shrugged its tectonic shoulders, and altered or ended thousands of lives. Pedersen’s own life was changed by the experience of sifting through the aftermath, and it no doubt affected the way he teaches and speaks of Thailand, where the U’s Physician Assistant Program helps young PAs to study abroad. He will never be the same, and neither will the U students who take his classes or travel with him.

Or transformations may be strategic, as with the College of Humanities, which has revitalized and reshaped its role at the U, one of a handful of such efforts that are beginning to catch the eye of university deans and administrators nationwide. Then there are the gradual changes, as illustrated by Lee Siegel’s story on U biologist David Carrier’s work at the intersection of evolution and weaponry.

And athletics—a season of dizzying successes, to say the least. Writer Paul Ketzle dares to wonder if maybe, just maybe, we might be ready to start throwing the word dynasty into the mix. If not, the words athletic juggernaut will do just as well—so it’s a good time to stock up on your red ’n’ white gear.

You might call this the Age of Aquarius for the U, a heady time when changes are brewing in all corners, somewhat like the academic equivalent of the late 1960s, only on a smaller—and less contentious—scale. Regardless, if you too do half as much eavesdropping on campus as I do, you’re hearing variations on a question asked with the kind of anticipatory wonder of 6-year-olds at Salt Lake’s July 24th parade: What’s coming next? It’s a good question to ask, and even better that we’re part of the institution that’s spurring it on.

I don’t think of Continuum as a loose package of articles tossed into the void. It’s the extension of those campus conversations, a tangible manifestation of what people are talking about—or soon will be. That said, be sure to drop me a line, via e-mail, phone, or the old-fashioned way, by letter (Jason.smith@ucomm.utah.edu, 801-581-3862, University of Utah, 201 S. Presidents Circle, Room 308, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112). Let me know what you think about a story you’ve read or would like to read in the magazine. I’d like to hear from you.

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