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about 2 months ago

Penn State Geosciences Professors Sing Eric Barron’s Praises

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The positive vibes surrounding Dr. Eric Barron’s hire as Penn State’s next president keep on coming.

Barron was officially announced as Penn State’s 18th president Monday, a role that will begin on May 12. This isn’t the Florida State president’s first gig in Happy Valley – Barron worked in Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences from 1986-2006, directing the Earth System Science Center (now the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute) and serving as dean of the college for four years.

He was instrumental in building the Geosciences Department to its current state and in creating the Earth Mineral Science Museum and Art Gallery in the Deike Building. According to Dr. Sue Brantley, who took over as director of the EESI for Barron when he became dean, Barron’s goal in the renovations was to make the college as “student-centered” as possible.

Dr. Sridhar Anandakrishnan was hired by Barron when he was the director of the Earth and Sciences Center. According to Anandakrishnan, Barron went above and beyond in handling the members of his staff.

“I think there’s so many things one could say about him, but probably the most important thing to know is he’s very concerned about every person in his organization,” Anandakrishnan said.

He recounted how Barron met with everyone in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences when he became dean, from the custodial staff to the professors. Barron was Anandakrishnan’s boss, but there was no distance between them. Anandakrishnan noted Barron was open to playing racquetball or going on runs with students he taught.

Barron isn’t a shabby scientist, either. Nobel Prize winner Dr. Richard Alley outlined some of Barron’s scientific achievements in an e-mail, writing that Barron was a “pioneering scientist in combining modern climate science with the geological record of climate changes to improve the understanding of both.” Alley’s also got a Barron story: Initially turned down for a job at Penn State when Barron was the Earth and Sciences Center director, Alley said Barron promised him a position. He came through, and now Alley has been here for 25 years.

“He’s a team builder—the people he hired or helped hire went into several departments, so he worked hard to help them know each other and work together through the research center, as well as to integrate into those departments,” Alley wrote.

Dr. Kevin Furlong echoed the other professors’ sentiments, calling Barron approachable and down-to-earth. Furlong recalled when Barron “sheepishly” asked him if he could make room in one of his more popular classes for Barron’s son. Furlong said Barron was the opposite of demanding in that request, even mentioning that he knew he was out of place to ask.

“I think that just shows a side of him, a good side,” Furlong said.

The praises from the department continue. Dr. Peter Wilf said Barron’s renovation of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences speaks to his leadership abilities.

“I can’t think of someone who would be better prepared [to become president],” Wilf said.

So, are there any criticisms to be had?

“I mean, you can’t be in a huge institution and have everything go perfectly all the time. If you look at the scale of what he’s doing, if I brought up some little quibble, which I can’t even think of, it wouldn’t be fair,” Wilf said. “We’re proud of him.”