Research has been at the heart of TC’s preeminence virtually since our founding,” President Susan Fuhrman told doctoral graduates, family and friends gathered inside The Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Wednesday afternoon. “Not only have TC faculty and alumni produced knowledge that has contributed to the betterment of society; in many instances, their research led to the creation of new fields that revolutionized education, health, and psychology, and continue to deepen our understanding of the world.”
“In the century since Dewey, scientific progress has unpacked the cognitive and emotional skills that enable people to have agency, to have real choices and the chance to reach their goals and to make the most of their lives. And hopefully to make the world a better place.”
Concluding TC’s week of Convocation ceremonies – and in the final Convocation address of her 12-year presidency – Fuhrman stressed the importance of carrying forward the College’s commitment to diligence, social responsibility and quality.
“The way you design and execute your research matters,” she said. “It bears directly on the quality of your research. And it matters when it comes to the credibility, reputation, influence, and impact of all research on public policy – and on the public good.”
By way of example, Fuhrman cited research spearheaded by her successor – Thomas Bailey, Founding Director of TC’s Community College Research Center (CCRC). She credited CCRC with shifting the focus of community colleges from merely providing access to ensuring that students “complete their degrees equipped with the skills to continue college and pursue more good jobs and meaningful careers.” And she praised Bailey and his colleagues for conducting “painstaking, long-term studies” that have identified the most promising strategies for achieving that goal.
Fuhrman was followed to the podium by one of the most influential researchers of the modern era – Walter Mischel, whose famed “marshmallow experiments,” begun in the late 1960s, shed new light on the long-term implications of children’s impulse control and capacity for delayed gratification.
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Mischel, the Robert Johnston Niven Professor Emeritus of Humane Letters in Columbia University’s Department of Psychology, recalled how, at age 8, he fled Austria with his family during the Nazi occupation. Mischel credited his Brooklyn public school education with setting him on the path to becoming a scientist.
“I will always be grateful for the voyage that made my life possible,” he said.
Mischel concluded with a nod to John Dewey, TC’s iconic education philosopher:
“In the century since Dewey, scientific progress has unpacked the cognitive and emotional skills that enable people to have agency, to have real choices and the chance to reach their goals and to make the most of their lives. And hopefully to make the world a better place.” – Steve Giegerich