A Conversation with the Provost

In September 2021, Jianmin Qu, an accomplished scholar in the field of theoretical and applied mechanics who served for six years as dean of Tufts University’s School of Engineering, joined Stevens as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. Qu sat down with The Indicator to discuss the importance of a technologically literate society, plans for an enriched student experience and the community he has found at Stevens.

Q: You were very successful at Tufts, leading an entire school as dean. Why did you want to join Stevens in a chief academic officer role?

A: As we all know, reliance on technology has become a way of life. A technologically literate citizenry is essential for maintaining a stable democratic society with a thriving economy. Technological research universities like Stevens are well-positioned not only for advancing science and technology, but also for educating the next generation of citizens to be responsible managers and stewards of modern technologies.

Second, this university has the perfect size. It combines the high-touch education students receive at small liberal arts colleges with the research power of much larger research institutions — places where students sometimes feel like they are a number.

Q: The university’s new strategic plan — for which you served as chair of the steering committee — prescribes continued enhancement of the Stevens student experience, including a new core curriculum and a new seminar series for first-year students. Talk about the importance of remaining student-centric.

A: Student experience and success is central, in my mind. Think about it. Families are entrusting us with their children’s college educations. They are expecting us to deliver a valuable life experience to their children, and we have a duty to meet that expectation, to help enable their children’s intellectual development, emotional maturity and personal growth.

Yes, it is partly about the outcome — such as graduating with good standing and getting gainful employment afterwards — but equally important are the years spent here on our campus, because this is the most formative period in a person’s life. We must lay a foundation for our students to join society as happy and productive members, fully engaged in their communities. This is what I want to keep building upon: always keeping the Stevens student experience and success central, always trying to make it ever-richer.

We will still keep the good things. Don’t worry. We will still have the Design Spine; we will still have the Innovation Expo every year. Those won’t go away. But to survive and thrive in today’s technology-driven economy, our graduates — regardless of their majors — must be technologically literate, with essential knowledge and skills in digital technologies and biological sciences. That is the reason we want to develop a core curriculum across all majors.

Q: What’s the role of alumni in Stevens’ path forward?

A: It is significant. Broader and deeper engagement with our alumni not only enhances opportunities for students, but it also deeply enriches the lives of our alumni. This is an area of tremendous potential for our university, our students and our alumni.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about campus, so far?

A: I’m going to answer that question in two ways. First, if we are talking about the physical campus, let me show you something. [Qu draws a conference-room window blind open, revealing a direct view of the Hudson River and the skyline of Manhattan.] Just look at that. This campus is beautiful, and it is also full of beautiful views. Every day, we get to see them as part of our days working and studying here. This is such a special place. I never get tired of it.

And then, if you are talking about the intangibles, the most special thing here for me has been, quite simply, the people. I have never worked at a university with such amazing people. The faculty and leadership here are not pretentious. They are not self-focused. Instead, they all pull together in the same direction to make Stevens a greater place. To move it upward. They care about their students. They care about each other.

People mean everything, and Stevens has assembled a truly remarkable group of people.

Q: Finally, do you have any personal interests outside of work that might surprise the Stevens community?

A: I like to work out, religiously. I’ve been doing that for more than 30 years, since college, when I was a volleyball player. I still enjoy working out every day. I also enjoy reading about history and — this one may surprise people — courtroom dramas. I am a big fan of the novels by John Grisham. — As told to Paul Karr