When Dan Kiehart, chair of the biology department, takes over as dean of the natural sciences, he plans to promote interdisciplinary collaboration among Duke’s scientific fields.
Kiehart, who will replace current dean Robert Calderbank, is a cellular biologist who joined the Duke faculty in 1992. Kiehart was appointed to the position March 8 and will officially take on the role July 1. As dean, he hopes to integrate the natural sciences with Duke’s other schools and the Research Triangle.
“One of my major goals going into the job is to really help undergraduates understand that biological research and research in any one of the disciplines has really become interdisciplinary,” Kiehart said. “I’d love to see our introductory courses talk to one another really extensively.”
He noted that Duke is advantaged in pursuing interdisciplinary ventures because all of its schools are located on the same campus. As a result, Kiehart wants to better integrate the natural science programs with Duke’s other schools, such as the Pratt School of Engineering, the Nicholas School of Environment and the School of Medicine, as well as take advantage of the University’s location in the Research Triangle.
“I want to make sure that anybody who needs a seat at the table to solve a problem, implement a new initiative, [or] anybody who’s interested can come and they can find a good listener and somebody who can advocate for the good ideas that they have,” Kiehart said. "The Triangle, as a whole should be more than the sum of the individual institutions of which it is composed.... I want to help make it that way."
Kiehart said he has been dedicated to interdepartmentalism within the sciences for years. For example, in his research, he meets weekly with math professor Stephanos Venakides and physics professor Glenn Edwards. Kiehart’s current research focuses on cell shape throughout development and wound healing.
Additionally, Kiehart is the chair for the career development award grant panel at the Human Frontier Science Program—based in Strasbourg, France—which provides funding for interdisciplinary and intercontinental collaborations.
Venakides, who has worked extensively with Kiehart for 10 years, said Kiehart’s involvement and commitment to interdisciplinary work will allow him to offer guidance to the University as dean.
“He has created a positive group environment where everyone’s input is valuable and where all ideas are heard and contribute to the overall effort,” Venakides said of Kiehart’s involvement in the research group. “In the end, everyone’s point of view is broadened and enriched.... Dan Kiehart will be an innovative and at the same time an effective dean of natural sciences.”
Currently, Kiehart is part of several University-wide programs that foster both undergraduate and graduate education—including the Program in Cell and Molecular Biology, the Program in Genetics and Genomics, the Program in Structural Biology and Biophysics and the Developmental and Stem Cell Biology Training Program.
“Dan Kiehart has a proven record of leadership in good times as well as tough times. His scholarly productivity and leadership in cell biology is also exemplary,” Dean of Arts and Sciences Laurie Patton wrote in an email Thursday. “With Dan Kiehart, Duke continues the emphasis on the scholar-administrator that makes this community so special.”
In three years, Kiehart received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania, where he also received his doctorate. He served on the faculty at Johns Hopkins University and then Harvard University before becoming an associate professor of cell biology at the Duke School of Medicine in 1992. He then joined the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences biology department as a professor in 2000. He has served as the department chair since 2007.
Kiehart said there was never any profession he wanted to pursue other than academia.
“The first week at Penn, I looked around and thought ‘Wow, this is terrific.’ I realized I never wanted to leave an academic environment,” Kiehart said. “An academic faculty position in a place like Duke can be quite intense… but I’ve never wanted to do anything else.”