As the 2021-22 academic year kicks off, students may see a new face around the Shaheen College of Arts & Sciences: Patrick Van Fleet, Ph.D., who was appointed as the next dean of the College over the summer and began his post in late July.
Van Fleet comes from the University of Saint Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota where he most recently served as professor and chair for the Department of Mathematics and director of the Center for Applied Mathematics.
After growing up in western Illinois and spending the last 23 years at St. Thomas, Van Fleet is no stranger to the Midwest. While most probably wouldn’t describe Indianapolis winters as “mild,” Van Fleet is looking forward to moving slightly further south. “You never get used to the winters in Minnesota. They get worse every year,” he said. “Anything other than Alaska is more mild than here!”
A father of three children ranging from a freshman in college to completing a final year of graduate school, Van Fleet has an important perspective on what is important both to current as well as prospective students. “I feel like I’ve got a good handle on that age group’s perspective,” he said.
Now that campus operations have largely returned to in-person experiences, Van Fleet hopes to begin his tenure learning as much as he can about the student experience at UIndy. “You have to figure out what people get excited about,” he said. “Every university is unique, and you can’t tell all that from a website—you need to get out and meet students, and meet faculty, to see what excites them, and apply that through the curriculum.”
Van Fleet hopes to foster an environment where student research opportunities are paramount in the Shaheen College. That connection, which already exists between faculty research and their classroom work, was one of the attracting factors of UIndy for Van Fleet. “The priorities of a private, liberal arts university were important to me,” he said. “It was really impressive how every faculty member in my interviews talked about their dedication to their students. That really gets you excited about a place when, even via Zoom, you can see faculty dedication to the student experience.”
Van Fleet was attracted to the urban setting of UIndy. “I like to make sure we’re connecting students with opportunities in nearby industries and businesses, and that’s easier to do in a city,” he said.
Finding those connections in the Shaheen College of Arts & Sciences will be what drives Van Fleet during his tenure. He sees the Shaheen Grants as the perfect opportunity and testing ground to find those connections and for students to do things that personally excite them.
“Research opportunities are paramount,” he said. “If you don’t have that, then students won’t be able to compete at the highest level. We want to support students who have talent and want to push the envelope. Ultimately we want to see them take that to the next level and connect those opportunities to opportunities in industry.”
Van Fleet hopes to continue his own research while at UIndy. “I think it’s important no matter what level you’re at—faculty member, chair, dean,” he said. “It keeps you fresh and keeps you learning new things.”
“I think it helps you think about struggles. I fail a lot in my research. We all do. That keeps you sympathetic to the struggles that students go through.”