Steven Fluharty: A look into his 30 years at Penn
The new SAS dean received all three of his degrees from Penn
September 16, 2013, 6:00 pm · Updated September 16, 2013, 8:00 pm·
Although Steven Fluharty assumed his role as dean of the School of Arts and Sciences on July 1, his relationship with Penn began nearly 30 years earlier, when he entered the College of Arts and Sciences as a freshman.
Fluharty received all three of his degrees — a B.A. in psychology in 1979 and master’s and doctoral degrees in psychobiology in 1979 and 1981, respectively — from Penn.
He intended to major in English as an undergraduate student, but changed his mind after he enrolled in an advanced seminar in “what we would probably call behavioral neuroscience now, [but was then] called physiological psychology,” taught by then-provost Eliot Stellar.
“Back then, the college application required you to submit some sort of original piece of work that spoke to you as a person,” Fluharty said. “I submitted a series of poems that I had written. I’m not sure that they were any good, necessarily, but I had enough courage to submit them and it didn’t backfire, but I really believed I would come as an English major.”
As an undergraduate, Fluharty was a University Scholar, which enabled him to take courses that would be relevant to his graduate degree while pursuing his undergraduate education.
“At the time that [the University Scholars program] was created back then, it was really a purposeful effort to keep Penn undergraduates who intended to pursue post-baccalaureate studies at Penn,” he said. “It was a way to create a more seamless transition from the undergraduate experience to the graduate experience, whether it was professional school, or in my case, Ph.D. education.”
Before he even received his bachelor’s degree, Fluharty secured a fellowship from the National Institutes of Health for his doctoral research, through the help of the University Scholars — a “testimony to how good the program was.”
Although Fluharty left the University for a quick stint in as a postdoctoral neuroscience researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, he returned to Penn soon later — in 1986 as an assistant professor.
During his years at Penn, Fluharty held an array of positions, both faculty and administrative. Today, he is a professor of Psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences and professor of pharmacology in the Department of Animal Biology in the School of Veterinary Medicine and holds a secondary appointment in neuroscience in the Perelman School of Medicine. Prior to assuming his deanship, Fluharty served as the vice provost for research.
Now as the SAS dean, Fluharty says he is “very much on the learning curve despite the fact that I have been here for so many years and have the benefit of having been senior vice provost for research and really understanding, at minimum, the research community here at Penn that includes arts and sciences.”
Aside from the learning curve, Fluharty has spent time with Penn’s leadership discussing a variety of topics including instructional innovation, such as Coursera and other online initiatives, as well as “more impactful, more experientially based education.”
“I want us to be leaders in instructional innovation,” he said.
Additionally, Fluharty is looking to foundations and the private sector to secure research funding.
“If you look at the biomedical industry, big pharma and biotech, they’re doing less and less R&D in-house and are outsourcing more and more of it,” he said. “The universities that are well-positioned to collaborate with the private sector will be the beneficiaries of that outsourcing and Penn is already doing that.”
In the fall, Fluharty plans to initiate a “strategic planning process” that will engage faculty, staff and students to develop a plan to continue the progress that the School of Arts and Sciences has made.
“I want to continue to see Arts and Sciences thrive and to really move towards excellence,” he said. “I want to continue to reinforce the value of a broadly defined liberal arts and science education. I continue to believe it’s the best way to prepare people for lifelong learning and impactful, productive careers.”
A previous version of this article stated that Fluharty had a secondary appointment in Psychology in SAS and a pharmacology appointment in Penn Med. His appointment in Psychology is not a secondary appointment. He also does not hold a pharmacology appointment.