Artificial intelligence has been the focus of Jonathan Schaeffer’s research during his past 28 years at the University of Alberta, but his new role as Dean of Science will rely solely on his own intelligence.
The Board of Governors appointed Schaeffer to the position last week, which will commence July 1 for a five-year term.
Schaeffer succeeds Gregory Taylor, who had held the position since 2003. The incoming dean has been heavily involved in the Department of Computing Science, where he has served as both professor and chair of the department. For the past four years, he has also held the positions of Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President (Information Technology) at the U of A.
Schaeffer said he developed a strong appreciation for the Faculty of Science as a whole during his term as the Chair of Computing Science in 2005. When he became a part of the annual faculty evaluation process, he was able to see more of the work being done by a variety of scientists, ranging from physicists to psychologists.
“You just started reading their annual reports and went, ‘Wow, look what this guy is doing,’ and ‘My god, this guy if he does that, he could change the world,’ ” Schaeffer said.
“It was all just really exciting and it made me appreciate what a fabulous faculty we have here in sciences.”
His own research in the area of computer science has earned him international recognition, as well as numerous awards.
One accomplishment that broke the Guinness Book of World Records was ‘Chinook: first computer to win a game of checkers in a human world championship.’
This led to the publication of a paper in 2007 titled “Checkers is Solved,” which proved that perfect play on both sides will result in a draw. The paper ran in a number of prestigious limelights, and was deemed one of the “Ideas of the Year” by the New York Times.
Because of his own success with research, Schaeffer hopes to continue to develop similar opportunities for students as he prepares to take on the mantle of dean.
“I think the goal that I have … with the new role, is to make the (U of A’s) Faculty of Science the best in this country,” Schaeffer said.
“(I want) to help make the researchers in this faculty succeed, to push them to be the very best that they can, to do the greatest research and have the biggest impact on the world.”
Entrepreneurship is another aspect that Schaeffer wants to focus on, allowing students to translate their ideas and work into business. However, the university’s current financial strains may pose a challenge.
“These are difficult budgetary times, and there are lots of things I can think about that are really grandiose — but some of those things you’re not going to do without any money,” Schaeffer admitted.
Throughout the next few months, Schaeffer plans to learn more about his new position, and to initiate talks with faculty, staff and students to understand their priorities.
“We need to be superb in terms of how we offer outstanding education to our students — to engage them, to make them better scientists and to give them better opportunities to succeed,” Schaeffer said.
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