Leaning In

John jones by dan loh on couch in ow dsonmagsp24 700x467

Photo by Dan Loh.

by President John E. Jones III '77, P'11

If you want to generate anxiety and raise people’s blood pressure, try bringing up the subject of artificial intelligence (AI). To say that this is a complicated area would be an understatement. With folks like Elon Musk predicting that the speed of AI’s growth may outstrip our ability to control it, it’s easy to see why AI strikes fear into so many.

Here at Dickinson, we are leaning hard into AI. The possibilities for its study and implementation are legion, and its uses are entirely consistent with an interdisciplinary liberal-arts education. Within this magazine, you’ll see remarks by several of our terrific faculty about AI’s potential applications. Whether in computer science, math, English, psychology, economics or political science, the evolution of AI will be transformational. As Professor of Computer Science John MacCormick aptly says, revolutions can be fun. I love that spirit, which pervades our treatment of AI and technology in general.

The reference to technology prompts me to mention our division of Information & Technology Services. When I arrived on campus in mid-2021, Jill Forrester had been newly designated as the interim head of that unit. Candidly, it was apparent that insufficient attention to technology had left us without a coherent strategy. Understanding the vital role of technology in all we do, including its central position relative to student success, I moved quickly with Jill to level set the division and appropriate resources to move us forward. As I came to know Jill better, it was clear to me that she was a talented, visionary and proactive leader. It didn’t take long for me to make Jill our chief information officer and vice president of the division.

I pause here to tell you that Jill is an extremely modest person. That she is mentioned in this column will give her as much heartburn as some folks develop when the subject of AI is invoked. But Jill’s work since taking the helm has been tremendous. Two examples come to mind.

First, Jill recognized that, to succeed in enrolling the best and brightest students in this very competitive climate, we must utilize every piece of data at our disposal. Indeed, in some cases, we need to develop even more sources of information. To that end, Jill has tapped into our faculty’s expertise by having Associate Professor of Mathematics & Data Analytics Jeff Forrester work with our enrollment management team to create a model that analyzes historical data to uncover trends and forecast enrollment patterns. This powerful predictive model allows us to make strategic decisions and allocate resources, both human and otherwise. Jeff’s work is paying immediate dividends, and yes, in case you were wondering, Jeff is indeed Jill’s brother-in-law!

Next, with my blessing, Jill has assembled and will lead the Presidential Working Group on AI. Its broad mission includes shaping the responsible, ethical and impactful use of AI in our academic community across every discipline. This has already become a model for other institutions.

Whether in our Dialogues Across Differences and Ethics Across the Curriculum programs, or in the realm of AI, we believe it essential for our students to be exposed to areas that will make them successful, no matter where their careers take them. That is what a liberal-arts education should do. We are embracing these exciting but difficult concepts boldly and without fear. Leaning in is the Dickinson way, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Read more from the spring 2024 issue of Dickinson Magazine.


Published June 6, 2024