Dean Ken Janda

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If you meet Dean Kenneth C. Janda in his office in Rowland Hall, one of the first things you'll notice is the close proximity of a container of chocolate alongside the molecular model of ice—more technically known as hexagonal water-ice—on the meeting table. The second thing you will notice is how he bursts with pride as he discusses the groundbreaking research that takes place daily in the UCI School of Physical Sciences.

With a Ph.D. from Harvard University and over twenty years of experience as a professor and administrator at UCI, Dean Janda brings a wealth of knowledge to his role.  He has been a professor of chemistry at UCI since 1992 and most recently served as associate dean for the school. A lifelong chemist, his blue eyes twinkle with wit as he acknowledges that he is fortunate to "get to do chemistry for fun - and as a job." He is quick to note that he has had, "many opportunities to observe the impressive work that has created the foundation of our school."

The Importance of Graduate Education and Mentoring

"Graduate education is a core function of a research university," says Janda.  Recently, two UCI physical science programs – chemical synthesis and mathematics received $1.6 million in fellowship funding from the U.S. Department of Education as part of the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need effort (GAANN).  "Graduate students perform much of the groundbreaking research in the School of Physical Sciences," he notes. "The success in obtaining GAANN funding is a grand-slam for our teaching and research." The School of Physical Sciences takes graduate student support very seriously.  Working closely with the Graduate Division, Janda and his faculty help students apply for fellowship support from the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and NASA, "Not only do we assist graduate students in obtaining high level funding," he says, "but during the 2011-2012 academic year, faculty provided $8.2 million dollars of Graduate Research Assistant support from their research grants."

With his own research students, Janda focuses most of the discussions toward the "big picture" along with attention to each student's short and long-term goals.  He believes that it is important for students to have the freedom to find the detailed solutions to problems, even though they will make mistakes along the way. "Learning involves the ability to understand where mistakes were made and how to avoid them in the future," he states. 

Almost half of the school's undergraduate students conduct research – often under the supervision of a graduate student. For Janda and his cohort of faculty, providing educational and learning opportunities for undergraduate students to learn from graduate students is a terrific avenue for instilling necessary skills for collaboration and communication. Janda points out that both the undergraduate and graduate students learn a great deal from this mentoring relationship, "much like a professor often learns from the student and vice versa."  

He gives credit to UC Irvine founding Professor F. Sherwood (Sherry) Rowland for emphasizing curiosity and creativity. It was Rowland's focus on integrity that has helped ensure development of best practices within the school and the creation of a concept that has become the philosophical cornerstone for the campus at large, "If not us, who? If not now, when?"  With approximately 1,208 undergraduate majors and 516 graduate students along with 140 faculty members, 121 researchers, 75 postdoctoral scholars and 130 staff members, Dean Janda and his team continue to move forward as a school and as part of a dynamic campus at large.

Janda stresses that UCI seeks to hire the best people and give them the tools necessary to compete. "We offer state-of-the-art research facilities in scientific computing, mass spectrometry, X-ray crystallography, carbon cycle accelerator mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) research," he adds. At the moment, he is working in concert with Dean Albert Bennett in the School of Biological Sciences, Dean Gregory Washington in The Henry Samueli School of Engineering, and Vice Chancellor John Hemminger to raise the campus electron microscopy facility to world-class standards.   

Young and Nimble

Janda points out that, as a young campus, UCI has the rare ability to be flexible; a key component in the academic excellence that permeates the halls of the School of Physical Science. He stresses that being nimble has allowed the School to rise to the top echelon of academia in a "remarkably short time." It is curiosity and this strong legacy of academic excellence that fuels the institution's passion for answers to challenging issues.

He cites the fact that the School of Physical Sciences is home to two of UC Irvine's Nobel Laureates. In 1995, professors F. Sherwood Rowland (chemistry) and Frederick Reines (physics) each received Nobel Prizes, making UC Irvine the first public university with faculty honored in two different fields in the same year. According to an analysis by Times Higher Education, UC Irvine ranks first in the U.S. and fourth in the world among the 100 best universities less than 50 years old. Founded in 1965, UCI also is the youngest university to gain membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities.  It was the exceptional founding faculty of our school that set the bar," says Janda. "Today, we continue that dedication to academic excellence by continuing to lead the world in life-changing research."

When asked what he considers his biggest achievements to date since being named dean, Janda has a ready answer. "There are two, each of which is a team effort. The first is the ability to maintain academic excellence and morale during a very challenging budget cycle. The second is our ability as a school to continue to hire the best and brightest faculty and to transfer that sense of excellence and morale."  

International Collaboration

Early in his academic career, Janda was fortunate to conduct research in England and this spurred a lifelong fascination with travel. Since that time, international collaboration has always been a mainstay of his program. In the last two years, he has published scientific papers with colleagues from France, Spain, Cuba, and Mexico.  Currently he and other faculty are forging research collaborations with leading scientists from Israel and are in the process of establishing bonds with Brazil as a part of the Brazilian Science Without Borders program. This program was created in 2011 to promote future scientific research and innovation in Brazil, with a goal of sending 100,000 of their best undergraduate and graduate students to top universities around the world.  "We would like all scientists to have similar collaborative opportunities," he says.

Next Steps

Reflecting on his daily responsibilities within the Dean's office—from academic to administrative considerations—Janda attributes his successes to four components: A great team, a can-do-attitude, few barriers to innovation and  a beautiful campus. He adds, "Of course paramount to all this is the fact I am reminded daily of how much we rely on the support of family and friends."

Dean Janda credits his mother with establishing his work ethic with a positive attitude and to 'keep on truckin.'  "My mother taught me that showing up every day with a positive attitude is crucial for success."

He will indeed 'keep on truckin' as he plans for an upcoming trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil where he will introduce academic leaders and faculty members from some of Brazil's leading institutions to the great research and education here at UCI.

Janda recalls a favorite childhood book, Donald Duck Sees South America, a book produced by the Walt Disney Company in the nineteen forties to promote tourism, good feelings and trade between the continents.

Unfortunately, the original book has been long lost. But several years ago, Patsy, his wife of over forty years (they have been 'going steady for over 45 years) - surprised him with a copy of this much-loved book, for his birthday. "I get to do something Donald Duck did not get to do in his travels," Janda says. "While he visited many countries in South America, and had many adventures along the way, he did not get to Brazil – but I will." 

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