Since his appointment as Yale’s next provost earlier this month, Scott Strobel has set an ambitious goal for himself: meeting with every dean and speaking to as many faculty members as possible to better understand the University.
Strobel will take the reins from Benjamin Polak and assume the role of provost on Jan. 1. Strobel will leave his posts as vice president for West Campus planning and development, vice provost for science initiatives and deputy provost for teaching & learning. As he embarks on this next phase in his administrative career, he said meeting with representatives from each school and department will allow him to learn the goals and priorities of all parts of Yale.
“I have a lot I need to learn, there’s a lot that I don’t know about how Yale operates, and I definitely am looking forward to seeing the parts that I haven’t seen up until now,” Strobel told the News.
In a Nov. 20 email to the News, University President Peter Salovey wrote that some parts of Strobel’s current roles will be incorporated into his responsibilities as provost. He added that the distribution of Strobel’s old duties will be determined in the coming weeks.
According to Salovey’s email announcing Strobel’s appointment on Nov. 6, Strobel has been integral to the implementation of the University’s mission. He added that Strobel is “widely respected for his ability to align people around new opportunities and for his willingness to serve the University.”
Several faculty and administrators echoed Salovey’s sentiments, including Vice President and Vice Provost for Global Strategy Pericles Lewis, who told the News earlier this month that he looks forward to working closely with Strobel.
“Scott will be a fantastic provost,” Lewis told the News in a Nov. 6 email. “He has already made huge contributions to the educational mission of the university through his work on teaching and learning and to its research mission through West Campus and the science strategy.”
Under Strobel’s direction, West Campus transformed from a nearly empty lot to a bustling center for research.
Under his second title of vice provost for teaching and learning, Strobel oversaw the construction of the Poorvu Center, transforming the dusty back half of Sterling Memorial Library into a brightly-lit hub for students and faculty alike.
“The reason I came to Yale was because it was the school, among several that I had an opportunity to go to, that most prioritized two things that I’m passionate about: one is research, and the other is teaching,” Strobel said.
Strobel arrived in New Haven in 1995 as an assistant professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry. He had just ended a stint as a postdoc, working at the University of Colorado. While there, Strobel worked alongside Jennifer Doudna, one of the developers of the CRISPR genome-editing technology.
At Yale, Strobel quickly distinguished himself as a professor, earning awards like the Dylan Hixon Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences and the Graduate Mentor Award in the Sciences. For eight years, he would mentor students on spring break trips to Ecuador, guiding them in a discovery-based course designed to teach them about botany and biodiversity. And from 2006 to 2009, he served as the chair of the MBB Department.
Aside from his professorial duties, Strobel has focused on the development of West Campus, but he is no stranger to the University’s operations downtown. His work on West Campus and his time dedicated to the construction of the Poorvu Center gave him an opportunity to interact with students and faculty from across the University.
Strobel told the News that when he first arrived at West Campus, he and his colleagues would schedule a few hours every week to “see every building, open every door, see what’s in every one of those rooms [and] come to an understanding of what the assets are that this campus represented so we could figure out what to do with them.”
Strobel’s desire to continue exploring Yale will follow up on his predecessor’s advice. When Polak spoke to the News last month about leaving the position as provost, he said that he would advise his then-unknown successor to keep in tune with the “amazing things” happening at Yale. For Polak, walking the campus often gave him the energy to return to his spreadsheets.
“I don’t see a way in which I will be able to keep my sanity if I don’t have that creative outlet where I don’t have to focus entirely upon, as Ben phrased it, the University’s spreadsheets,” Strobel told the News.
In line with Polak’s advice, Strobel intends to occasionally step back from University affairs. In his free time, Strobel practices woodworking, building furniture and fashioning other household objects. One popular item of his are “Yale bowls” — bowls carved from trees grown on the University’s campus — which he estimates have been gifted to nearly two dozen presidents around the world. Another bowl, made from a gingko tree from the Timothy Dwight College courtyard, sits in the Yale University Art Gallery as part of the gallery’s permanent collection according to the Yale Bowls website.
As for Strobel himself, he is eager to take the reins as provost and view the University through a broader scope.
“What I’m looking forward to the most is seeing the excellence that I haven’t had exposure to yet,” Strobel said.
Strobel received his BA in biochemistry from Brigham Young University and his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology.
Valerie Pavilonis | firstname.lastname@example.org