What a year! -- Dean Jon Kull's Letter to the Guarini Alumni

Wow, what a year! As 2020 finally draws to a close, I hope you and your families remain healthy and safe. Despite one of the strangest and most disturbing years in history, I am proud to say that the Guarini School, and its graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, have continued to thrive. Following the spring ramp down of on-campus research, in June our students and postdocs were the among the first to get back onto campus and into labs to resume their research. In the labs, they could only work one at a time in the beginning, signing up for timeslots, eating outside or in their cars, and leaving a mandated trail of sanitized surfaces behind as they worked. The libraries opened later in the summer, also under very controlled conditions. It has been a difficult and stressful time, but they have approached their work with dedication, persistence, and professionalism and I could not be more fortunate to be their dean.

It has been a time of great disruption, but this has also opened space for great innovation and the team at Guarini School have worked on many great initiatives over the summer and fall. I am particularly pleased to report we are rolling out plans for mentor training that will have a hugely positive impact on our graduate students, and all researchers and scholars at Dartmouth. 

I am also saddened to pass along the news that, following a heroic battle with cancer, we lost Victoria Blodgett, Guarini's inaugural assistant dean for postdoctoral affairs. In her short time at Dartmouth, she had a huge impact on our community of postdoctoral scholars, as well as everyone she encountered, and she will be sorely missed. In the interim, we are fortunate to have Cindy Rosalbo (assistant director at the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL)) to hold the fort.

Please read on to see what we have been doing over the summer and fall.


As we enter the height of admissions season, assistant dean of the Guarini School Gary Hutchins and admissions coordinator Katelyn King are reporting higher than normal application numbers, including an uptick in both domestic and international applicants to almost every program. Gary and Katelyn have been busy over the past year transitioning our applications to a new system that will allow us to follow students from the time the apply to Dartmouth, through their time here, and allow us to keep in touch as they move on into the world as alumni. They have also fielded hundreds of questions from applicants nervous about the effects of COVID in terms of grades, standardized tests, and visas. Guarini School programs are being as flexible as possible, allowing students to defer or enroll remotely, waiving most application fees, no longer requiring the GRE for admission, and allowing zoom interviews to substitute for TOEFL scores for international students.

Assistant dean of graduate student affairs Kerry Landers has been the Guarini School contact for the COVID Task Force, sitting in on endless policy meetings, and working to ensure our students are safe and up to date with current information during a time when the situation evolved on an almost daily basis. Kerry also works with the Graduate Student Council, acting as a liaison to make sure their ideas, needs, and concerns are communicated to the Guarini School and to Dartmouth. Kerry also had to scramble to convert offerings to an online format, and continues to run professional development sessions, has arranged for over 40 externships where current students can "follow" a graduate alum at the current job, and has organized a series of alumin zoom meetings – please be in touch with Kerry if you are interested in speaking to students about your careers, or your time in graduate school.

During the spring and summer, Jane Seibel, Guarini's assistant dean of recruiting and diversity, and communications, worked with our Diversity Fellows to organize a series of 12 town halls to support or graduate student community and to discuss issues related to the Black Lives Matter movement. These were open and honest conversations, but were also difficult and extremely emotional, and demonstrated we must continue our work to support our students as they continue to face incidents of racial bias in Hanover and the surrounding communities. In addition to working with the Diversity Fellows, Jane also has helped to organize a Dartmouth wide Diversity Council, that has over fifty graduate students involved in working to create a safe and empowering environment across all aspects of Dartmouth.

In addition to putting together alumni newsletters, Amanda Skinner, our assistant director of outreach and communications, is responsible for the stories you see on our website and social media. She also works with students and faculty to help them incorporate outreach and broader impact initiatives into their grant applications, and her efforts here have a direct and positive impact on the grants and awards that Dartmouth students and faculty receive.

In the fall, we welcomed over 200 new graduate students to campus, and of course we had to figure out how to welcome and orient everyone remotely. The team of Betsy Tremmel, our Multilingual Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Writing Consultant, and Jane Seibel moved our orientation to an online format, allowing students to receive important information during their 14-day quarantine following their arrival to the Hanover area. This turned out to be so effective that we will continue to offer large parts of orientation in the future.

Amy Gallagher, office manager and assistant registrar, continues to be the glue that holds us all together. Amy has fielded hundreds of emails and phone calls from students, applicants, and faculty members, and it seems that every one of these during the days of COVID is an emergency. She has done an amazing job keeping the office running, keeping my zoom schedule manageable, making sure deadlines get met, and keeping us all calm in those frenzied moments.

Finally, I must note that everyone has accomplished all this while working from home and juggling spotty internet connections with the complications and chaos of a dining table desk and zoom-bombing kids and pets. It has been a time of great disruption, but also great innovation, and it will be interesting to see what lessons we learn from this year as we look toward a brighter and hopefully more normal 2021.