Although he’s only been dean since November 2012, Dr. Denis Dean seems to be settling into his new job well. As a member of the UT Dallas faculty since 2008, he’s no stranger to our campus, or to our successful Geospatial Information Science (GIS) program, a program that he chaired before being named dean. After he spoke to my freshman seminar class, I was lucky enough to get to interview him about his involvement in research and how it has impacted the rest of his endeavors.
Dean Dean’s background rests firmly in forestry; something he says “started him down the road to GIScience.” He focused on Forest Management as an undergrad at Virginia Polytechnic before completing his PHD in Computer Applications in Forestry at the same school. There must have been something about the college life that he liked, because he’s been involved in academia for the last 25 years, first as a post-doc at Virginia Tech, then as a professor at Colorado State University before he became a Comet.
Research plays a large role in Dean Dean’s career, and he preaches the importance for students to be involved in research, saying “I think being involved in research can be one of the most educational experiences any student (graduate or undergrad) can have.” While it’s usually mandatory for graduate students to do research within their field of study, he recommends it for undergraduates as well, as it “really rounds out an education.”
One look at the interesting projects Dean Dean is currently and has been involved in is enough to convince anyone that they should get involved in research as well. One of his ongoing projects includes his being involved in the team of engineers that navigate NASA's Opportunity and Curiosity rovers on Mars. Other GIS projects are based all over the world, such as a land management project in Nicaragua and environmental work with Dr. Yongwan Chun in Korea.
Dean Dean ended the interview with some tips for students who are interested in GIS and GIS research: “Start by learning the basics… But once you've got a handle on the basics, let your imagination go.” Looking at his accomplishments so far, I’d say his advice would be something to pay attention to; you might just end up traveling the world to work on projects, or work with NASA on something as far away as Mars. Or become a dean at UT Dallas. Whoosh!