Salovey to alumni: Yale is forging connections to solve real-world problems

Photo of Peter Salovey onstage talking to an audience of alumni
President Peter Salovey spoke to alumni in Sprague Hall as part of the Assembly and Convocation sponsored by the sponsored by the Association of Yale Alumni and the Yale Alumni Fund Nov. 16-18. (Photo by Tony Fiorini)

A Yale student is working on a device you can put in a window to block out sound but let in fresh air; others are developing a way to run railroads using solar power.

These are just some of the projects already under way in the “innovation corridor” Yale is creating on campus, President Peter Salovey told alumni delegates gathered in Sprague Memorial Hall on Nov. 17. His talk on the state of the university and its academic priorities was part of the Assembly and Convocation sponsored by the Association of Yale Alumni and the Yale Alumni Fund Nov. 16-18.

The “innovation corridor” — which includes the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, the recently opened Greenberg Engineering Teaching Concourse, and the future Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale — is bringing together students from across campus to share their diverse perspectives and inspire their ingenuity.

The aim is to address real-world problems, not just to create “gizmos and gadgets,” stressed Salovey. “We don’t want to get so overly focused on venture creation that we miss the point” — which, he said, is to teach students how to communicate, work in groups, identify the best ideas, and apply them in thoughtful and practical ways.

Yale is, in fact, nurturing connectivity in many ways on campus, the president noted in his address.

In the arts, for example, members of Yale’s musical groups — be they from School of Music and undergraduate programs or extracurricular ensembles — can mingle as they take advantage of the expanded rehearsal spaces in the Adams Center for the Musical Arts. Yale plans to bring together campus theatrical groups in the same way in the future when it builds a new home for drama programs, said Salovey.

Similarly, he noted, at the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage on West Campus, conservators work alongside materials scientists and digitization experts as they study the effects of climate and natural aging on artworks and artifacts, and develop better ways to preserve them for future generations.

Noting that there are now 23 humanities departments and programs in 23 campus locations, Salovey said the re-imagining of 320 York St., former home of the Hall of Graduate Studies, into a hub for the humanities will allow scholars from various disciplines to share classrooms, common rooms, and a new lecture hall — the better to spark collaboration. The same gifts that are funding the renovation are also supporting cross-disciplinary projects in the humanities, he added.

Connectivity will also be important in the sciences, said Salovey, noting: “There is no doubt the future of science is going to be interdisciplinary.”

Cross-disciplinary collaborations are already taking place on campus — from Science Hill to West Campus to the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Public Health, Engineering & Applied Science, and Forestry & Environmental Studies — said Salovey.

As an example, he pointed to a project by Yale researchers to build an artificial pancreas, which could revolutionize the lives of individuals with type 1 diabetes by automatically adjusting insulin levels — noting that it drew on the expertise of researchers from the medical, scientific, and engineering fields.

The new Science Building under construction on Science Hill will add to this cross-disciplinary co-mingling by bringing together “two biology departments, a bit of chemistry, and a bit of physics,” he added.

Another important goal in the sciences over the next 10 years is having “outsized impact,” said Salovey, pointing as example to the recent news that Yale physicists are seeking to build the world’s first quantum computer, which promises to revolutionize the world of computing. “I believe we have the best group in the country working on this,” he noted.

Similarly, in the social sciences, a key goal is to influence public policy by bringing data-driven research into the conversation, he told the alumni. “It’s no accident that [former secretary of state] John Kerry is teaching here,” he said, referring to the newly launched Kerry Initiative, which draws together experts from Yale and beyond to tackle pressing global challenges. This is just one way Yale is taking a lead in discussions of public policy, said the president.

Throughout his speech, Salovey emphasized how Yale’s educational mission is also underscored by the focus on connectivity — from the creation of new spaces in Yale’s art museums where students can examine works and artifacts they are studying in class, to hiring faculty in the arts “who can teach anywhere on campus,” to creating new science facilities that place classrooms side-by-side with laboratory spaces.

I am incredibly optimistic about the world-changing research that comes out of this place, as well as the education of leaders for all sectors of society that Yale will continue to deliver,” Salovey said. “We are poised to be the university that does this better and more impressively than any other.”

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