Tuskegee University’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) is the largest college across the university. It houses a diverse range of departments. It covers some of the most foundational fields of science/knowledge, encapsulated in its name Arts and Sciences. To get a better grasp of what is going on in CAS, we sat down with Dr. Prakash, Dean of the College, for an interview about the state of CAS.
Thinking about the job description of a college dean, many may imagine someone sitting at a fancy, dark brown desk, making decisions concerning the educational well-being of the college. However, after interviewing Dr. Prakash, the Dean of Tuskegee University’s College of Arts and Sciences, it becomes clear that a dean’s job is colorful, complex, and exceptional.
Dr. Prakash has a long history with Tuskegee University. He has been a part of the university’s faculty since 1989 as a Professor of Genetics, Biotechnology, and Genomics. Specifically, Dr. Prakash has been the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for about six years, where he says he “has never had so much more fun.” The College of Arts and Sciences – also referred to as CAS – is comprised of 16 programs, around 800 enrolled students, and 100 faculty members and provides about 300 classes. CAS is the largest college at Tuskegee University. The Biology Department hosts the most significant number of students, followed by the Communication Program. While the college has specific courses geared to each major, it also provides the foundational courses for every student, regardless of their major. For example, almost every student will take MATH 0107, College Algebra and Trigonometry, as a pre-requisite course.
To describe the connection between the faculty and students, Dean Prakash compares the connection to a “bridge.” Not only is there a connection between the faculty and students, but between the arts and sciences themselves. Dr. Prakash states he is “glad” that the two areas overlap when asked about this intersection. He describes it as a “Venn diagram,” where the areas have distinct aspects but also significantly intersect. There are many actions faculty take to support the flow of education. The main hindrances that may disrupt this flow, according to Dr. Prakash, are language barriers and styles of teaching. Dr. Prakash makes sure that he communicates with the struggling students to find a different way to ease the flow of education. He says the most crucial aspect of being the dean is to “make sure to keep the academic wheels moving in arts and sciences … without any friction.”
With the struggles that have come along with the pandemic, Dr. Prakash makes careful decisions concerning the modality of the courses, the number of sections, and the number of students in classes. He also prepares students for the next step after graduating, implementing opportunities such as workshops for medical school and law school and financial options for students to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Many students at CAS aim for medical school, and Dr. Prakash is taking steps to help increase the number of students aspiring for medical school; he describes Tuskegee University as a “pipeline for other medical schools.” These resources show CAS students that there is a range of possibilities concerning their careers after graduating from Tuskegee University.
Dr. Prakash is also instrumental in connecting with outside universities, including Auburn University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in providing Tuskegee University students with a broader range of opportunities. UAB’s medical school grants assured admission to students with a 3.2 GPA and MCAT score of 496 and above. Communication students also have the chance to complete a Masters’ at Auburn University through a recently-signed TU-Auburn partnership. There is an overall trend of outside universities admitting promising students from Tuskegee university into their graduate, medical and law schools. There is a pressing need for Black doctors; to illustrate, only 5% of physicians in the United States are African American. Dr. Prakash’s supervision over CAS only aids in directing Black students towards medical school to increase the number of Black doctors.
Finally, Dr. Prakash does mention the challenges that face the school today. Because the world is progressing faster than the school, programs are not being repurposed fast enough to catch up with the world. In terms of current interests, Dr. Prakash explains how today’s job market tends to be focusing more on newer areas such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity. As a response, CAS needs to “bring an element of cutting-edge areas for job opportunities” so that students of the college can work towards developing these areas. Unfortunately, CAS infrastructure is not as well-funded, and the faculty are not as well-funded either. On the other hand, the performance of the college is not much of a factor in receiving ongoing budgets and funds; much of the additional funds are generated by research grants.
Another critical challenge is that 50% of students that enroll as freshmen do not graduate. This means only half of the registered students finish their program. That being said, Dr. Prakash is creating and putting in place solutions for this issue. He stresses the importance of providing additional external opportunities but also encouragement from the faculty to the students. His approach in resolving these challenges is focused on being “proactive vs. reactive.” He aims to eliminate problems before they arise. With Dr. Prakash’s leadership, there is reason to be optimistic about the future and well-being of our College of Arts and Sciences.