Monday marked Steve A. Kay’s first day as the 21st dean of the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, where he said he is excited to play a role in working with students in addition to expanding the school’s opportunities and programs.
“When I came to interview at USC, the clincher for me was really walking around the campus,” Kay said. “I saw such energy amongst the students.”
Kay came to Dornsife from UC San Diego, where he served as dean of the division of biological sciences and held the Richard C. Atkinson Chair in biological sciences. He also served as a distinguished professor of cell and developmental biology. Prior to working at UCSD, Kay held positions at Rockefeller University, the University of Virginia and the Scripps Research Institute.
Kay said he is looking forward to starting his work at Dornsife and building on the college’s current programs, largely by working hand-in-hand with faculty and staff.
“The first goal I have for Dornsife is to listen [to staff and faculty],” he said. “Listen to them about what they view as the most exciting opportunities and goals. I see us as being able to be very nimble in terms of identifying the areas where we can achieve very rapid progress.”
Kay received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Bristol, United Kingdom and continued his research in genetics and genomics, becoming one of the world’s top experts on genes and circadian rhythms. He has published more than 200 papers and has had research cited in Science magazine’s “Breakthroughs of the Year” in 1997, 1998 and 2002.
As the head of Dornsife, Kay has several goals for his tenure, including more research and hands-on opportunities for students.
Kay’s background in the sciences has him looking forward to a few changes at Dornsife.
“We have plans to be building a new science building on campus,” Kay said. “That’s something I look forward to being a part of.”
He said he also hopes to expand the interdisciplinary programs, such as the philosophy, politics and law major.
“I think that seeking out ways in which we can look at fields that are not traditionally put together is one of the areas that offers many opportunities,” Kay said.
Personal connection with students is also important to Kay. Through the course of his professional life, Kay has had more than 50 of his former Ph.D. students of his become faculty chairs and administrators at other universities across the country. When he was dean at UCSD, Kay led a large academic division with almost 6,000 undergraduates, hundreds of graduates and postdoctoral researchers, as well as four faculty departments.
“I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with so many influential students and researchers,” Kay said.
In reference to his new position, Kay emphasized the importance of using education as a means of benefiting society.
“I believe very much that education is really the most powerful tool we have for the development of human capital,” Kay said.