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New faculty gathered for introductions at Memorial Hall of the McNamara Alumni Center on day 1 of New Faculty Orientation. More than 230 faculty are new this year.

New Twin Cities faculty get a U welcome

By Adam Overland

August 27, 2008

Just outside an incredible wall of books written by University alumni, faculty, staff, and students, through the reconstructed Memorial Stadium arch of Heritage Gallery, and past glowing glass photographs profiling people of fame from the University's past; the future's potential gathers. They've come from around the country and the world to teach and conduct research at the University of Minnesota, and join a staff of more than 4,000 faculty as the newest members of the U.

More than 230 are new this year, and through three days of orientation, they began to get to know the U and each other. Each day, beginning August 19 and through August 21, they met on a different part of the Twin Cities campus (East, West, and St. Paul) for opportunities designed to help connect them to their new home. It's part of an enhanced orientation program now in its third year.

On the first day of orientation, faculty were adjusting well and greeting the situation with good humor. Introductions tended to lead with a laugh. "I came to Minnesota because where I'm from, we have only two lakes--and one of them is called the Dead Sea," says one new faculty member. Indeed, there are plenty of jokes about the number of Minnesota lakes, and of course, about the weather...or perhaps it is not humor, but nervous fear.

A glowing Garrison Keillor amidst a wall of books published by U faculty, staff, and students.
A glowing Garrison Keillor amidst a wall of books published by U faculty, staff, and students.

Mary Everley, program director for the U's relocation assistance program, helps assuage any fears beyond the concern of weather. Everley assists new faculty and staff in finding everything from neighborhoods in which to live to jobs for their spouses. Everley often consults with potential faculty before they've made up their mind about whether to come to the U, and she does her best to persuade them. "Once a candidate asked me 'Could you convince my wife that it's not cold in Minnesota' This was in January!" joked Everley.

But many candidates don't let the cold freeze them out of such a warm community and the opportunity to be part of a major public research university. "I moved here in 1984 for a two-year stay and never left--so be prepared to be seduced by a wonderful community," says Marcus Dilliard, associate professor of lighting design in Theatre Arts. "The Twin Cities is second in the nation in terms of theatre per capita," says Dilliard. With stats like that, he couldn't leave.

Frances Vavrus came to the U this fall after having spent a year in the city in the early 90s. Originally from Indiana, she is optimistic about her move, in part because she's closer to home and her sister, Mary Vavrus--also a professor at the U. In fact, Vavrus was so enthusiastic about coming here that she left a tenured position as an associate professor at Columbia to come to the U as an assistant professor in the department of educational policy and administration. "My sister kept telling me about how good of an environment this was to work in, but part of it was the department in international development education is undergoing changes, and it's kind of an exciting time to be part of that building process," says Vavrus. And what does she think about orientation? "I think it's great! At my former institution, we had a lunch and got a folder--it was two hours at most. It's nice to know you're not the only new faculty member who has a lot of questions to ask," says Vavrus. For those faculty who have questions, an e-mail to is a great way to get a quick answer.

The U asked a few questions of faculty too, in a quiz about Minnesota and the University. See below.

Quiz U self!

In a room full of Ph.D.s, it probably wouldn't have helped to grade on the curve. The IQ in Memorial Hall of the McNamara Alumni Center on day 1 of New Faculty Orientation was as high and vaulted as the ceiling itself. A quiz was given to faculty teams to test what each knows about Minnesota and the U; without a curve, this author certainly failed (Who knew Eric Estrada wasn't from Minnesota?). The competition was tough. Here is a sample of 3 of the 25 questions:

1. Of any university in North America, the University of Minnesota is home to the largest population of students and scholars from which country? a. India
b. Norway
c. Bolivia
d. China

2. Which of the following was NOT invented at the University of Minnesota? a. the plasma screen
b. the flight recorder (black box)
c. the heart pacemaker
d. the retractable seatbelt

3. Which of the following medical procedures was first performed in the United States at the University of Minnesota? a. open heart surgery
b. bone marrow transplant
c. transfusion of artificial blood
d. all of the above

ANSWERS 1. d. China.
2. a. The plasma screen.
3. d. All of the above.