In the next several issues of Update, we are profiling the deans of our colleges and schools. In this issue, we highlight
Dr. Maurice Mendel, dean of the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders.
Dr. Maurice Mendel
1. Why did you choose to come to the U of M in 1988?
“The opportunity came to join the faculty here as chair of what was then the Department
of Audiology and Speech Pathology at Memphis State University. Having been a faculty
member, at that point for 18 years, I was ready to try my hand at administration.
I had been in a situation before coming to Memphis where I was watching a former chair
and disagreeing with many of the individual details that I saw. I found myself saying,
‘If I were the chair, that’s not what I would do.’ I found myself saying that over
and over, and then one day I thought, ‘Maybe it’s time to try my hand at it and see
what I would do in those situations.’ Early in my career, I had no interest in chairing
a department, and I think over time I matured and then this opportunity presented
itself and I was ready to take that step.”
2. What do you enjoy most about being dean?
“Since we (the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders) are a school, I continue
to function as a dean/chair, in that I work intensively with the faculty. I think
one of the things I enjoy most is watching the development of younger faculty over
time. I’ve advanced to an age where I feel I can serve as a mentor in the process.
I feel that my role is to help support our faculty in any way I can so that they can
be productive in their careers and our school can prosper and grow. I function in
a similar manner when our PhD students near the end of their program and are ready
to enter the academic world.”
3. What is the most challenging aspect of your position?
“The most challenging aspect of this position has been being part of a dynamic program
that has outgrown its physical space. I have been trying for almost 20 years to get
us into a new building, and the biggest challenge has been accommodating the entire
School under one roof and getting the program moved into the kind of space it needs
to be productive.”
4. What is the most memorable day or event during your tenure at the U of M?
“The most memorable day is yet to come. That will be the day when the doors open on
the Community Health Building. We’ll occupy about half of that new building. Right
now, we’re talking about two-and-a-half years from now for that to happen. Our hope
is to actually occupy the building for the fall of 2015. When we open the doors, it
will be my most memorable day.”
5. What’s the best advice you’ve given to a student?
“The best advice that I’ve given to a student is also the best advice that was given
to me: The best way to start writing is to get words on paper. Today, that has changed
a little bit, because the best way to start writing now is to get words on the screen.
I’ve thought about it many times and I think it’s excellent advice. Whether you’re
writing a paper, article or chapter of a book, when you first start it’s a daunting
task. The best way to get through the writing is to start working on it. To this very
day, I give that same advice to students. The time when I say this most is when PhD
students are beginning to write the dissertation. It’s the idea that the dissertation
is this enormous entity, and therefore, it is really hard to start when you’re facing
a blank screen. I tell them break it into parts, start writing, and once you have
words on paper, refine them. It’s a process, but it’s one that works.”
6. What did you want to be when you grew up?
“In junior high school, I took a career preference test. It determined that the best
job for me was to become a forest ranger. I thought that was hysterical because I
had never been a camper, I didn’t spend time in the woods and I had no interest in
being a forest ranger. So, the formal testing did not help me to determine what I
wanted to be. What I thought I wanted to be was a doctor. I had an uncle who was a
physician and I remember the advice he gave me was that I needed to go into medicine.
Whatever it is you wanted to do, he said, you can find it in medicine. If you want
to become a carpenter, you can go into orthopedics. If you want to be an electrician,
you can go into neurology. If you want to be a plumber, you can find a place for yourself.
I always found that interesting. So when I started college, I planned on going to
medical school, but then I met chemistry and calculus. So, in short order, I became
an English major! Then, I just happened to take a course titled Introduction to Audiology,
and now that’s where I am. It was strictly accidental. Many people have a life plan,
and they follow it like a road map. I clearly didn’t have a life plan.”
7. What are some of your hobbies?
“One of my hobbies is photography. Scenery and the outdoors, which is retracting the
forest ranger thing, are the things I like to photograph. A lot of the photography
that I do is of and for my family.”
8. Tell us about your family.
“My wife and I have three sons, three daughters-in-law and five grandchildren. The
family is scattered over the country, and so this past break we all rented a large
home in California. We had the opportunity to have all the children, spouses and grandchildren
together for a few days. It is those precious moments when we are with our kids and
grandkids that fuel us until the next time we can be together.”
9. What is a new initiative of the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders that you are excited about?
“One of the exciting developments we’ve had in the last few years is the development
of the relationship with the Institute for Intelligent Systems (IIS). We have faculty
who are now affiliates of the IIS, we have a faculty member who just got a National
Science Foundation grant with an IIS affiliate in the College of Engineering, and
we have a new faculty member who started this fall on a joint-line between our program
and the IIS. One of the things I think that has been very exciting is the development
of this interdisciplinary portion of our program. Having been in this building that
is so removed from the main part of campus, it has been a difficult barrier to overcome,
but we are making progress. We are increasing our interdisciplinary connections with
IIS and when we become closer neighbors to the campus when the Community Health Building
opens, these connections are going to be even easier to develop.”