Message from the Dean

Penelope PetersonDear Friends,

What did I do on my summer vacation? Well, it wasn’t so much what I did on my summer vacation as what happened on my way home. I was flying back from my hiking trip in Scotland when the flight attendant announced that the plane was experiencing an electrical failure. Soon after, a burning smell started to seep into the cabin.

A few minutes later the flight attendant asked us to prepare for an emergency landing. "Now when I yell out, 'Brace!'" she directed, "I want you to lean forward and grab hold of your ankles and brace for an emergency landing." As the burning smell got stronger, I began to think that if we didn’t land soon, something was bound to burst into flames, and if we did land soon, it would be in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Neither scenario carried with it much hope.

Since I was traveling alone, I decided that if I were going to die, then I wanted to at least say "goodbye" to another human being, so I turned and introduced myself to the young guy sitting next to me, who said his name was Nigel. Nigel remarked that his little daughter had held him tight that morning and said, "Daddy, don’t get on that airplane!" Nigel said wistfully that he wished he had listened to his daughter.

As Nigel was sitting by the window, I asked him to look out and see if he could spot any land in sight. Nigel said he saw only water. He then added that we were still at a very high altitude, and the pilot might have trouble descending with the electrical system malfunctioning. As the minutes dragged by, anxiety mounted; yet everyone on board continued to remain remarkably calm.

Suddenly Nigel said, "I see Iceland!" Iceland it was, and the pilot managed to land the plane quickly in the middle of the runway at a small airport on the coast. The crew got all 200 passengers off the plane as rapidly as possible. As we felt the earth beneath our feet and ran quickly away from the plane, I noticed three fire trucks and two ambulances and other emergency vehicles standing by.

The rest of the story is less dramatic except to say that our emergency landing was reported in the national news that night. However, the effect on me became more dramatic as time wore on. I felt then, and I continue to feel now, that life has become more precious, and my sense of responsibility has become much greater. I owe it to myself and to others to make my life count. An important way I can do this is through my leadership of a wonderful School where our faculty and students are working to improve the lives of others.

I am proud to support the endeavors of our students and faculty, from the students who volunteer to better their communities to the interns who help children learn every single day to the faculty who find ways to address critical social and educational problems. While their projects and settings differ, all have the same goal — to make change that improves people’s lives. In this issue of Inquiry, we describe just a few of these efforts that center on the economics of education.

Sincerely yours,

Penelope L. Peterson, Dean

By Penelope Peterson