Get to know the new Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
Daniel Press joins Santa Clara University from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Daniel Press, associate dean and professor of environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz, has been selected as the next dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He begins his tenure on July 1, 2020. Get to know him better through this Q&A conducted by Ali Reimer, director of marketing and communication in the College.
What formative experiences drew you to higher education and public service?
Living in Northern California, you get sensitized to environmental issues very easily. I was working in the wine industry after college and I started to feel a disconnect between what I was doing and the need I saw. So I went back to school for a master’s in public policy with the intention of working for an environmental organization or agency.
My curiosity got the best of me, and I ended up staying to earn my Ph.D., which propelled me into an academic career. It was the Great Recession that ultimately led me into academic leadership. My assumptions about the resilience and support for higher education were crushed, and I could no longer trust that others would “mind the shop.” So I knew I had to step up.
My work and expertise have kept the door open for opportunities to serve the public, such as my time with the California Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Santa Cruz County Land Trust.
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Sentimental, for sure. My wife teases me about it. I’m very earnest, very sentimental. Another word would be active. I’m pretty much in movement the entire day. I guess I'd also say curious. I’m very curious.
What was one of your favorite projects at UCSC?
One of my favorite projects was restoring the historic Cowell Hay Barn which was basically a heap of timbers. It was a challenge, but once I tied a programmatic piece to the project—the agroecology program—the university embraced the plan. It’s a perfect replica of the original barn, rebuilt using mortise and tenon joinery, in the old 19th century way, with many of the original timbers preserved. It’s beautiful and has become the most popular place to meet on campus.
What advice do you have for students in college today?
I tell my students several things. One is that society needs you desperately. We need your commitment, your energy, your ideas, your youthful righteousness. We need your indignation. We need your love of each other and the world, so that we can bridge, heal, nurture, sustain, and leave no one behind.
I would also say it’s more important than ever to hustle, hustle, hustle. You’re not going to have the opportunities that you need to have by staying in one place. So hustling and being willing to go and be a little uncomfortable is important.
What were you like as a student?
As an undergraduate, I had selected a program of study that I was not especially gifted for. And so I struggled and worked really hard for it. I think that meant that while I grew tremendously, I didn't have quite as much fun as I think I could have with a bit of a different mindset. But I don’t regret any of it. That's just who I was.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I cook a lot, make wine, bake bread. My mother is a baker, and we’ve always done a lot of baking. I’ve been playing around with sourdoughs for several years and am in a competition with my nephew for whose bread is better.
I also like playing with my boys who are in middle school. And I enjoy reading science fiction and French comics. I always look for the novel idea—what’s the little thing that’s different and clever but grounded in human experience. That’s what makes the story interesting.
What does it mean to study the liberal arts at a Jesuit School in Silicon Valley?
The liberal arts combine a mode of inquiry—learning through exploration, experimentation, argument, evidence, interaction—with a breadth of study that is, to me, precious and non-negotiable. By definition, at a Jesuit university, you are providing space for spirituality throughout this educational process. Then, we’re in Silicon Valley, a place that has a tremendous human and cultural diversity where our students can learn so much and apply what they’re learning in meaningful ways.
What are you most looking forward to about joining Santa Clara University?
I'm looking forward to getting a feel for the culture. I'm also really curious to see what is similar and what is different about how Santa Clara does teaching, discovery, and community, from what I’m used to at a big public university. I have to say it’s exciting to just discover and learn.