What’s the Buzz?
Dean Mary Boyd is plugged in
by Kelly Knufken

Photos by Nick Abadilla and Guy Chan

he surrounds herself — literally — with the work of USD College of Arts and Sciences students and faculty.

On this particular day, that means Dean Mary Boyd’s office is dominated by, among others, two huge photographic works by art studio technician Joe Yorty: a collage of images from the familiar orange shelves of Home Depot and another composed of pictures of free couches featured on Craigslist. The latter resembles a vast grouping of thumbnail photos, with hundreds of — dare we say it? — ugly couches that could be had for free.

“Everybody comes in and laughs when they see it,” she says, delighted with the piece herself. “It’s witty, and it’s compelling, and people understand automatically what it means and how funny some of the sofas are — there’s so much plaid and floral when you put them all together.”

Boyd sees her office as a chance to showcase what the students, faculty and alumni of the college are up to. Her bookcase is filled with their books and music. The artwork can be switched out periodically, to make room for new pieces.

Boyd arrived at USD in August 2008 from a stint as professor and chemistry chair at Georgia Southern University and spent her first year here learning from faculty about the history and traditions of the college and the university. Now she’s looking to them to help her create a vision for the college’s future.

“I think it’s really important to work with the faculty,” she says. “I have seen a really strong movement toward (interdisciplinary approaches), finding ways to create new majors, new minors and programs which integrate the different disciplines.”

With her own background as a chemist who came close to studying music in college, it seems Boyd couldn’t have found a better career.

“I tell people I have the greatest job because I have art and physics and everything in between. This position gives me the opportunity to engage in all the things I am passionate about,” she says. That includes undergraduate research, a particular passion and something of a push in recent years on the science side of the college. A book on the subject that she co-edited, “Broadening Participation in Undergraduate Research,” came out last May.

“It’s wonderful to be in an institution which shares the same values and supports the same direction in undergraduate education,” she says. USD also offered a return to the faith-based education that she so enjoyed during her 15 years at Loyola University Chicago.

Since arriving at USD, Boyd has become known for her tweets, the short communications that make up the banter on the social networking site Twitter.

“I think Twitter is a great opportunity to be able to communicate with so many different people. Some people say, ‘Doesn’t it take up a lot of your time?’ It takes no time at all, at 140 characters, so when some great news comes into the college or the university, I can just send it out just like that. I think that’s great.”

Her updates comprise a mix of business and personal observations. She may share information and a link from an interesting new study or promote a USD arts reception. Boyd also enjoys sharing a little bit of her personality to make connections. Indeed, some of her more memorable tweets have been the irreverent ones, like when she tweeted a picture of her office staff dressed in pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Day. That one drew more than 100 page views, she says.

“It breaks down barriers.”

And keeping lines of communication open is crucial, especially when you’re dean of art and physics and everything in between.