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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 — Houston, TX

Q&A with McLendon

By Kevin Lin     11/18/10 6:00pm

George McLendon, Rice's new provost, sat down with the Thresher to talk about his past, the current state of affairs and his plans for the future.McLendon came to Rice after serving as the Dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences at Duke University. He is a well-known researcher, entrepreneur and administrator and comes to Rice as a native of Texas.

Rice Thresher: Tell us a bit about your background.

George McLendon: I'm a multi-generation Texan. My mom and dad were native Texans. Their parents were native Texans, and their parents were native Texans, and you can go back six and seven generations back when Texas was a republic and my family was here. I have pretty deep roots in Texas. . My dad is an engineer by vocation, but he has always been a rancher by application. So I grew up around horses and cattle; I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors.

RT: What was your favorite pastime?

GM: I liked to climb trees.

RT: Before you came to Rice, you were at Duke, the University of Rochester and Princeton University. How would you compare those places to Rice?

GM: I can give you a much better comparison at the end of the spring because I'm teaching a freshman seminar [LOVE 201: Energy in Society] over the spring. . Intellectually, there's no difference between the students at Rice and the students at Princeton and the students at Duke. But the culture at Rice is not like the culture at Duke and the culture at Princeton. . It's really cool to me and really hard to understand that three weeks after students get here that [they've] developed a set of principles and traditions and self-conception that's different if they accidentally got assigned to Baker than if [they] accidentally got assigned to McMurtry.

RT: What are you teaching?

GM: I'm teaching a course on energy and society. I've taught this as a summer course at Duke. It's going to be largely a student-led analysis on what you see the developing landscape for energy use by your generation will be over the next 25 years. ... My mantra for this course: Everyone's entitled to your own opinions about what we should do, but you're not entitled to your own facts. We'll try to explore what the facts are and how that guides what choices are available.

RT: What are your current priorities and what do you want to accomplish during your term here?

GM: My job is to help us identify and then seed and then nurture a few things

that are broadly shared initiatives in which we can be really great.

RT: How many students are engaged in research right now?

GM: There are many different ways to measure that. If we say how many of our students write a senior thesis, which is probably the most stringent measure of a student's focus on a particular topic, it's probably less then 20 percent right now. I don't know what the right number is, but that's probably a little small for a research university of our stature.

RT: Are you still engaged in your own research?

GM: Yes and no. Honestly, if you're taking a major administrative position, I think you can do any two out of three things. You can do that major administrative work and you can maintain a pretty strong research program and you can teach and you can do any two of the three. I chose to do administrative work and teach. The reason I can do that is because my research program is now largely done in the private sector.

RT: On the topic of the private sector, you have a history of entrepreneurship. Can you tell us about how that got started?

GM: Yeah, but you know what I'd rather do? Help you start your own companies. Generally that's not something that a 19-year-old should do, but you should be learning how to build the networks that are going to be helpful to you so that when you are ready to change the world and make it a better place, you have the people necessary to help you do that.

RT: If you had one piece of advice for Rice students, what would you tell them?

GM: It would be first of all to decide what are you passionate about doing. Then decide what's it going to take to turn your passion into practice. Third, realize that you can't do it by yourself, so figure who else you want to be on your bus to help you do that and bring those people in your life. Build a network that will help you do it, because you can't do it by yourself.

RT: What's your favorite part about Rice and Texas?

GM: For Rice, it's really easy. My favorite part is the people: the faculty, the staff, the students - everybody is so nice and they're so excited about being at this place. My favorite part about Texas: It's going to sound odd, but I've spent a lot of time on the east coast and Texas is a much more optimistic place than the east coast.

RT: How so?

GM: It just is. Sometimes it's a naive optimism. People just think things are possible. It's a much less cynical place. I love that sense of optimism. It makes people more friendly.

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