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Wheeler leads way for College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

February 02, 2007

Quentin WheelerAs far back as he can remember, Quentin Wheeler, the recently appointed ASU vice president and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has been on a quest to discover unknown species. A life-altering moment, he recalls, may have been at age 8, when, trying out his friend's new birthday gift – a cheap department-store microscope – he brought into focus protozoa “swimming” in a drop of water.

It wasn't long before Wheeler began collecting small samples of water, and then gallons of pure cultures, which he stored in a basement laboratory at home. In high school, he progressed to bacteriology and was “gung-ho to study microbiology” in college, when he took an entomology class and realized he had always been a taxonomist – someone who enjoyed discovering and classifying species.

Fast-forward to the present, where there are roughly 1.7 million named species, representing at most 20 percent of living species on Earth, Wheeler says. To accelerate human knowledge and understanding of the planet's living diversity, Wheeler will establish the International Institute for Species Exploration at ASU, which will lead in the creation of “cybertaxonomy,” a fusion of taxonomy with computer science and engineering. The institute will be housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, with strong linkages to the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering.

Wheeler joined ASU in July as a professor in the School of Life Sciences, with the task of establishing the new research institute. Soon after, he was asked to serve as the interim dean of the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. In late December, he was appointed ASU vice president and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, succeeding David A. Young, who moved into the newly created position of ASU senior vice president for academic affairs.

Wheeler, often seen wearing his signature black cowboy boots, is well-prepared for the challenges before him. He holds undergraduate and advanced degrees in the field of entomology from Ohio State University, and most recently served two years as the keeper and head of the Department of Entomology at the Natural History Museum in London, overseeing a staff of 130 and an estimated 28 million prepared specimens that represent more than half of all insect species known on Earth.

Before that, the Ohio native held faculty and administrative positions with Cornell University for 24 years, where he was a professor in entomology and plant biology. He also is a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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From 2001 to 2003, he served as director of the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology.

In his new dual role as founding director of the International Institute for Species Exploration, and as ASU vice president and dean of the university's largest and most diverse college, Wheeler joins a new breed of deans at ASU: researcher and visionary leader.

“Quentin Wheeler has a passion for discovery and a 21st century sense of species classification,” says ASU President Michael Crow. “That potent mixture of knowledge and curiosity to discover the relationships among Earth's species reflects the transformative style going on at ASU as we build a great research university.”

In announcing Wheeler's appointment in December, Elizabeth D. Capaldi, executive vice president and university provost, said: “Quentin's qualifications speak for themselves. He has shown himself to be broad and appreciative of all the disciplines in the college, with a genuine understanding of collaborating across the university.”

As ASU vice president and college dean, Wheeler will serve as the academic leader of the college, with primary responsibility for academic affairs and strategic planning. To assist with day-to-day management of the college, Wheeler appointed Alan Artibise as executive dean. Artibise also will continue to serve in his role as dean of the Division of Social Sciences until a replacement is named.

In acknowledging the speed at which change is occurring at ASU, Wheeler recently told the college's chairs and directors that “there's strength and forward motion everywhere at ASU,” and that each of them was an essential part of the college's management team.

“It's important that we work together to get the resources you need,” he says. “I'll rely on you to be the primary point of delivery.”

“Change will come from the grassroots,” he adds.

One of his objectives is to foster an atmosphere of creative and visionary teaching, research and scholarship capable of transforming excellence. Another objective will be to model a culture of service in the college.