Becoming a dean wasn’t in Gary Marchionini’s career plan. A renowned expert in human-information interaction, interface design and testing, and digital libraries, Gary’s primary passions have always centered around writing and teaching. In 2010, however, he put his personal interests aside and accepted the appointment to serve SILS as dean.
Being an academic dean is a complex job. It requires strong research and teaching skills, navigating university politics, and managing budgets. An exceptional dean has vision and can bring faculty and staff together to help students. They must also ensure the institution actively contributes to the advancement of knowledge. They act as both stewards of the institution’s history and shepherds of its future.
“I remembered meeting Gary during my campus visit and felt excited and inspired to join the SILS. He described the faculty as a ‘tapestry,’ highlighting the diversity and uniqueness that each member brings to the School," said Assistant Professor Maggie Melo. She continued, “He emphasized how the research endeavors and the products created by the faculty members were all distinct and varied, contributing to the school’s strength and vitality. Some contributions serve as the structural foundation, while others add vibrancy and beauty to the overall mosaic.”
Commitment to Research
“During his tenure, Gary has stabilized, transformed, and expanded SILS. Programs are thriving, new certificates are meeting the emerging demands of the marketplace, and the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP) is the first center of its kind to focus on the intersections of information, technology, and how we live our lives.” said Board of Visitors Chair David Singleton. “His focus on partnerships, research grants, and contracts allowed SILS to grow during a time of limited resources.”
Gary’s unwavering commitment to research excellence has propelled SILS to unprecedented heights. His staunch support for faculty initiatives and cutting-edge projects has cultivated a dynamic research community within SILS. By facilitating collaboration and providing resources, Gary has strategically positioned SILS as a focal point for pioneering research. This has enhanced the school’s reputation and its contributions to the broader field.
Building a Collaborative Space
Beyond his visionary leadership and dedication to research, Gary’s advocacy for diversity and inclusion has left a significant mark on the culture of SILS. Recognizing the pivotal role that a diverse student body and faculty play in fostering a rich learning environment, he has actively promoted diversity initiatives, creating an inclusive atmosphere that welcomes individuals from all backgrounds. Marchionini’s efforts have been instrumental in shaping SILS into an institution that authentically mirrors the global nature of the information profession.
“As a Dean, Gary worked to build a cohesive and interdisciplinary space. One of the things I valued most was his ability to see, understand, and value how scholars from vastly different disciplines approached their study of information,” said Assistant Professor Francesca Tripodi.
Understanding the imperative of preparing students for the challenges of the digital age, Marchionini championed interdisciplinary programs that bridge the gap between information science and other disciplines. This approach not only enhances the educational experience but also equips students with the adaptability required in a rapidly evolving professional landscape.
“Gary’s actions always reflected his commitment to the success of students, staff, and faculty, because he genuinely cares, and because he knows that the reputation of SILS is reflected in them," said David Singleton.
The COVID Years
When the world went into lockdown in 2020, SILS had to find a way to suddenly move all classes online. Faculty, staff, and students needed support to deal with the unprecedented situation. Gary kept the community moving forward.
“Over the past almost 14 years Gary has led SILS through a multitude of events from economic hardships, program reviews, creation of new programs, celebrating 90 years of SILS, to COVID-19. Through all the events big and small, Gary has led SILS with diligence, caring, patience, and positivity,” said Susan Sylvester, executive assistant to the dean.
What Comes Next
As Marchionini embarks on the next chapter of his journey, his legacy as an academic dean will be remembered as a period of profound positive transformation for SILS. His contributions, from elevating research standards to fostering inclusivity and preparing students for the future, have shaped the institution and left an enduring mark on all who have been a part of its academic community.
“Gary has been an outstanding Dean. He has guided SILS through challenging times and positioned us for an even more impactful future. I am personally glad that he will still be at SILS and returning to the classroom where the School will continue to benefit from gifts as a teacher,” said Board of Visitors member Duncan Smith.
Smith continued, “One of his many lessons that I will continue to embrace is that no dean’s successes are entirely their own. They come about through the efforts and commitments they call upon others to make. Gary taught me that, as a board member and alumnus, one of my continuing responsibilities to SILS is to support and work to ensure the success of its leader. I look forward to doing the same with individuals who next sit in that chair in Manning Hall.”