Carnegie Mellon University
May 11, 2020

Gillian Ryan to Fill Director of Undergraduate Affairs Role

By Theresa Gabrielli

The Physics Department is excited to announce that Gillian Ryan will be joining the faculty this summer to fill the role of Director of Undergraduate Affairs.

Ryan earned her bachelor's degree in physics from St. Francis Xavier University in 2004, and her Ph.D. in physics in the Rutenberg group at Dalhousie University in 2010. She comes to CMU from Kettering University in Flint, MI, where she has been a faculty member since 2013. Throughout her academic career, she constantly felt the pull towards teaching and interacting with students.

"For me, teaching, mentoring, and advising undergraduate students are the most rewarding and fulfilling aspects of my work," Ryan said. "[The Director of Undergraduate Affairs] position appealed to me because of the many opportunities it provides to apply my professional strengths to support a large, diverse group of physics students.

This brand new position was created to emphasize the importance of teaching and advising in the department. Advising is critical to student success both during their time at CMU and after, as Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs Maggie Braun explains.

"Our advisors do so much more than just help students select courses to fill requirements – they offer a holistic approach to help students develop and prepare so many ways for life after graduation," said Braun. "Our advisors often connect our students with opportunities they didn't know of, alumni in positions of interest, and support them through difficult personal situations, among many other areas of support."

"We aim to provide students with access to state-of-the-art research and other benefits of a large university while maintaining the small-school community feeling that is our hallmark," said Scott Dodelson, head of the Department of Physics. "The Director of Undergraduate Affairs will have as her main responsibility the fostering of this community and ensuring that each student gets the individual attention that will empower them to succeed."

Ryan's teaching and advising style is very student-centric. She believes active listening, engaging with students on their level, and encouraging passion and participation leads to student success.

"As an advisor it is my role to support students as they pursue their goals, and to tailor that support to best meet each student's individual circumstances and needs whenever possible," she said.

Her research background is in computational biological physics. She made headlines in 2015 for her work in warming blanket technology for newborn infants in developing nations. This project alone involved an understanding of crystal formation, fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, and nanoparticles. Having this wide breadth of expertise will be an asset for CMU physics students. "I aim to help students make connections between different disciplines and to identify transferable skills, such as quantitative reasoning or critical thinking, as they apply them," Ryan said.

She is also actively involved in initiatives to improve undergraduate physics education. She currently serves on the organizing committee for the Partnership for Integration of Computation into Undergraduate Physics (PICUP), a group dedicated to supporting the development and improvement of undergraduate physics education through organic integration of computation across its curriculum.

Outside of academia, Ryan can often be found walking, hiking or preparing for her next half marathon. She will join the department in July.