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Crane on Building Bridges

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Governing Board Interview Series

story Regina Marie Lee, Managing Editor
reporting Martin Vasev

Sir Peter Crane is an academic known for his work on the diversity of plant life.
Sir Peter Crane is an academic known for his work on the diversity of plant life. (Karen Teo)

As Director of the Royal Botanic Kew Gardens in the United Kingdom, he first came to Singapore in 2000 to visit the Singapore Botanic Gardens and learn about orchids. Now, Sir Peter Crane sits on the Yale-NUS College Governing Board as a Yale University appointee. He is also Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (YSFES). In this March 2015 interview with The Octant, Mr. Crane talks about the YSFES Concurrent Degree Programme, engagement between Yale and Yale-NUS, and his own life experiences as an academic and administrator. Excerpts from the interview follow:

Can you tell us more about the Concurrent Degree Program with YSFES?

It is a faster track to earn the degree. The program has been very successful at Yale. We really encourage our students not to come straight from their undergraduate degree. Ideally, we prefer our students to get one, two or even three years of experience in an environmental field before they return for their one year in our school. This gives them a little bit more time to figure out where they want to go, but it also means that they bring experiences back to the school from their years in the real world. Most of our students are not 22. Our average age is more like 26. Almost everybody has been out for a year or more. Often these students have worked for a while in some environmentally-related area—it could be in energy, pollution, natural resource management in business or NGOs, for example.

What are some of the decisions that the board has made during your time there that you have been personally passionate about?

Personally, I am also very interested in how Yale and Yale-NUS will engage ever more strongly in the future, because I think this could bring substantial benefits to both institutions.

What kind of engagement do you mean?

Closer ties between Yale and Yale-NUS faculty on research, but also sharing perspectives on pedagogical innovation—what are we teaching and how. I think in every area there is much to be gained by sharing experiences and learning from each other… Similarly, as your Week 7 program evolves, it would be great to have Yale and Yale-NUS students somehow participating together. The two institutions will get a lot out of it. I think we are just beginning to sense some of these opportunities, and we are already acting on a few of them. It does ultimately depend so much on the faculty building strong and mutually beneficial individual relationships, but there is also a role for senior leaders to facilitate and provide encouragement.

You’re an academic with much administrative experience as well. How did you amass [your life] experiences? Was it a conscious decision?

No, I think some of it was pure luck. Part of it was keeping an open-mind and being a committed lifelong learner. My first job was in the UK, a fixed-term appointment … Another decade on, the Kew job came up, I was fortunate to become Chief Executive of a large, complicated and high-profile organization. I have learnt a great deal as I have got along, but a big part of my life has been being open to all these experiences and being willing to employ that crucial pivot between breadth and depth. I have tried never to relinquish my depth. I am still writing my academic papers and I still try to push ahead with my personal scholarship. But I have also enjoyed the variety of opportunities that have come from a greater breadth of responsibilities.

What would you like to tell the Yale-NUS community?

For those students who are not from this part of the world, they have a fantastic opportunity to be part of life in Southeast Asia and to learn from the new experiences that they will have here. And for those students who are from this region, Yale-NUS is also an incredible opportunity—because of the strong group of international students—to broaden their horizons beyond Singapore.

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