Eleanor Feingold, Oregon State University’s incoming College of Science dean, takes on her new role at a pivotal time for the institution. An evolving higher education landscape, changing demographics, reduced state funding and a new strategic plan pose significant challenges. How will she navigate?
One thing seems certain: Feingold will bring to the College a passion for both basic and translational research that has the potential to create real-world impact around shared goals.
A statistical geneticist with nearly 20 years of leadership experience at the research giant University of Pittsburgh, Feingold's journey is marked by a drive to effect positive change.
“I see no purpose in dedicating my life to advancing technology if it doesn't improve the well-being of as many people as possible."
This guiding principle emerged early in her life. During her college career at MIT, Feingold designed her own major, combining writing, mathematics and public policy — three top enduring passions that overtly connect data-informed theory to tangible impact.
Her motivation persisted into her occupation. During her work in the electric power industry, she confronted the limitations of deterministic planning models for informing critical decisions. Recognizing the need to incorporate random variation to create more practical models, Feingold pursued a Ph.D. in statistics at Stanford.
Over her almost two decades of collaborative leadership at the University of Pittsburgh, she achieved significant accomplishments. Notably, as associate dean of the School of Public Health, she built on the school’s traditional role as a research powerhouse by working with faculty teams to develop new degree programs spanning all levels to educate students in high-impact scientific and public health fields.
Elected an American Statistical Association Fellow in 2010, Feingold has amassed an impressive portfolio of scholarship and teaching over the course of her career. Her research focuses on the genetics of cleft lip and palate, Alzheimer’s disease, and the interaction between environmental contaminants and human female reproductive processes. She also loves being in the classroom and hopes to fit in opportunities at OSU to teach her two favorite topics — scientific communication and introductory data science.
With her pragmatic, inclusive leadership style, Feingold is poised to achieve shared goals as the College and University both implement new strategic plans — and ultimately, to move science forward with research progress, expanded educational opportunities, improved student success, greater equity and access, and increased community engagement.
Planning the approach with the College of Science community is the exciting challenge ahead.
“I have gained a lot of experience from very basic research to community-engaged research, and I'm genuinely excited about how we will build initiatives where all of those are important and valued,” she said.
“I am particularly captivated by the ‘prosperity for all’ theme of the university strategic plan,” Feingold continued. “I love the idea of a really broad definition of prosperity as economic, social and environmental health for everyone. That's how I hope to embrace the plan and help the College of Science implement it.”
An inclusive, service-minded leader
Feingold’s alignment with the university's vision is reflected in her people-centered leadership approach. As a problem solver who prioritizes teamwork, she characterizes her leadership style as that of a coach, guide and facilitator, placing strong emphasis on the value of active listening and collaboration.
“I love to listen and understand everyone's priorities, needs, what the College can be doing better, and how they think that can be done,” she said. “I want to get things done, but first, I want to do a lot of listening. I'm really excited about the opportunity to do that."
Her dedication to social justice, a guiding principle shared by many in the College of Science, reflects her perception that advancing equity is not only one of the most pressing challenges of our time, but a scientific challenge as well. She makes her commitment clear: “Advancing knowledge and technology must go hand in hand with promoting equity — in alignment with the university’s plan for shared prosperity.”
“I see no purpose in dedicating my life to advancing technology if it doesn't improve the well-being of as many people as possible,” she said.
Advancements in science have often left imbalances in their wake. “Almost every major scientific and technological change in history has had its winners and losers. As scientists we have a moral obligation to notice that and care about it. As we do our science, we can keep an eye on who wins and loses and try to steer things in constructive directions,” she said.
“Some of us can also go a step further and proactively seek out scientific research topics that have the potential to increase prosperity across the board or mitigate the inequitable results of previous scientific or political situations.”
Fostering discovery and connection
Feingold is eager to help advance research initiatives at Oregon State, noting that the College's diverse departments are each marked by exciting areas of research. Signature strengths College of Science strengths highlighted in its strategic plan include:
- Disease science (e.g., microbiomes, protein engineering through GCE4ALL, TRACE-COVID-19), drug development and aging, molecular NMR, including OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute and strong links to Oregon Health and Science University.
- Sustainable materials development for clean energy solutions and next-generation electronics, like batteries, metal organic frameworks and semiconductors.
- Climate change, marine and coastal sciences – from genes to ecosystems, involving deep ties to OSU’s Marine Science Initiative, the Hatﬁeld Marine Science Center and other OSU colleges.
- Data-driven and genome-enabled research in life and environmental sciences, involving the Center for Quantitative Life Sciences.
- Quantitative and computational sciences expertise – essential components of many OSU areas of research and innovation.
- Innovative teaching practices and pedagogical research to increase student success, equity, access and inclusion.
- Curiosity-driven sciences, including strengths in astrophysics (NANOGrav Physics Frontiers Center) and basic research.
She is fascinated by the College’s range of research, spanning from fundamental theory to translational research that addresses both immediate and future real-world problems.
“Our world is very much shaped by technology, and we want to make sure that is a positive thing,” she said. “At the individual level, scientific and technical education can be an important component of social mobility. Even for individuals who are not going to pursue technology-driven careers, scientific literacy is empowering in an era when so many important social and political issues are entangled with technological change.
“At the community level, we want to ensure that technological change furthers ethical and egalitarian goals. We can do that by educating individuals and also by looking for opportunities for research that will have a positive impact on communities."
Innovative approaches to STEM learning
The College's role in pioneering innovative ideas in student success and STEM education fuels Feingold's imagination. “Improving STEM education is so critical in the world right now, and I see a lot of creative initiatives already happening. I am excited about what OSU is doing in those areas and the opportunities to be a part of it,” she said.
She notes the College has already implemented innovative solutions on a broad scale. For example, the Learning Assistant program, introduced within the College and later adopted university-wide, has dramatically improved student success in the Principles of Biology series over the past decade.
Feingold honed her expertise in improving STEM education during her time at Pittsburgh. She also explored creative approaches to improving student success and diversity and access during her American Council on Education Fellowship two years ago, which took her to Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, and at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York.
“Improving STEM education is so critical in the world right now, and I see a lot of creative initiatives already happening. I am excited about what OSU is doing in those areas and the opportunities to be a part of it.”
The adventure begins
Feingold’s first day on campus will be November 6, but she is already a regular at the Corvallis Farmers Market, having visited each time she’s been to town. “I just love the variety of fresh food that's available, and it's so much fun.”
She anticipates the many opportunities to lead her active lifestyle in Oregon. She enjoys vigorous activities like hiking and cycling — and back in the day, even played water polo at Stanford. She is eager to explore the trails and to spend time with her sister and mother who both live in the region. She also plays the viola and will be scouting for musical outlets in Corvallis.
She is also eager to get to know her colleagues and community members as they work together to create avenues for extending the reach and impact of science.
“I would love to see us making significant progress on some of the most visionary things in both the College and the university strategic plans,” she said. “I would love to see our graduation rate achieve and surpass the aspirational target. I would love to see a broad range of research with high impact in the community, and in science. I would love to see a data science research and education program that serves the university and beyond.”
Along the way, embedding access, equity and inclusion in everything will be central: Her goal is “making sure that the advance of knowledge and technology increases equity instead of decreasing it. And I think there's a very important tie-in with the university's strategic plan — making sure that this prosperity really is for everybody.”