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Turner to replace McGinn as STS director

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Communication Prof. Fred Turner is set to replace longtime Science, Technology and Society (STS) Director Robert McGinn next fall after McGinn’s three-year appointment ends in August.

McGinn, a management science and engineering professor, co-directed the program with history Prof. Paula Findlin from 1998 to 2003, when he became the sole director. Under his tenure, STS became the third-largest interdisciplinary program at Stanford. An undergraduate program, it grants bachelor’s degrees in both arts and sciences.

“It’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done,” McGinn wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. “I would do it all over again.”

Turner shares McGinn’s enthusiasm about STS and has served on the program board for several years. When Humanities and Sciences Dean Richard Saller offered Turner the job, he accepted.

“Fred Turner has a great background to direct STS,” Saller said. “He is a passionate teacher and does research on how technology has changed the nature of communication over the generation—a perfect fit for STS.”

Turner’s assumption of the STS directorship has been met with much enthusiasm.

“Fred Turner has a passion for the scholarly issues surrounding science and technology and an inspiring vision of the future of the STS program,” said communication Prof. Jeremy Bailenson.

Turner’s vision for the program includes enhancing the intersection between the worlds of engineering, the humanities and the social sciences. “One of the most exciting things about Stanford is the sheer number of faculty and students thinking about issues that cross these three areas,” Turner said. “We would like STS to continue to be a central gathering point for those folks.”

Four faculty members, two from the School of Engineering and two from the School of Humanities and Sciences, founded the program in 1971, McGinn said.

“Involving faculty from both schools has yielded research and teaching benefits that simply would not have happened if the program had been a one-school venture,” McGinn said.

“I’m very much looking forward to having Robert’s input next year,” Turner wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. “He has been at the core of STS at Stanford for a number of years, and I very much hope he continues to stay involved with the program.”

McGinn oversaw the program’s surge in popularity, exceeded among interdisciplinary majors only by human biology and international relations. In 1996, only 20 students majored in STS, but the number reached 150 last spring. This year, about 50 students will graduate with either bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degrees.

Many of these graduating seniors will go on to work for tech companies. These companies respond positively to the backgrounds of STS majors, which combine humanities and social-science perspectives with varying levels of technical course work, blurring the popular “fuzzy-techie” distinction.

“As media technologies in particular become ubiquitous, the lines between the social and the technological, and even sometimes between the mechanical and the biological, have begun to blur,” Turner said via e-mail. “The STS program strikes me as a perfect place in which to think about that kind of blurring and to prepare students to live alongside it.”