Inspired by those before her, Linda Schadler ’85 is shaping the next generation of engineers
By Syl Kacapyr
She can trace her Cornell roots back more than 100 years, but Linda Schadler ’85 is focused on the future, sowing engineers as dean of the University of Vermont’s College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, and as a member of the Cornell Engineering College Council.
Long before she was a leader in engineering education, Schadler felt a deep connection to both Cornell University and science. Her Great Aunt Julianne Vaux spent time at the Ivy League university in the late 1800s, either as a student or a librarian, according to her family history. Her grandfather received his doctorate in plant pathology in the 1920s and started his career at what is now Cornell AgriTech. Her parents, uncle, cousin, and other extended family members also attended Cornell, so it’s fair to say Schadler’s blood is of the Big Red variety.
“My grandparents lived near Yale, so we would go to the Yale-Cornell football game and I loved the Big Red Band,” said Schadler. “My father had been in the Big Red Band. I think that I was predispositioned to like Cornell.”
It was ultimately her love of science that drew her to Cornell. Her father an engineer and her mother a biology professor, Schadler considered studying biology and chemical engineering before growing fascinated with materials science.
“It was a mixture of the science and engineering that I was looking for, and there was a fantastic professor who made us all feel welcome,” said Schadler, who also had the opportunity to join a research lab as an undergraduate at Cornell. “The department was a very personable place where the faculty really cared about giving the students opportunities.”
From student to educator
Schadler remained busy outside of the classroom as well, playing basketball for two years, joining the Tri Delta sorority, and, of course, playing the clarinet and the bells as a member of the Big Red Band.
Schadler admits her extracurricular activities and busy social life prevented her from being what she describes as a model student, but after presenting on a materials science topic as part of a senior class assignment, she began to discover a passion for education.
“I realized during that year I wanted a job where I could combine interacting with students and research, which obviously leads you straight to higher education,” said Schadler, who also spent a year teaching leadership as part of a Tri Delta field support program.
From there it was off to graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania before securing her first teaching position at Drexel University. Schadler would then spend 22 years at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where her research lab produced several patents related to polymer nanocomposites, and she was named one of the top 100 Materials Scientists in the world by Times Higher Education. She also served as the associate dean of academic affairs in the School of Engineering, and vice provost and dean of undergraduate education for the university. In 2018, she was appointed dean at the University of Vermont.
Through it all, Schadler has received accolades for both her research and her role in creating educational opportunities for students. While at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, she won several teaching awards, expanded student services as an associate dean, and was one of the executive producers of Molecularium – a planetarium show and cinema experience translated into several languages for K-12 students.
Paying it forward
Even while leading the University of Vermont’s College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, Schadler is helping to steer the direction of Cornell Engineering.
After winning the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award from Cornell’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Schadler was invited to join the department’s advisory council and subsequently the Engineering College Council, which advises college administration on all aspects of long-range planning and development.
Schadler has also been involved with the President’s Council for Cornell Women, has made contributions to the Big Red Band, and has established the Harvey ‘53 and Margaret ‘53 Schadler McMullen Scholarship in her parents’ honor. The scholarship provides financial aid to students, including those who are the first in their immediate family to attend college.
“Both my father and my uncle were funded on McMullen Scholarships and could not have gone to college without them,” said Schadler, “and so I’m happy to contribute in a small way to that overall funding pot to make sure that other first-generation students can have a Cornell education and the multigenerational successes that result from it.”
Building toward the future
At the University of Vermont, Schadler is focused on creating a learning environment that is “a blend between the fundamentals that we know will support the students throughout their career, and the practical teamwork and communication skills” that come from a project-based course.
“I also think that unless we engage diversity fully – and I don't mean just gender balance – we are doing a disservice to society,” said Schadler, adding that ethnicity and socioeconomics should be included in diversity initiatives. “So those are two big things that I'm focused on here.”
Schadler’s advice to students is to make the most of the college experience by getting to know the faculty.
“There are so many opportunities and the faculty are thrilled when you want to interact with them. Do research, have lunch, go to office hours,” suggests Schadler, “because there's so much to be gained that you don't get from just sitting in a lecture.”
Schadler also encourages students to get as much out-of-the-classroom experience as they can now, because those activities will serve them well in the future.
“Join a design team, do undergraduate research, get an internship. Whatever opportunities you can find that let you practice your trade before you graduate,” said Schadler.