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College of Science dean writes memoir

Kristen Durbin | Thursday, February 21, 2013


In the mere four years since he joined the Notre Dame family as the dean of the College of Science in 2008, Gregory Crawford has ridden his bike across the country three times, met two U.S. presidents and traveled to Haiti on several occasions. 

In his recently published book, “The Education of a Notre Dame Science Dean: My Four-Year Ride with the Irish,” Crawford recounts his experiences thus far in his tenure at the University and the ways they have impacted him personally. 

Although he began writing the book in September, Crawford said he contemplated the focus of the book during his third cross-country bike ride, this one stretching from Boston to California.

“I think it was all about the people,” he said. “I was originally only going to write it for my daughters, but then someone said, ‘You should really launch this thing because other people would like to read about … how you can learn as an adult.”

Crawford said he considered his personal growth in light of two commencement speeches he has given: one at Trinity School in South Bend shortly after he arrived at Notre Dame and one last spring at his alma mater, Kent State University. 

“I was sort of reflecting on two kind of endpoints,” he said. “I saw how my message changed and was sort of thinking about why that was the case.”

Crawford said he realized the four years he spent at Notre Dame between those public addresses prompted a profound change in his mindset and experiences.

“I’ve been so influenced by Notre Dame students, alumni and the sort of bigger mission [of Notre Dame],” he said. “That’s how I started to put [the book] together.”

During his tenure at the University, Crawford has had the opportunity to fish with University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh and meet former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and President Barack Obama, in addition to scores of Notre Dame students and alumni. These encounters form the core of his book’s content, Crawford said.

With regard to the time he spent with Hesburgh, Crawford said its significance was “not so much about fishing.”

“I mean, who can say they’ve [fished with Hesburgh]?” he said. “It’s about spending three days on a lake listening to him talk about the history of Notre Dame and the United States and how he influenced it.”

Crawford said he recalls feeling “almost flabbergasted” when Carter sought out the Notre Dame delegation in Haiti in 2008. 

“When [Carter] said, ‘Hey, are you with Notre Dame?’ I really realized how leaders and presidents actually view the University and how much they knew about it,” Crawford said. “In some ways I was shocked, but after you think about it, you’re like, no kidding, of course they know Notre Dame and understand its values and really cherish what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

But as the Dean of Notre Dame’s College of Science, one of Crawford’s most cherished relationships is his “phenomenal partnership” with the family of former football coach Ara Parseghian and the medical research foundation named for him. 

As a result of the diagnosis and eventual passing of three of Parseghian’s grandchildren with the rare genetic disease Niemann-Pick Type C (NPC), Crawford said the University has committed strongly to finding a cure for the disease through research. 

“Since we have such a connection with the family … we want to be the ones that really solve this in the future,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can and partnering with anybody else who shares our mission and passion for finding a cure for this disease.” 

Crawford himself has made a personal commitment to the cause by contributing all proceeds from his book to the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation and completing three transcontinental bike rides to raise awareness of NPC. 

But more important than the research itself has been Crawford’s friendship with Cindy Parseghian, one of the foundation’s co-founders and a member of the Science Advisory Board, Crawford said. 

“What she and [husband] Mike [Parseghian] did with the foundation around the world to search for a cure for the disease that eventually took the lives of their own children … is just phenomenal,” he said. “The hope they provide to families is just unbelievable even though their kids have since passed.”

Working so closely with the Foundation has given Crawford the chance to interact with legendary coach Ara Parseghian, a relationship made even more significant by the fact that Crawford’s great-uncle played football for Knute Rockne.

“Whenever we ask [Parseghian] for anything, he’s always there. He’s the nicest guy,” Crawford said. “He’s very passionate and an excellent speaker, and he talks to our scientists about finding a cure much like he probably hopped up his football team in his speeches.”

On a daily basis, Crawford said he has been personally impacted by Notre Dame students, especially those who have joined the movement to find a cure for NPC through research and fundraising. 

“It’s been pretty incredible to interact with students by supporting them, having them support our efforts and, most importantly, learning from them,” he said. 

In recalling such meaningful life experiences and special people, Crawford said all are united by a common thread. 

“I really enjoyed [writing the book] and kind of putting it all together,” he said. “There’s a lot of connections between the various chapters, but the underlying thing is the mission of Notre Dame, which is what brings people together.” 

“The Education of a Notre Dame Science Dean” is available for sale at the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore and through Corby Books.