Director for Education Carrie Cowan (Photo: Scott Wagner for the Santa Fe Institute)

In the few short months since Carrie Cowan arrived at SFI, she’s been immersed in the culture and in uncovering new ways to advance the Institute’s educational mission. But the moments that most stand out to SFI’s new Director for Education are all about the people.

“Some of the most remarkable experiences have been lunchtimes and teatimes, when you just sit down with random people,” Cowan explains. “You end up having these amazing conversations about science and about life — always with a lot of intellectual curiosity.”

Cowan joined SFI in September from Jackson Laboratory, a biomedical research institution in Maine, where she oversaw Ph.D. and post-doctoral training. She led similar efforts at New York’s Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory following a research career at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna, Austria. Her journey to SFI — and to complexity science —started early on.

“I’m a scientist by training and was very interested in how cells create spatial patterns and make decisions based on that information,” she says. “My work wasn’t necessarily complex systems, but it was adjacent, and I always had SFI in my mind.”

Once Cowan started her own research group and was training postdocs, she gravitated toward education. She was particularly interested in the process of preparing our next generation of scientists — not just with intellectual skills, but in the practice of science.

“My interest in patterning and decision-making across systems connects me to SFI research,” Cowan explains. “But I also have a holistic view of training. To look at things from multiple perspectives, not just the one discipline I took a bunch of courses in, gives me a much more liberal view of the world, and that’s essential in how we structure education.”

Cowan’s perspective on education aligns with SFI’s mission, especially when it comes to expanding the reach of complexity science.

“We want SFI’s rigorous approach to be available to everybody,” she says, “so Complexity Explorer, our online platform, includes great courses on how the math works and what it means. That’s the goal: to make the rigor accessible to everyone.”