If you ask Andrew Davis what the arts mean to him, you will probably get a complex answer. He sees the arts as going beyond acting, singing, playing an instrument, painting a picture or creating a sculpture.

As founding dean of the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts, Davis wants students to think about their disciplines on a holistic level and not be afraid to take risks.

Shaking things up is nothing new for Davis, who was halfway through a civil engineering degree at Penn State University when he realized it was too safe and conventional. He took a leap of faith and went with his true passion, music theory, which evolved into the leadership role he holds today.

The father of two, who rides his bike to work (when it’s not raining of course), shared his vision about how to make the College the most collaborative and socially engaged arts college in the country.

Although you started out in engineering, your professional life since arriving at UH in 2003 has been all about music. Does that engineering background play some role in how you make decisions?

Absolutely. I approach my field in a scientific, methodical and rigorous way. When I became a musician, I had no idea exactly what kind of career I wanted, but a mentor told me, “If you want to make an impact on students’ lives, be in administration.

You stress learning across all disciplines in the College to create a well-rounded student. Give me an example of how you and your faculty are making sure they have the tools to succeed in all aspects of the arts.

We train and prepare students to do anything in life because we teach the collaborative skills, the critical thinking skills, for what is a very highly competitive environment. If you can succeed in the arts, then you can probably succeed in anything. I would love to see us offering a team-taught, interdisciplinary course addressing the role of the visual and performing arts in society today. It’s the broad, liberal learning we need to offer to prepare students for a 21st century arts career.

How does the $20 million gift from the John P. McGovern Foundation and renaming of the College to Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts elevate UH on a global level?

We have a vision to recruit what we call “McGovern Great Artists.” These are people of international stature, artists in all disciplines—performing and visual—who would join the faculty but also maintain an artistic career at the highest level.

What can we expect to see in the coming months?

We have an art history program opening in Mexico City in the summer. We are expanding our current student exchange program in the Moores School of Music with the Mendelssohn Conservatory in the city of Leipzig, Germany. We’ve recently initiated a partnership with the School of Music and the top conservatory in the city of Zagreb, Croatia.

You are certainly on track for making UH a global destination for arts students.

We have to be in a position where we can recruit the best of the next generation to come to Houston because they know they can study with the greatest. You don’t have to go to New York or Los Angeles. If you want to go to a place that collaborates and works in the community, go to Houston. That’s what we want people to say.