University News

Vanessa Ryan named associate dean of Grad School

Ryan will lead a training program for teaching assistants, as outlined in Paxson’s strategic plan

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, January 23, 2014

Assistant Professor of English Vanessa Ryan was named associate dean of the Graduate School earlier this month, Dean of the Graduate School Peter Weber wrote in an email to The Herald. Her new position was created as part of an initiative in President Christina Paxson’s strategic plan to improve doctoral students’ teaching abilities.

In her new post, Ryan will “listen, collaborate and help define the best pedagogical practices needed by teaching assistants,” Weber wrote, adding that she will directly engage in teacher training.

Several of Ryan’s  colleagues said she was likely chosen for her own strong teaching skills. Ryan is “a tremendous teacher and she has a proven record of excellence in the classroom,” said Philip Gould, professor of English and chair of the department.

Ryan was granted the Henry Merritt Wriston Fellowship, an award presented to an assistant professor or lecturer with a “record of excellence in teaching and scholarship,”  for the 2013-2014 academic year, according to the fellowship website.

As a fellow at the National Forum for the Future of Liberal Education for the last three years, Ryan organized a TEDx conference on the importance of a liberal education at Brown and became interested in an administrative job, she wrote in an email to The Herald. She added that as an administrator, she hopes to strengthen graduate students’ abilities to teach liberal arts courses.

Some of Ryan’s former students praised her talent as a lecturer.

Annette Lopez ’14 said Ryan is an “amazing and passionate professor … who loves what she does.”

Samantha St. Lawrence ’14 called her “one of the best lecturers on campus,” adding, “It’s sad that she’s leaving undergraduate teaching.”

In her role as associate dean, Ryan will also communicate with the Office of the Dean of the College and the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning to improve undergraduates’ learning experiences, Weber wrote.

The initiative that led to the creation of the new role provides resources to strengthen teaching assistants’ instructing skills, Weber wrote, adding that the initiative will help the University “attract ever-stronger doctoral students.”

Both Ryan and Weber highlighted the importance of teaching to the graduate student experience, regardless of whether students remain in the classroom after securing their degrees.

“Teaching has been something of a calling for me,” Ryan wrote. She added that she looks forward to incorporating teaching as an essential component of graduate education.

Ryan will not be teaching this semester and does not expect to teach undergraduates this fall, she wrote. Two undergraduate courses that she was scheduled to teach this semester — ENGL 1511M: “Victorian Self and Society” and ENGL 1560R: “From Frankenstein to Einstein: Literature and Science from 1800 to 1950” — were canceled.

Gould emailed students in December who had preregistered for Ryan’s spring courses after he learned of Ryan’s appointment so they could find alternative courses, he said. The Department of English will discuss the possibilities of hiring another faculty member and offering other courses on Victorian literature to replace those that Ryan would have taught, he added.