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Rosemary Blieszner named interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences; Elizabeth Spiller to take new post at University of California, Davis

February 2, 2017

Rosemary Blieszner
Elizabeth Spiller (left) and Rosemary Blieszner

Alumni Distinguished Professor Rosemary Blieszner has been named interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences effective March 6, following today’s announcement by the University of California, Davis, which named Elizabeth Spiller as its new dean of the College of Letters and Science.

“Rosemary is one of a kind and this opportunity is a great fit for her and for Virginia Tech,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Thanassis Rikakis. “She not only brings a record of outstanding scholarship in her field, she has a unique and visionary leadership perspective that will be a true asset to this college and the university.

“The range of roles she holds at the university — Alumni Distinguished Professor, associate dean of the graduate school, liaison to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, and co-chair of the Beyond Boundaries steering committee — not only demonstrates her strong leadership capabilities, but gives her valuable insight into the current perspectives and future needs of our faculty, staff, and students,” added Rikakis. “She is, above all, passionate about the future success of Virginia Tech, and I look forward to working with her in this capacity.”

Rikakis and Blieszner will hold an open forum for the college's faculty and staff on Friday from noon to 1 p.m. in Assembly Hall at the Holtzman Alumni Center.

“Rosemary is an outstanding leader who has been instrumental in creating our vision for Virginia Tech's future, and I am confident she will excel as the interim dean of the college,” added President Tim Sands. “Her ability to guide complex teams through change is exemplary, as is her passion for excellence. Her work with the Beyond Boundaries steering committee has surpassed my expectations and provided the framework for our journey forward.”

A member of the Virginia Tech faculty since 1981, Blieszner was named Alumni Distinguished Professor of Human Development in 2002. In 2014, she was elected president of the Gerontological Society of America, the nation’s largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to the field of aging. Her scholarship includes writing or editing six books, 41 book chapters, and 75 peer-reviewed journal articles.

In addition, Blieszner has served as associate dean of the Graduate School since 2009 and was associate director of the Center for Gerontology for more than 30 years.

“The College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences is a strong college that serves its mission well and cares about students, faculty, and staff,” said Blieszner. “I am thankful to Dean Spiller for providing her expertise in shaping strong and significant programs in the arts, humanities, and human sciences. I am excited for this opportunity to guide the college under the vision and direction of our president and provost.”

Since assuming the deanship in 2014, Spiller has overseen a dozen academic departments and programs, the School of Performing Arts, the School of Education, and three ROTC programs. Together these programs represent 450 full-time faculty members, an enrollment of more than 4,000 undergraduate primary and secondary majors, and 1,200 graduate students across 30 undergraduate majors and 37 master’s degree and doctoral degree programs.

“In just a few years, Elizabeth has helped to transform the landscape of liberal arts and human sciences at Virginia Tech,” said Rikakis. “The quality of our programs in these disciplines has always been high, but we needed to shine a greater light on them. Elizabeth has advocated passionately for the importance of these programs to our students and to the university, and we’ll always be grateful for the legacy she leaves.”

Spiller established the Destiny Scholars program, using multiyear pledges to create four-year scholarships for underrepresented and underserved student populations. She initiated a strategic communications effort to focus on the distinctive value of the liberal arts and human sciences at Virginia Tech, as reflected in the redesign of the college website and the launch of a new magazine. Most recently, she created the Office for VT-Shaped Learning, which brings to life an educational construct she proposed in 2015.

Spiller has focused on expanding the college’s curricular offerings, enabling departments to create majors in such areas as multimedia journalism, national security, and criminology. Additional programs are being developed in security governance, creative technologies in music, social justice, sports media and analytics, and science and technology studies.

These initiatives have been reflected in the college’s recruitment successes. During Spiller’s time at Virginia Tech, the college has achieved a 59 percent increase in applications and a 42 percent increase in incoming freshmen. These were the largest percentage increases at the university and reversed a seven-year decline in enrollment across the college.

“I’m deeply grateful not just to Virginia Tech’s leadership, but to the faculty of our college as well,” said Spiller. “They represent a wealth of talent and a spirit of intellectual generosity. Their creativity in scholarship and teaching enriches our students and, ultimately, the world.”

An international search for a new dean will be launched in fall 2017.

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