Maria J. Donoghue Velleca began her tenure as Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences on July 1, 2020. Previously she served as Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Strategic Planning at Georgetown University, and as a Professor of Biology focused on developmental neuroscience (cv). At Georgetown, she also founded and directed the Neurobiology Undergraduate Program, directed the university’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute Program, served on the Faculty Senate and its Steering Committee, and was an advisory board member for the university’s Center for New Design in Learning and Scholarship. She obtained her Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology from Washington University and was a member of the faculty of Yale University School of Medicine before joining Georgetown’s Faculty of Arts & Sciences. Here she shares some thoughts on her background and academic leadership.
Reflections on Research and Teaching in Neuroscience
Throughout my scholarly career I’ve directed a laboratory of undergraduate and graduate students performing basic research on brain development. We have been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation and have contributed to the field’s understanding of how neuronal diversity arises in the central and peripheral nervous systems – important information when considering brain function in health and disease. I have loved mentoring students in my laboratory: all of the papers we published at Georgetown included Ph.D. students as authors, and more than 75 percent included undergraduate authors.
Commitment to Inclusive Communities
I am a firm believer that academic communities benefit when participants in shared work reflect the diversity of the worlds in which we live. Reaching that level of diversity requires close attention to recruitment, mentoring, and retention of the widest variety of faculty and staff. At the same time, we need to strive for institutional inclusion, so that there is easy mixing of backgrounds, disciplines, and perspectives. There is much to do and much to learn as we work together to create the community to which we aspire.
Drawn to the Complexities of the Liberal Arts
For me, what makes Arts & Sciences so exciting is the diverse, interconnected, and accomplished faculty and students who commit to this distinctive approach to education. A liberal arts education, by design, trains the mind to think hard across subjects and addresses the motivations and methods of knowledge and belief. I believe that mixing together a variety of discipline-specific approaches opens the intellect and creates fertile ground for a lifetime of learning. Intellectually and administratively, the liberal arts are a wonderfully messy proposition – it’s a privilege to act as a steward and to promote innovation in this centerpiece of William & Mary’s scholarship and education.
Thoughts on Leadership
I’ve always been fascinated with understanding what makes an institution special, how leaders espouse that uniqueness, and how that identity can be maintained faithfully. As I have grown to understand administrative positions in higher education, I appreciate the Dean’s many roles. A major responsibility of the Dean is to create an environment with excitement for knowledge creation, in which scholarly undertakings are celebrated and supported. As Dean, I aim to work collaboratively to build trust and a sense of shared mission, to support the scholarly and professional development of our faculty and staff, to engage our faculty leadership and university leaders so that we are working in alignment with one another, and to serve as a point of intersection for our students, faculty, staff, and alumni and external stakeholders. These are exciting times for Arts & Sciences; I could not be more delighted to be leading the collaborations shaping our future.