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Who better to lead the College of General Studies than a woman who has spent decades working to raise its national profile?
Natalie McKnight has been named interim dean of the College of General Studies by President Robert A. Brown and Provost Jean Morrison, effective July 1. A member of the CGS faculty since 1990, McKnight was chair of the humanities division from 1997 to 2011 and has been the college’s associate dean for faculty research and development and director of its Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning (CITL) since 2011.
McKnight succeeds Linda Wells, who stepped down as dean at the end of the spring semester after more than a decade in the position. Following a sabbatical leave, Wells will return to the University to serve as an advisor on student career development and alumni relations. In a letter sent last month to CGS faculty and staff and the University’s Leadership Group announcing McKnight’s appointment, Morrison praised Wells for “13 years of remarkable service in leadership of CGS.”
The appointment of an academic dean is “among the most important decisions that we make,” she noted, adding that McKnight is “extraordinarily well suited” to both continue to grow CGS and to highlight the college’s reputation as a leader in general education on a national scale. “Her significant experience and boundless energy make her an outstanding choice to lead CGS,” wrote Morrison.
McKnight will serve as interim dean for the 2013-2014 academic year. At the end of that time, according to Morrison, the University will “consider the establishment of a new, formal search for a permanent dean.”
A 23-year CGS veteran, McKnight says she is excited about her new role and that one of her main goals is to continue to increase the college’s national profile. She points to how faculty and administrators from other universities are increasingly visiting CGS as proof that it has become a model for general and interdisciplinary education.
McKnight cites the college’s e-portfolio program, which serve as both a self-assessment and a career tool for students, as one example of what makes CGS a leader in the field of general education.
“Increasingly people who hire are looking for more than just a résumé, and an electronic portfolio can be a great showcase as to what a person can do, not just what a person has done,” McKnight says. “These e-portfolios give a richer picture of our students than you would see on a CV or a résumé.”
Best of all, the e-portfolio can be used by CGS administrators to demonstrate the college’s impact on helping students to progress and improve. “We know anecdotally that over the last 60 years we’ve seen the really dramatic impact our program has on students,” she says. “Now e-portfolios are a quantitative way of showing the progress that we bring about in our students. BU, in general, is increasingly interested in assessment, so our model may be one that can help other BU programs design something that is not just a one-shot exit exam.”
She also cites the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning as another reason for the college’s growing reputation. The CITL program, which promotes excellence in undergraduate education by supporting undergraduate internships and research opportunities, offers graduate student and postdoctoral teacher training, program assessment, and various forums for professors and administrators to explore ideas about interdisciplinary education. The center’s interdisciplinary institutes provide lifelong learners an opportunity to take thematically related interdisciplinary courses while participating in cultural events in Boston.
McKnight holds a bachelor’s degree in English and Drama from Washington College, a master’s degree in creative writing from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, and a PhD in English literature from the University of Delaware. She is an expert on Victorian fiction and a noted scholar of Charles Dickens. She currently serves as coeditor of Dickens Studies Annual and archivist of Dickens Quarterly, is the author of Idiots, Madmen, and Other Prisoners in Dickens and Suffering Mothers in Mid-Victorian Novels, and coauthor and editor of Fathers in Victorian Fiction.
As for her new role, McKnight acknowledges feeling a little nervous, but says that’s a good thing. “It’s nervous energy, but that can help you get through heavy lifting, and I think there will be a lot of heavy lifting,” she predicts. “I’ll take that energy and put it to good use.”