School faculty and staff reunite at traditional ‘Welcome Back Bash’


School of Education faculty and staff gathered outdoors for the traditional Welcome Back Bash on Sep. 2, 2021.

It was a beautiful late summer day for members of the School of Education community — many used to seeing each other only in boxes on their computer screens — to reunite for the traditional Welcome Back Bash for faculty and staff, in the North Plaza of the Education Building overlooking Lake Mendota, on Thursday, Sept. 2. 

While enjoying a full tailgate lunch, and picking up T-shirts tagged with the phrase “Lead and Inspire,” attendees took a break from their workdays to catch up with colleagues and kick off the new school year. 

With last year’s celebration curtailed due to COVID-19, this was the first opportunity for some new staff and faculty to meet their colleagues in person, and for others it was a welcome chance to reconnect after over a year of remote work and instruction. 

Lunch at Welcome Back Bash
Attendees enjoyed a full tailgate lunch.

School of Education Dean Diana Hess briefly addressed the crowd. She began by thanking everyone for their hard work over the past 18 months. “Because of the hard work of all of you,” she said, “we found out in March that, once again, we are one of the most highly ranked schools of education in the United States.”

This year, the UW–Madison School of Education is the second-ranked public school of education in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report’s Best Graduate Schools Rankings, and the fourth ranked school among all private and public institutions. 

Hess shared some highlights of what the School has achieved in the past year, including the successful launch of the Impact 2030 initiative in August 2020 — for which $40 million was raised to strengthen student scholarships, bolster faculty support, improve innovative and transformational learning experiences, and invest in future teachers with the Teacher Pledge.

Dean Diana Hess at Welcome Back Bash
Dean Diana Hess thanked School faculty and staff for their hard work over the past 18 months.

Impact 2030 allowed the School to provide scholarships to over 800 students who were negatively impacted by COVID-19, Hess said, and because of that virtually all of the School’s students were able to continue their programs through the pandemic, and graduate on time as they had planned. 

Hess also remarked that this year, the School will give out more scholarship money to undergraduate and graduate students than ever before, and this financial support has contributed to UW–Madison, and the School, welcoming its largest and most diverse first-year class in history. 

Over 8,600 first-year students are expected to be entering UW–Madison this year, Hess said, and many of these students will enroll in the School of Education’s wonderful academic programs, including several new majors and certificate programs that have launched over the past few years.

Welcome Back Bash 2021
Colleagues were reunited after 18 months of remote work and virtual instruction.

Hess concluded her address as she began — by acknowledging the remarkable work done throughout the School.

“During the pandemic, I kind of thought that if we could just tread water, that would be a victory,” she said. “But in fact what we have learned is that all of you are certainly not just treading water, you are doing remarkable things.”

Hess then thanked the School’s leadership team, and gave a special thanks to those members who have served out their terms or retired from the university. She then introduced the School’s new associate dean for academic programs, Adam Nelson, a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies, who introduced the School’s new associate deans for the arts, health, and education: Faisal Abdu’Allah, the Chazen Family Distinguished Chair in Art with the Art Department, is now the associate dean for the arts; Gary Diffee, the William H. and Virginia F. Marsh Professor with the Department of Kinesiology, is the associate dean for health; and Stacey Lee, the Frederick Erickson WARF Professor with the Department of Educational Policy Studies, is the associate dean for education.

Suzanne Eckes at Welcome Back Bash 2021
Suzanne Eckes (second from right) is a new professor in the School’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.

Nelson also introduced the School’s 10 department chairs, who introduced the three talented scholars joining the School as faculty members this fall: Scott K. Crawford and Tanya Schlam, both assistant professors in the Department of Kinesiology, and Suzanne Eckes, a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.

Since there was no Welcome Back Bash last year, the 16 faculty members who joined the School during the 2020-21 academic year were also introduced — which marked one of the largest cohorts to sign on with the School since its founding in 1930.

Marianne Spoon at Welcome Back Bash
Marianne Spoon is the School’s new associate dean for communications and advancement.

Other leadership changes over the past year and a half that were announced during the event include: Lisa Barker started her new role as the executive director of the School’s Office of Professional Learning and Community Education (PLACE) in May 2021; Courtney Bell is the director of the School’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER), a position she started in July 2020; Amber Fournier is WIDA’s deputy director, a position she started in April 2020; Marianne Spoon this August started her position as the School’s associate dean for communications and advancement; and also in August, Percival Matthews, an associate professor with the Department of Educational Psychology, was named interim associate dean for equity, diversity, and inclusion.

In addition, Li-Ching Ho, an associate professor with the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, is now the sole faculty director of the Global Engagement Office (with Adam Nelson’s appointment as senior associate dean) and Anna Lewis is now the School’s sole interim CIO and director of MERIT (following the summer retirement of Brenda Spychalla).