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Hess announces decision to step down as School of Education dean

October 3, 2023
A photo of Diana Hess standing outside the School of Education building's. stone front steps and red doors.

Diana Hess, dean of UW’s School of Education since 2015, will return to the faculty in summer 2024, leaving a legacy of growth, excellence and innovation at one of the nation’s most prominent schools of education.

Diana Hess, who has served as dean of the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Education since 2015, announced today that she will return to the faculty in summer 2024, leaving a legacy of growth, excellence and innovation at one of the nation’s most prominent schools of education.

The School of Education is consistently ranked as one of the top schools of education in the nation and is currently No. 3, according to U.S News & World Report, with 10 of the school’s graduate programs in education ranked in the top 15 nationally. The school’s number of undergraduate and graduate majors has grown 25 percent during Dean Hess’s tenure, and the number of student credit hours has grown nearly 60 percent during the same period.

The School of Education is home to 10 academic departments: Art, Counseling Psychology, Curriculum and Instruction, Dance, Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, Educational Policy Studies, Educational Psychology, Kinesiology, Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education, and Theatre and Drama. It also includes the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, one of the first and most productive education research centers in the world.

“Diana has been an innovative and effective leader in the School of Education and on our campus. She has made a lasting impact on teaching, well-being and in the arts in our state and beyond, and she has served as a mentor to many other campus leaders,” Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin says. “We are grateful for her incredible service and commitment to the Wisconsin Idea and look forward to her continued leadership of The Discussion Project.”

“It has been the highlight of my career to serve as the dean of the School of Education and to work with the remarkable staff, faculty, students and alumni whose efforts have enabled the school to offer new and innovative academic programs, expand and strengthen the impact of our research and artistic contributions and deliver on the promise of the Wisconsin Idea,” says Hess.

“Diana has been a passionate and impactful leader,” said Provost Charles Isbell. “Although I have not had the opportunity to work with her for long, I am grateful for the work she has done as dean and the support and advice she has given me during my own transition. I look forward to the good work she will be doing in the future.”

In August of 2020, the School of Education launched Impact 2030, an ambitious initiative to strengthen the already highly regarded school. Designed to push the boundaries of innovation, research and creativity leading up to the school’s centennial celebration in 2030, the program is made up of four pillars: increasing student scholarships, bolstering support for faculty and staff, ensuring access to exceptional learning experiences for students and helping to solve the teacher shortage in Wisconsin.

One of Impact 2030’s innovations is the UW–Madison School of Education Wisconsin Teacher Pledge, which uses donor funds to provide the equivalent of in-state tuition and fees, as well as testing and licensing costs, for students in any of the school’s 15 teacher education programs who pledge to stay in Wisconsin following graduation and teach for three to four years.

More than 725 School of Education graduates or current students have taken the pledge, and pledge takers are now teaching in 88 public school districts and in private schools across Wisconsin.

Hess considers it among the most innovative programs she was involved in during her time as dean.

“It’s a new way of addressing the serious teacher shortage here in Wisconsin and has the potential to be a model for the entire state and beyond,” she says.

Over the course of her tenure as dean, the School of Education has raised $112 million, created 12 new professorships and 18 faculty fellowships and dramatically increased scholarship support for undergraduate and graduate students. In 2022, the school launched the Dean’s Excellence Scholarship initiative, which so far has provided 135 undergraduate students with 4-year scholarships across the arts, health and education.

Eric Wilcots, dean of UW–Madison’s College of Letters & Science, called Hess “a remarkable leader and colleague.”

“Her initiatives, including The Discussion Project and the Teacher Pledge, have already had an impressive impact,” Wilcots says. “I have learned a lot from her as a fellow dean, and it has been a joy working with her on any number of priorities — even when the circumstances might have been difficult. And she is just a great friend. I wish her all the best in whatever comes next.”

Hess says a priority of her deanship was to create a “one-school ethos” to ensure that all parts of the school receive excellent support and are encouraged to work together in partnership.

Faisal Abdu’Allah, professor of printmaking and Chazen Family Distinguished Chair in Art at UW–Madison, says Hess approaches collaboration across the multiple disciplines of education, health and art like an artist approaches a collage.

“What she has been able to do is to understand how to use creativity to bring all of our worlds together,” Abdu’Allah says. “Like the great surrealists, she has been able to bring together three very disparate elements to create a cohesive vision that creates the conditions for excellence to thrive.”

Hess, the Karen A. Falk Distinguished Professor of Education, has focused her research on examining how teachers engage their students in discussions of highly controversial political and constitutional issues.

After stepping down as dean, Hess will continue to lead The Discussion Project, which has, since its founding in 2017, provided intensive professional development on how to create more engaging and inclusive classroom discussions. The Discussion Project has already served 1,200 instructors at UW–Madison and other campuses and teachers in schools in the U.S. and abroad. Hess will also focus on co-authoring a book on the project with Lynn Glueck.

An internationally recognized scholar, Hess was elected to the National Academy of Education in 2019. Prior to becoming dean, Hess served as senior vice president of the Spencer Foundation.

Hess received her doctorate from the University of Washington, master’s degree from the University of Illinois and bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University. After beginning her career in education as a high school social studies teacher, Hess joined the faculty at UW–Madison in 1999 as an assistant professor.

A search for the next dean of the School of Education will begin this fall.