Tara Williams named new dean of Barrett, The Honors College

She starts her new position in August

Barrett, The Honors College sign outside of building

Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2022 year in review.

For the first time in nearly 20 years, there will be new leadership this fall at Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University.

Tara Williams will start Aug. 1 as the college’s next dean, Provost Nancy Gonzales announced this week. 

Williams succeeds Mark Jacobs, who served as Barrett Honors College dean since 2003 and is retiring this summer.

In her new role, Williams will lead one of the top honors colleges in the nation, described as “the gold standard” by The News York Times. Named for longtime university supporters former Intel CEO Craig Barrett and Barbara Barrett, former U.S. secretary of the Air Force, Barrett Honors College experienced a great expansion under Jacobs and had a 2021–22 total enrollment of more than 7,100 students across ASU’s four Phoenix metropolitan campuses. 

Portrait of , new dean of ASU's Barrett, The Honors College.

Tara Williams

“I am excited to welcome Tara Williams as the next dean of Barrett. She brings a proven administrative track record and deep commitment to honors education, a field in which she is already recognized as a national leader,” Gonzales said. 

“Tara has long admired Barrett Honors College and understands the unique opportunity it offers as the nation’s top-ranking honors college located in one of the nation’s largest and most innovative public universities. She is an ideal choice to sustain and build upon Barrett’s pioneering academic, professional and experiential initiatives so they will continue to attract and prepare highly motivated honors students to become leaders in an increasingly complex, interconnected and global world,” Gonzales said.

Williams currently serves as dean of the University of Alabama Honors College. Under her leadership, the UA Honors College — with 7,500 students — has increased the diversity of its incoming cohorts, implemented a test-optional admissions pathway, added faculty and staff positions, and developed an innovation contest that emphasizes social impact and alumni mentorship.

In 2021–22, UA honors students earned numerous honors, including a Rhodes Scholarship, two Marshall Scholarships, a Goldwater Scholarship, a Hollings Scholarship and multiple Fulbright Scholarships.

Williams has published articles on the honors thesis, honors study abroad experiences and innovative pedagogical practices, as well as spoken at conferences hosted by Honors Education at Research Universities, the National Collegiate Honors Council and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities Council on Honors Education.

In her previous role as the associate dean at the Oregon State University Honors College, she oversaw a 25% strategic growth in enrollment, expanded the portfolio of international programs and extended the honors academic experience to the OSU-Cascades campus.

Williams earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and a doctorate from Rutgers University. She held the Morton W. Bloomfield Fellowship at Harvard University and has written two books, "Inventing Womanhood: Language and Gender in Middle English Writing" and "Middle English Marvels: Magic, Spectacle, and Morality in the Fourteenth Century."

“I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about this hire," Barrett Vice Dean Kristen Hermann said. "I am familiar with Dr. Williams’ leadership in honors at both Alabama and Oregon State. She is very student-centric, has fostered a culture of innovation and experimentation at both institutions, and has worked in close collaboration with a diverse array of stakeholders. Having experienced the evolution of Barrett as part of the leadership team the past two decades, I know her experience places her in the best position to lead the college in promoting access to honors opportunities both internationally and online.” 

Jenny Dyck Brian, Barrett Honors College faculty chair, echoed enthusiasm for Williams.

“The Barrett faculty are so excited to welcome Dr. Tara Williams as the new dean of Barrett, The Honors College," Brian said. "Dr. Williams’ substantive and sustained commitment to honors education in public universities is inspiring and will surely guide Barrett into a new and exciting phase. The faculty deeply appreciate her expertise, leadership and innovative approach to liberal arts pedagogy and look forward to working with her to strengthen, diversify and energize our Barrett community."

Williams said she is looking forward to starting her new job after visiting ASU in May for interviews, presentations and meetings as a candidate for the dean’s position.

“I’m thrilled to be joining Barrett as the next dean. Barrett has built a wonderful reputation under Dean Jacobs’ leadership, and brought together accomplished students, faculty and staff. It’s an honor to become a part of that community and to work together to envision the future of the college,” Williams said.

“The students and alumni are amazing; they’re achieving great things and having a positive impact in the world," she added. "The faculty and staff are dedicated to an honors experience that is innovative, global and community-based. Barrett also has the strong support of ASU leadership and many partners across the university. It’s well-positioned to lead the way on continuing to increase the impact and accessibility of honors education.

Williams said that in her first year as Barrett dean, she will focus on understanding Barrett students’ experience at each campus and identifying opportunities to enhance and expand those experiences, with particular attention to diversity, equity, inclusion and access.

“When I visited Barrett last month, I heard about initiatives and programs that are already underway, as well as new ideas. It’s exciting to see that there is so much great work already being done, and it’s equally exciting to see that the community is always considering what can be done next to provide students with even more opportunities to develop and grow.”

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