Faculty who take on administrative roles face challenges in balancing their work with continued engagement in research and teaching. But for HC Associate Dean Tara Williams, an expert in medieval studies in the School of Writing, Literature and Film, it was the challenge of teaching and introducing people to a topic unfamiliar to many that inspired her to try and take on some of the big questions in teaching from the perspective of an administrator.
“Part of what got me interested in administration was that teaching medieval studies is challenging – but also rewarding. Having to figure out how to do that successfully in the classroom made me more interested in how to do that on a larger scale.”
Her work in the Honors College, in turn, contributed to her most recent book, Middle English Marvels: Magic, Spectacle, and Morality in the Fourteenth Century, which was published this year by Penn State University Press. The book examines how poets in the fourteenth century use visual descriptions to pose moral questions that are still relevant today.
“The very beginning of that book came out of an honors colloquium I co-taught on magic and witchcraft in the Middle Ages and the Victorian period. The excitement of the students made me think of that topic in terms of my research as well.”
Williams has continued to attend conferences and actively research in her field, even as her role in the Honors College has expanded in recent years from half- to full-time. Continued engagement in her discipline enriches her work as a dean, she says.
“It positions me to talk with students and faculty when I have something I’m interested in learning about and studying. Students and faculty all have interests that they’re studying and research projects that they’re pursuing. It helps me to connect with them when I can discuss my research interests and learn more about theirs—we have a shared enthusiasm.”
As a part of her work in the Honors College, Williams runs a learning community for faculty new to honors teaching, covering course design, experiential learning and student engagement. She also works on international programs: She organizes a summer honors program in London that is open to both continuing and incoming first-year students – a first for OSU – and she has been working with faculty on prospective new programs in Tokyo and Chile.
Serving as associate dean also allows her to work with faculty and students from all different backgrounds and majors, which can provide added inspiration.
“As the person who puts together the overall curriculum—we will have about 350 sections next year – looking at the courses that represent the diversity of faculty and students’ interests is exciting.”
Williams adds that she and others who combine work in administration and in their own fields of scholarship ultimately do so because they enjoy it. “It’s not an easy thing to balance, but we do it because we believe in all aspects of our work.”