Nicola Foote ‘excited’ to take over as new Honors College dean

Nicola+Foote+has+been+appointed+as+the+new+dean+of+Pitt%E2%80%99s+University+Honors+College+beginning+July+1.

Nicola Foote has been appointed as the new dean of Pitt’s University Honors College beginning July 1.

By Millicent Watt, Senior Staff Writer

Nicola Foote, the incoming dean of Pitt’s University Honors College, said being a first-generation college student at the University College London helped her experience and understand “the transformative power of a rigorous undergraduate education.”

With her own chance to succeed academically, Foote said it’s a “privilege” to help students explore their passions and succeed academically. 

“I had the incredible privilege of providing thousands of Honors students with opportunities to explore and excel,” Foote said. “There is simply nothing that brings me greater professional joy than helping students find their intellectual passion and accomplish their academic goals.”

After a committee began a search for a new dean last fall, Provost Ann Cudd appointed Foote to the position on April 8. Foote who will officially begin her role on July 1 said she “could not be more excited or honored” to become the UHC dean.

“It provides a rare space for students to pursue their own intellectual interests, to explore the connections between ideas from across disciplinary boundaries and to engage with other intellectually curious and highly motivated students both inside and outside of the classroom,” Foote said.

The Honors College Dean position has faced significant turnover — Foote is the third dean within the last four years. Prior to Foote, Audrey Murrell served as acting dean for about a year and a half from 2019-21, but stepped down in February due to “personal reasons.” Joseph McCarthy, the vice provost for undergraduate studies, is serving as the interim dean until Foote begins her term. 

Students planning to join the Honors College must apply for admission and if accepted, receive benefits such as early class enrollment, an honors degree or distinction, and a network of successful and supportive Pitt alumni. Other initiatives within the Honors College include scholar communities, an Honors joint degree and the option to live in Honors housing.

Foote said she wants to continue to strengthen the Honors Living Learning Communities as well as Pitt Honors’ global learning and community engagement programming. Foote also said students pursuing an Honors degree, Honors distinction or Bachelor of Philosophy will be encouraged to “cross boundaries” — an idea implemented by Murrell — through support from the Pitt faculty, staff and alumni. Murrell said “crossing boundaries” is a way of moving “beyond the things that limit our thinking, restrict our experiences and block our ability to understand others and the world around us.” 

Foote also said she wants to expand Honors course offerings, maximize opportunities for mentorship and research and refine the Honors Outside the Classroom Curriculum, including partnering with local underserved high schools and community colleges, and the Justice and Equity Honors Network.

Before coming to Pitt, Foote worked in University Wide Programs and Faculty Engagement at Florida Gulf Coast University and Arizona State University’s honors college. She holds doctorate and bachelor’s degrees from the University College London and a master’s degree from the University of London. The National Endowment for the Humanities, the Rockefeller Foundation and the U.K. Arts and Humanities Research Council funded her research, which includes topics such as race and state formation in Ecuador and Caribbean migration to South America.

Tyler Viljaste, a rising senior politics and philosophy and finance double major, served as the only student on the search committee — which consisted mainly of professors. Viljaste said after the interview process, he felt that Foote could be a role model for him and other students. 

“She’s not only really charismatic and down to earth, but she’s also just so accomplished and so brilliant and the way she carried herself made it seem like she’s someone that I feel like a lot of students will be able to look up to, myself included,” Viljaste said.

Viljaste — who has been an Honors College student since his first year — has seen and experienced the changes made to the UHC by previous deans. Viljaste said he is interested to see how Foote’s vision will transform the college.

“That’s sort of the interesting part of where this honors college might go or transform into in the next couple of years,” Villjaste said. “She has a really exciting vision, she’s here to not maintain the status quo, but to try new things and have it be sort of transformative and a leader in the Honors College space.”

From a student perspective, Viljaste — who is also heavily involved in Student Government Board and is an incoming co-chief of staff —  said he values deans who are “open, accessible and inviting,” and enjoys meeting students and listening to student feedback and input. Viljaste said he’s excited by Foote’s appreciation for student input and dedication to meeting students.

“The thing that really excited me about Nicola when she talked, was like student input is super core to the way she operates, like that’s how she operates at Arizona State University at Barrett,” Viljaste said. 

Dave Hornyak, assistant dean of the Honors College, said he also admires Foote’s focus on student feedback and looks forward to working with her.

“I admire her student-centered focus and her commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as the personal characteristics I’ve already seen in her enthusiasm and approachability,” Hornyak said. “I cannot wait to begin working with her on a daily basis.” 

Hornyak said Foote wants to meet as many students as possible, and is brainstorming ways to interact with students. These include meeting students in residence halls, informal “get-to-know-you” meetings, summer research programs and taking advantage of Zoom and Microsoft Teams’ accessibility.

As Foote nears the start of her time as Pitt’s Honors College dean, she said she is excited to lead and work with Pitt Honors students, who have proven their resiliency despite the challenges of the pandemic.

“Students and faculty have been challenged like never before, but through their resiliency were able to still accomplish their goals, pursue meaningful internships and fellowships and be awarded prestigious national scholarships,” Foote said. “I look forward to the opportunity to lead continued innovation and growth at Pitt Honors, and to work with some of the most talented, hardworking and socially engaged students in the nation.”

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