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Positioning HGSE for the Future

Bridget Long at Centennial
Dean Bridget Long at the HGSE Centennial Kickoff event in January 2020
Photo: Jill Anderson

After a dean retires or moves on to another job, it’s easy to capture their impact. When they’re still in the position, though, especially early on, most deans are just starting to work toward something. Their impact isn’t quite as obvious.

But Dean Bridget Long isn’t most deans. During her first two years heading up the Ed School, she not only faced the usual fundraising and administrative tasks expected in the job, but she also tackled three major projects: planning a centennial celebration, overseeing a complicated degree program overhaul, and orchestrating a massive switch from in-person to online learning during a worldwide pandemic. Without a doubt, Long’s impact has been easy to see, even just two years into her tenure.

Confronted with a once-in-a-lifetime challenge, a defining curricular reinvention, and a 100-year milestone to celebrate, Bridget Long has provided a model for how a dean can lead with vision, through uncertain times

For starters, she set the tone for the school’s centennial celebration by emphasizing that we shouldn’t spend the year simply looking back at the school’s impressive history. We also needed to focus on its future by amplifying research grounded in practice and policy, determining news ways for the school to meet the challenges facing learners of all backgrounds, and expanding the engagement of and collaborations with educators in the field. In other words, she wanted the centennial celebration to be both inward and outward looking.

Long also steered the final planning and implementation of the school’s reimagined Ed.M. degree, an ambitious undertaking that will help to define the core skills and competencies all education professionals should have to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. Slated to launch in 2021, the new degree will be built on three pillars — foundation courses, programs of study that link to major roles and domains in education, and concentrations that allow students to specialize. The courses and curricula aim to modernize and strengthen the preparation of education professionals in every role, from teachers to school and district leaders, policymakers to entrepreneurs, learning designers to nonprofit leaders. As Long explained to alumni last fall, “This work has been guided by our core objective to be responsive to the needs of the field of education, and it represents our commitment to continuous improvement.”

More recently, Long’s impact is being felt in a way unique to her deanship: Because of COVID, she made the difficult decision early on that the 2020–2021 academic year will be fully remote. While other colleges and universities vacillated over the summer between scenarios involving bringing students back to campus, offering hybrid learning, or being online — with fingers crossed as COVID numbers and public health guidance continued to evolve — Long was proactive and saw an opportunity. She used the moment craft a vision for an engaging, high-quality student experience that would capitalize on the opportunities created by remote learning and build from the school’s growing expertise. And with that early decision, the school was able to develop and offer a well-planned and intentional program for students, with attention to not only their academics but also to student supports and opportunities for community engagement. As she announced in early June, “We have contemplated a range of options, consulted with our faculty and staff, university administration, health officials, and leaders at other institutions, and considered how we might use our expertise and skills to hold true to our mission to prepare education leaders and innovators who will change the world by improving education. Through it all, we have focused on our top priority: the health and safety of our entire HGSE family.” This coming year, she said, would not simply be HGSE online, but HGSE transformed.

Long’s predecessor, Jim Ryan, now president of the University of Virginia, isn’t surprised by the impact she is already making at the Ed School, despite the hurdles.

“Heading up a school is no easy task, even under the best of circumstances and quietest of times,” he says. “Bridget has faced a mountain of changes on Appian Way and has done a terrific job in adjusting to the numerous complexities of this unprecedented year. Of course, none of this comes as a surprise to those of us who know her and were lucky enough to work with her. I always knew that when she took over as dean, she'd be more than up for any challenge that came her way.” – Lory Hough

Learn More and Connect

Read more about Dean Bridget Long and her work, including her research around college financial aid and the FAFSA.

Watch a discussion between Dean Long and public health expert Ashish Jha on what it will take to get schools open during COVID.

Learn more about the reimagined master's program at HGSE.

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