Karen Wassarman has been appointed associate dean for academic affairs in the University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS). In this role, Wassarman will be in charge of guiding and overseeing the college’s student services and academic programs, including undergraduate majors, Farm and Industry Short Course, continuing education and international student activities.
Wassarman, a UW-Madison bacteriology professor, has been a faculty member in the Department of Bacteriology for over 16 years. During that time, she has maintained a highly successful research program, embraced undergraduate classroom teaching and mentored research, and engaged in service to the department, college, university and beyond.
“Karen brings valuable experiences in the classroom and the laboratory to this leadership position at a time when how we educate students continues to change swiftly. Her experience will be valuable as the college considers how to best meet the needs of our students into the future,” says CALS Dean Kate VandenBosch.
Wassarman earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry from Williams College, and her Ph.D. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University. She held postdoctoral positions at University of California at San Francisco and at the National Institutes of Health. In the lab, Wassarman’s research program utilizes molecular, biochemical and genetic approaches to study bacterial small RNAs and how they function. In the classroom, she is responsible for teaching Microbiology 470: Microbial Genetics and Molecular Machines.
Over the years, Wassarman has also gained academic administrative experience. She is co-chair of the university’s biology major, one of campus’ largest majors, and director of the bacteriology department’s master’s degree program. She has also served on the CALS Academic Planning Council for more than six years. Through these service activities and her own teaching, she has gained experience—and been inspired by—dealing with curricular challenges that require creative solutions.
“At this point in my career, my passion centers on the academic mission of our institution and the desire to engage faculty, staff, administrators and students to ensure that we provide rich and fulfilling academic experiences to all of our students, providing opportunities and support for them to launch or continue successful careers,” says Wassarman.
The associate dean of academic affairs provides leadership for the CALS Office of Academic Affairs, which oversees academic program development and assessment, student advising and student recruitment with approximately 25 staff. The college currently offers over 70 academic programs, with an enrollment of approximately 3,500 undergraduate students, 850 graduate students, and 100 Farm and Industry Short Course students. The overall CALS instructional budget is $18.8 million.
With the college in the midst of an Organizational Redesign project, an effort to position CALS for future success, Wassarman sees an opportunity to assess CALS academic programs and help them evolve to better reflect current and future needs, as driven by scientific advancement and career options. She’d like to see undergraduate majors become more interdisciplinary and collaborative, she says, including redefining and invigorating CALS capstone experiences.
“I will strive to stimulate and foster an atmosphere that promotes constructive, ongoing discussions about how to best meet the academic needs of all of our students, our communities and our stakeholders,” she says. “I look forward to helping the college implement these changes, while balancing costs in the context of a challenging fiscal environment.”
Wassarman will assume the role of associate dean of academic affairs on June 1. The position was previously held by Sarah Pfatteicher, who left UW-Madison for a job at Five Colleges consortium earlier this spring.