Deans for Impact named Valerie Rutledge ’74 ‘79 one of 17 fellows for the 2020-2021 Impact Academy. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to ensuring that every child is taught by a well-prepared teacher. Its year-long fellowship gives dean-level leaders the skills, knowledge and strategies to pursue instructional excellence. Rutledge, dean of the UTC College of Health, Education and Professional Studies, joins the group of deans for monthly virtual sessions. “Our goals are many,” she says. “But, one of the primary things is the connections we are creating—learning from others about the teacher education programs they are creating and forming a plan about where we at UTC want to go.” 

This opportunity to connect with fellow deans representing 12 states, as well as the learning and coaching provided through the fellowship, comes at a crucial time for UTC and the world of teacher preparation, Rutledge says. “I’ve been reading—and I’m sure everyone is—about what’s going on in terms of the impact of Covid-19 on students in K-12 and how they think the ‘summer slide’ will be more significant now more than ever. So, what should we be doing on our end?” Rutledge says she’s confident that through the collaboration of this fellowship, the group will come up with solutions to answer that question and that UTC teacher preparation programs will find ways of ensuring K-12 education doesn’t fall through the cracks. ” 

New Dean for the College of Arts and Sciences

Pam Riggs-Gelasco laughs when asked how her first three months as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga have gone. “How is everything going? That’s a good question,” says Riggs-Gelasco, who arrived at UTC on July 1. “It’s a big learning curve when you change institutions and positions, and to do it in the middle of a pandemic has made it extra challenging. But I like challenges.” 

Riggs-Gelasco anticipated hitting the ground running in her new position, but the realities of COVID-19 have made it much harder to do. Her office sits in the new Lupton Hall, which, in comparison to its enormous size, is mostly empty. She acknowledges it has been difficult not meeting people face-to-face or even to have casual hallway conversations. “A lot of academia depends on informal interaction. That’s an important part of the culture in academia, and that’s not here right now. We’re all missing it quite a bit,” she says. “But there is still a surprising amount of activity going on. I have to say the faculty are real troopers and soldiering through all of this (pandemic challenges). To me, that’s a great sign that I made the right decision.” 

Riggs-Gelasco had spent her professional teaching career at the College of Charleston, where she started in 1998. Most recently, she served as professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry since 2012. At UTC, she arrives as dean of the largest college on campus, overseeing 13 different academic departments. “There is a broad range of disciplines here, and that’s one of the things that appealed to me about the position. I have a lot of other interests besides science,” she says, citing music, writing and social justice issues. “This allows me to delve into some of those interests in a professional way.” 

Along with navigating the new job, Riggs-Gelasco is slowly transitioning to Chattanooga. Her husband Andy has been going back-and-forth as he gets their Charleston house ready to sell. Their daughter Katie Jo recently started her first year at Florida State, so the entire family is also experiencing what COVID-19 life is like through the eyes of a college student. 

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