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Spencer Niles to step down as dean of education in 2020

  • Spencer Niles
    Spencer Niles:  He joined the school in 2013, just three years after the opening of the new School of Education building on Monticello Avenue, which brought all of the school's programs, centers and projects into one state-of-the-art facility. {em}Photo by Lee Poe{/em}  
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After seven years of service at the School of Education, Spencer Niles will step down from the deanship in May 2020. He will continue at William & Mary as a professor in the Counselor Education program at the school.

"Dean Niles has steered the School of Education with thoughtfulness and insight, advancing William & Mary’s commitment to educating teachers and educational leaders to serve the Commonwealth,” said President Katherine A. Rowe. “During his time, Dean Niles successfully expanded the school’s reach, growing the school’s online footprint substantially, and led the development of new and impactful partnerships. I am deeply grateful for his leadership.”

Niles joined the school in 2013, just three years after the opening of the new School of Education building on Monticello Avenue, which brought all of the school’s programs, centers and projects into one state-of-the-art facility. In his third year at W&M, Niles was identified in a national survey as the 11th most influential dean of education in the United States.

“Skip’s arrival at the school brought a strong sense of energy and purpose,” said Rick Gressard, Chancellor Professor of Counselor Education. “We were challenged to become more innovative and entrepreneurial, which has resulted in many new and truly significant initiatives.”

Under Niles’ tenure, the school embarked on its first online academic offerings, which have now expanded to every corner of the school. In educational leadership, the Executive Ed.D. program allows school leaders to earn a doctorate in as few as three years while continuing to work. The program, along with innovative, cohort-based master’s programs in K-12 administration, is preparing the next generation of school leaders to respond boldly to the educational challenges of the smart age.

With the launch of the school’s Online M.Ed. in Counseling in 2018, talented students from across the country and world are earning master’s degrees in clinical mental health counseling, school counseling and military and veterans counseling from William & Mary. Once fully enrolled, the online programs will serve about 280 students and graduate 125 counselors per year — more than doubling the current enrollment of the school’s counseling programs.

“Dean Niles is an excellent example of the power of vision and leadership to move an institution forward,” said Provost Peggy Agouris. “In my brief time working with him, I have already found him to be an accomplished scholar, a distinguished leader in education innovation and a respected colleague. I want to thank Dean Niles for his hard work and dedication to the William & Mary School of Education and the university as a whole.”

Spencer Niles talks to students during a day for admitted students.

In Niles’ first year, he initiated a rigorous and collaborative strategic planning process that articulated the school’s mission to transform the lives of students, schools and communities and defined the values that direct the work of faculty, staff and students.

To encourage innovation and empower faculty, Niles also introduced a system of shared governance within the school, re-organizing its academic programs into three departments and granting more autonomy and decision-making power to faculty.

“Skip’s faculty-centered approach to leadership ensures that each faculty member feels heard, is supported in the projects about which they are genuinely enthused and can trust that their work will matter to the School of Education and William & Mary,” said Gressard.

Niles said he views faculty support as both his greatest privilege and greatest responsibility as dean. “It’s truly been an honor to work with such an engaged and dedicated faculty as we have in the School of Education,” he said. “Not only are they extraordinary scholars and talented teachers, but they care deeply about our students and are wholly focused on how their work can make the world a better place.”

“Dean Niles’ most significant contribution to the School of Education has been the continued recruitment and hiring of high-quality faculty and staff,” said Leslie Grant, senior associate dean of academic programs. “When we ask current students and alumni about the school’s greatest strength, the response is always the same — faculty committed to the program, to our students, and to the broader community and dedicated administrative staff who have supported them along the way.”

Among the faculty-driven initiatives that came to fruition during Niles’ tenure were the creation of the Center for Innovation in Learning Design, which brings together researchers and practitioners to explore, prototype and test new learning designs; the development of a new military and veterans counseling specialization for the online and on-campus M.Ed. programs in counseling; and the establishment of Troops to Teachers at William & Mary, which supports military veterans as they transition to careers in K-12 schools.

“Skip's national and international reputation as a scholar and consultant allowed him to take the school to new levels of excellence,” said Kathleen Slevin, emerita professor of sociology and former vice provost for academic and faculty affairs. “His scholarly gravitas meant that he could attract top-ranked faculty to strengthen the school further.”

With the addition of numerous talented new faculty members, the school has placed a special emphasis on diversity and equity in hiring under the leadership of Dean Niles. Currently, 26 percent of faculty are people of color and 56 percent are women.

“To meet the educational challenges of today and tomorrow, we must have more voices at the table and as many perspectives as possible brought to our problem-solving,” said Niles. “It’s imperative that we acknowledge and embrace diverse identities, stories and experiences in our educational spaces.”

Spencer Niles poses for a photo during a scholarships breakfast.

In 2015, Niles launched the school’s Diversity Speaker Series, which has brought renowned speakers to campus to engage faculty, students and partners around topics related to diversity, equity and social justice. Recent speakers have included Pedro Noguera, Freeman Hrabowski and Deborah Ball.

He has supported faculty in initiating and sustaining programs aimed at equity and inclusion in education, including the Holmes Scholars Program, a mentorship program for under-represented students pursuing doctoral degrees; the Noyce Scholars Program, an NSF-funded scholarship for students planning to teach STEM subjects in high-need K-12 school districts; and the Social Justice and Diversity Research Fellowship, which unites graduate students from across the university to promote research in social justice and diversity.

Niles has led the school as it developed new academic programs and reinvigorated existing ones. To engage more undergraduate students in the study of education, the school launched a minor in Educational Studies in 2017, allowing undergraduate students to explore topics such as global education, equity and educational policy. The school expanded its ESL and bilingual education offerings with the creation of a stand-alone master’s degree in 2018. And beginning this fall, a new B.A.Ed. degree will allow more talented W&M undergraduates to pursue careers in elementary education.

“Education is one of those fields that doesn’t stand still,” said Niles. “Student demographics evolve, workforce needs shift, and new technologies emerge — and educational practices must continuously evolve to respond. I’m incredibly proud of the shared vision and extraordinary teamwork that have allowed our programs to advance and thrive.”

In addition to new and expanded offerings, each department has undergone a thorough external review of its programs, revising curricula and field experiences to best prepare students for the current needs of the teaching, counseling, and educational leadership fields. Niles has led the school through successful accreditation by the accrediting bodies CAEP, CACREP, and NASP, ensuring the school’s programs have met the highest measures of quality.

Private support has fueled many of the school’s recent initiatives. Over the course of the For the Bold campaign, 23 new scholarships and two new professorships have been established. Through generous gifts from alumni and friends, the school was able to double the size of the Center for Gifted Education’s Camp Launch, a two-week STEM camp for gifted, low-income middle school students, and expand the reach and service of the New Horizons Family Counseling Center, a training clinic that offers free family counseling services to local families. The school also created numerous expendable impact funds to support faculty, students and strategic initiatives.

Spencer Niles talks with the Minister of Defense for Rwanda as part of the study-abroad program he led there this summer.

Throughout his years as dean, Niles has remained highly active in his scholarship and service to the field of counseling. In 2015-2016, he served as president of Chi Sigma Iota, the international counseling honor society, and he is the current president of the National Career Development Association. Niles publishes and speaks regularly on topics related to hope, thriving and career development. In 2019, he was awarded the Thomas Hohenshil Award by the American Counseling Association for his excellence in scholarly contributions to the counseling literature. 

While proud of his accomplishments as dean, Niles said he is excited to return to a faculty position next year. In addition to his teaching and research, he is collaborating with Daniel Gutierrez, assistant professor of counselor education, to establish the THRIVE Research and Intervention Center. They plan to study the factors that allow humans to thrive, particularly when overcoming difficult life and social circumstances. Ultimately, they hope to develop interventions that can be used in schools and communities where environmental factors have created significant challenges.

“Like most educators, my passions are teaching, mentoring students and engaging in research,” said Niles. “I’m so proud of all that the School of Education has accomplished over the past seven years and I’m looking forward to having more time to focus on my students. Their energy and enthusiasm is what keeps all of us in this work.”