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Raffaella Borasi concludes 18 years as dean of the Warner School

Raffaella Borasi Concludes 18 Years as Dean of the Warner School
“We Will Continue in Our Upward Trajectory”— Raffaella Borasi

After 18 years as dean, Raffaella Borasi has left an incredible mark on the Warner School of Education as well as the University of Rochester. Both the school and university communities have benefitted from her inspiring determination, passion for education, and ability to think big.

A respected leader, widely published author, and pioneer in the field of mathematics education and entrepreneurship in education, Borasi has served the University of Rochester for more than three decades. She came to Rochester in 1985 as a faculty member in the teaching and curriculum program and later became chair of the department. In 2000, she was appointed acting dean, and then became the sixth dean of the Warner School of Education and Human Development in 2001 after a national search.  Since then, she has successfully served three and a half terms as dean—from 2001 to 2018—and has led the School through a period of transformational progress.

“By so many measures—enrollments, faculty recruitment and retention, fundraising, facilities, financial sustainability, instructional innovations, community engagement, and diversity—Warner is a vastly transformed institution with a strength and purpose that have blossomed over the course of the last two decades,” says University of Rochester President Richard Feldman. “Warner’s growth during this time is a great credit to an innovative leader who leaves a significant legacy of accomplishment. I am optimistic that Warner will see even more success in the future because of the solid foundation that Raffaella has built.”

Here’s a closer look back at some of Dean Borasi’s notable accomplishments and culminating moments over the years.

Overall School Growth
When Borasi began her tenure as dean, most graduate programs at Warner were understaffed. Under her leadership, the Warner School has experienced significant growth. Graduate student enrollment and the number of faculty and staff have doubled in size. During that time, external research funding experienced a ten-fold increase, from half a million in 2001 to more than $4 million annually the past four years. 

The overall, continued growth of the School provided the motivation to work toward a new building, which subsequently became a cornerstone of Warner’s strategic plan in 2005. Borasi’s astute financial management and ability to secure external funding enabled the School to build a new building and stay in business despite some dips in student enrollment that aligned with a nationwide trend.

A New Building
Borasi played a lead role in the planning and 2013 opening of Raymond F. LeChase Hall, a 65,000-square-foot building on River Campus that houses the Warner School. She was relentless in every aspect of this project. Her leadership and fiscally-conservative reputation were instrumental in the school completing the $26 million project with assuming only $3.5 million in debt.

Today, LeChase Hall provides a home in which Warner continues to be a leader in national research in education and human development as well as graduate outstanding education leaders, teachers, and counselors. The new building has allowed the Warner School to continue its growth and act as a catalyst in the community for those who are committed to education. For example, it has enabled Warner to host over 150 K-8 urban students in the building each summer as part of the Horizons at Warner summer enrichment program. LeChase Hall is not just a home for Warner, as the rest of the University has benefitted from the use of classrooms on the first floor during the day and community/meeting spaces throughout the building.
Raffaella Borasi with Warner students

In December 2018, the student center located on the third floor of LeChase Hall was dedicated to and named after Dean Raffaella Borasi, whose vision for the building led to the community space designed for all Warner graduate students.

Innovative Graduate Programs 
The Warner School has seen numerous instructional innovations during Borasi’s deanship. Always looking for ways to do things better, she has overseen the redesign of several programs to meet state and accreditation changes since 2000.  And, in 2006, she led efforts to create a new accelerated option for the School’s EdD programs that continues to allow working professionals to earn a doctorate in education in as few as three years part time while working in the field.

As dean, Borasi also worked closely with faculty to develop new academic programs, especially those focused on new interdisciplinary courses and degree options. In 2008, Borasi initiated a collaboration with the School of Nursing and School of Medicine to offer new master’s and certificate programs for emerging careers in health professions education. Most recently, she has led efforts to develop and offer new innovative courses and programs in the areas of Online Education and K-12 Digitally-Rich Teaching.

“Raffaella’s incredible leadership took us from a skeletal crew to a full faculty in all content areas and staff to help with placements and supervision,” says Joanne Larson, Michael W. Scandling Professor of Education, who joined the Warner School in 1995 when Borasi was a faculty member in mathematics education. “She created the concept of pairing tenure track and clinical faculty in each program to better support the research/practice dialectic. We received national accreditation thanks to her laser focus on improving our programs and to keeping us competitive in a tight teacher education context.” 

Commitment to K-12 Urban Education
Borasi’s visionary leadership and desire to address challenges confronting K-12 schools, in particular urban schools, were instrumental in the University’s decision to partner with East High School, a school that was performing so poorly that it was on the brink of closure. Since the inception of the unique five-year partnership—called an Educational Partnership Organization (EPO)—in 2015, the graduation rate nearly doubled, math and ELA test scores have climbed, and annual suspensions and dropout rates have decreased significantly. 

“Aside from my love for her as a person, I am grateful to Raffaella for her commitment to our partnership with East High School. Without Raffaella, we would not be changing lives at East,” adds Larson, who also serves as associate director of research for the Center for Urban Education Success. 

Grounded in the East EPO project, the Center for Urban Education Success (CUES) at Warner launched in 2016 with Borasi’s support. CUES has since played a valuable role in the research and work the Warner School does to identify and address issues at East. The Center continues to leverage the knowledge gained at East to impact K-12 urban education in Rochester and beyond.

Learning in the Digital Age
Borasi should also be recognized for her leadership in pursuing the implication of digital technologies for education. During her tenure as dean, she was a champion for technology and digitally-rich teaching, spearheading the launch of online courses at Warner, creating programs to prepare online educators, and leading the Warner School’s Learning in the Digital Age initiative. The Center for Learning in the Digital Age, which Borasi helped launch in the spring of 2018 and where she will continue to serve as founding director, builds on the School’s graduate programs and courses in Online Teaching and K-12 Digitally-Rich Teaching, as well as a number of grants recently awarded by the National Science Foundation for a total of $7 million. The School’s newest Center aims to be a catalyst for schools and other organizations to explore how to better capitalize on technology in educational settings, while learning from each other’s mistakes as well as best practices. 

This newest Center will contribute to advancing the School’s mission of promoting change that can significantly improve education and support positive human development by working at the intersection of research and practice. This common goal is what characterizes all the other Centers Borasi established at Warner over time, including the Center for Professional Development and Education Reform (established in 2001) and the Center on Disability and Education (established in 2008 as the Institute for Innovative Transition), in addition to the already mentioned Center for Urban Education Success.

An Entrepreneurial Leader
Borasi was an active player in the campus-wide entrepreneurship education grant awarded to the University of Rochester by the Kauffman Foundation in 2003.  She has often referred to this initiative as transformational for her as an educational leader, as it showed her the value of “relentlessly pursuing innovations,” while at the same time applying specific entrepreneurial mindsets and practices in order to maximize the success of these innovations. This drive for value-adding innovations—in the spirit of the University’s motto of Meliora, meaning “ever better”—has indeed been the characterizing elements that are common to all the achievements identified above.

Warner alumna Mary Ellen Burris ‘68W (Mas) says it has been her honor to serve on the Warner School’s Dean’s Advisory Committee for so many years. 

“Raffaella’s vision is extraordinary, exceeded only by her ability to get results and to engage and really listen to others,” says Burris, senior vice president of Consumer Affairs for Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. “In my wildest dreams I would never have believed that a new building on campus was a possibility, and what a difference it has made to heighten the visibility of Warner and serve the students and faculty better.  I am pinning my hopes on the continued work with East High School, and the early signs are indeed hopeful.  No endeavor is more important than finding ways to help urban students see a path to success.”

Borasi, Frederica Warner Professor, will officially end her deanship on December 31, 2018, as incoming Dean Anand Marri begins his tenure January 1. After a research leave period in 2019, Borasi will return to the Warner faculty, where she will continue to lead the Center for Learning in the Digital Age, serve as the program director for health professions education, and teach as well as serve as an advisor. As a scholar, she will continue her research and teaching interests in the areas of learning in the digital age and entrepreneurship in education.

“I am grateful for all of us here at Warner—faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends—who have helped us to achieve so many great things over the years and who continue to carry out and embody our School’s mission every day,” says Borasi, addressing an audience of students, faculty and staff in December at the School’s last Wednesday Lunch Talk for fall semester. “We will continue in our upward trajectory, and I am delighted to pass the baton of leadership on to our new dean. Meliora!”