Assoc. astronomy professor named new director of Echols Scholars Program

Kelsey Johnson to succeed Michael Timko in leading College undergraduate honors program


Assoc. Astronomy Prof. Kelsey Johnson will be the next director of the Echols Scholars Program.

The College of Arts and Sciences announced May 8 that Assoc. Astronomy Prof. Kelsey Johnson will be the next director of the Echols Scholars Program. She will take on her new position at the end of May, succeeding Biology Prof. Michael Timko.

Johnson has been with the astronomy department since 2004 and teaches the popular course “Unsolved Mysteries in the Universe.”

The Echols Scholars Program, which provides selected undergraduates with academic opportunities and Echols-only housing, was established in 1964 with a few dozen College students. The program has expanded to approximately 10 percent of College students as of 2012.

Johnson will lead the program as multiple reforms are being considered on the future of the Echols program, including changes to the selection process and grouping of Echols Scholars in the Balz-Dobie and Tuttle-Dunnington residence halls.

Johnson served on the College’s General Education Committee and is a member of the College Fellows, which designed the new Engagements courses for incoming first-years next year.

The Engagements courses are “a first-year student experience that has been developed from scratch with the goal of providing a framework to help students flourish in the 21st century,” Johnson said, which “will help develop one’s intellectual framework — regardless of specific discipline.”

Johnson said she has specific goals for expanding opportunities to Echols Scholars. As director, she said she hopes to encourage students’ academic curiosity.

“I would like to help create more options for Echols students to push themselves — to explore topics both more deeply and more broadly,” Johnson said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “Options might include dedicated Echols seminars, intensive mentoring with Echols alumni or topical fieldwork.”

Johnson said she looks forward to being the next director of the Echols Scholars Program for the important challenges it provides undergraduates as well as for the challenges it will provide her.

“I’m excited to help facilitate a deep acquisition of knowledge and understanding with the Echols students — and to push myself to keep up with them,” Johnson said. “I believe that environments with a strong foundation of trust and respect are essential for having rigorous debates and intellectual growth, and I’m thrilled to be part of a program that embraces this ideal.”

College Dean Ian Baucom said Johnson’s professional style qualifies her for leading the Echols Scholars Program.

“[Johnson] brings great energy, creativity and collegiality to the Echols Scholars Program,” Baucom said in a release from the College. “As a leading research scientist and a sterling teacher, she offers unique and valuable insight in this important leadership role.”

He also said Johnson has exceptional experience in both the classroom and the research sphere, making her a great candidate for the position.

“I think that combination of teaching passion and research excellence will make her a sterling Director for the vibrant intellectual community of Echols Scholars,” Baucom said. “I’m particularly hopeful that she will find ways to strengthen faculty mentoring opportunities for Echols Scholars across their years on Grounds and know that she shares that priority.”

Johnson was recently named one of four ACC Distinguished Professors. At the University, she has received the Center for Teaching Excellence’s All-University Teaching Award and the Z Society’s Distinguished Faculty Award.

Johnson’s academic focus is galaxy evolution and, more specifically, ancient star formation. She is the founding director of “Dark Skies, Bright Kids,” an outreach program where University astronomers, graduate students and volunteers work with elementary school students from rural areas.

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