A message from Dean Douglas Elmendorf

I am thrilled to let you know that, after an extensive search process, I have offered the position of senior associate dean for degree programs and student affairs (also known as the “dean of students”) to Debra Isaacson, and she has enthusiastically accepted. Debbie has been in this role on an interim basis since last June, and we are very fortunate that she has now agreed to take on this important job permanently.

The senior associate dean for degree programs and student affairs is instrumental in supporting and enhancing the experience of students at the Kennedy School and is a crucial member of my leadership team. Debbie will oversee a department of more than 50 staff members and will have significant strategic and operational responsibilities—supervising admissions, financial aid, the registrar’s office, student services, degree programs, and the office of career services, among other colleagues. Equally important, Debbie will engage with students as an advocate and adviser, by listening to their individual and collective concerns and by responding to their needs in collaboration with other stakeholders at the school.

Many of you already know Debbie and her commitment to our students and passion for the mission of the Kennedy School. She is a proud alumna of our Master in Public Policy program and has been a staff member here since 2004. In that time, she has served as a research specialist in Dean David Ellwood’s office, director of public service, and director of the MPP program. In 2014 she was promoted to associate dean for degree programs and students affairs, and since the spring of 2016, she has been the Title IX coordinator for students. Before coming to Harvard, Debbie worked as a consultant for Accenture, on Capitol Hill, in a nonprofit organization focused on women’s health issues, and in the government relations office of a major professional services firm. In addition to being an alumna of the Kennedy School, she is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

In these past months in which Debbie has been interim dean, she has exhibited her strong problem-solving skills, using her deep understanding of our students and the Kennedy School to help develop creative solutions to students’ concerns. She has led an important strategic analysis of our admissions and recruiting data to create more effective strategies for increasing the diversity of our students across multiple dimensions. And she has been a strong and persistent advocate for students in many discussions about policies and practices at the School.

The selection of Debbie as the new senior associate dean for degree programs and student affairs was the result of a robust search process, with a search advisory committee that included students, staff, and faculty. The search advisory committee generated criteria for the ideal candidate, narrowed down the large applicant pool, conducted lengthy and careful interviews, and provided me with an insightful evaluation of the final candidates. I appreciate the thoughtfulness and dedication with which everyone approached this process, and I am particularly grateful to the students who served on the committee.

I am excited about all that Debbie will do—in collaboration with me and with everyone in our community—to help all students to thrive and learn and grow at the Kennedy School. Please join me in welcoming Debbie to her new role and in working with her and each other to make the Kennedy School the best it can be.