OXFORD, Ga. — Badia Ahad, an award-winning teacher, innovative scholar and seasoned academic leader, has been appointed as the next dean of Oxford College of Emory University. Ahad currently serves as vice provost for faculty affairs and professor of English at Loyola University Chicago. She will begin her service at Oxford on Aug. 1.
“Badia Ahad understands that Oxford College is unique in American higher education — a place like no other,” president Gregory L. Fenves said. “She has bold ideas and is going to bring tremendous enthusiasm and energy with her to Oxford. Dr. Ahad is a scholar and leader, and I know our students, faculty and staff will connect with her immediately.”
Ahad’s appointment was announced May 23 by Ravi V. Bellamkonda, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, following a competitive national search.
“Out of a very strong pool of candidates, we’ve chosen a new dean who has the confidence, gravitas and sensibilities to explore true innovation in faculty development, faculty-student interaction and the undergraduate experience,” Bellamkonda said. “We’re ambitious for Oxford College and the student-centered education it provides. Dr. Ahad is a leader who will bring the Oxford community together to collaboratively advance our vision for this jewel of a school.”
As dean, Ahad will serve as chief academic and administrative officer for Oxford College, which serves just under 1,000 Emory first- and second-year students on its own campus in Oxford, Georgia. She also will bolster Oxford’s connections to the university’s Atlanta campus and contribute to university-wide goals outlined in the One Emory: Ambition and Heart strategic framework.
“I think my most important role as dean will be to ensure that students, faculty and staff have the tools and the resources that they need to be and to do their best,” Ahad said. “I want students at Oxford to have an academic experience that not only cultivates intellectual rigor and curiosity, but also helps them find their own sense of purpose and how that purpose is going to serve others.”
She’ll begin by getting to know the Oxford community, including not only those on campus but alumni and the communities of Oxford, Covington and Newton County.
"When I think about the goals I’ve met at my current institution, none of it could have happened if I didn't have good relationships with folks across the board. I want to know what people are concerned about, what they care about and what they're excited about,” Ahad said.
“Having worked with a diversity of students, faculty and staff as a teacher, a coach and an administrator, I've learned that good leadership is about really understanding people, understanding your context and being adaptable.”
Helping scholars thrive
Ahad’s broad leadership experience speaks to her commitment to developing outstanding scholars at all levels.
As director of Loyola’s Core Curriculum — which introduces more than 11,000 undergraduates to nine key knowledge areas across the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences — she launched an initiative that offered students interdisciplinary learning opportunities focused on complex social justice issues. Emphasizing experiential and practice-based learning, Ahad’s pilot program engaged students with “big questions and big ideas that show the disciplines in action — individually and collectively.”
She also partnered with the university’s 13 deans to create fellowships to promote cross-school research and teaching.
Ahad’s investments in engaged learning are also evidenced in a mentored research program she recently launched as Loyola’s vice provost for faculty affairs. Designed to spark innovative ideas to address real-world challenges, the Schreiber Venture Fund program supports teams of faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students in pursuing research, teaching and community-based projects that tackle issues in education, immigration, health, hunger/food access, housing, early childhood education and religion.
In addition to expanding faculty support, recruitment and retention initiatives at Loyola, Ahad has earned a national reputation as an expert on faculty development. Over nearly a decade as director of academic training for the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, she provided guidance and training for more than two dozen colleges and universities as well as the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine, the Carnegie Institute of Science and the Volcker Alliance on professional development for postdocs, early career faculty and aspiring higher education administrators.
“Dr. Ahad has been a valued colleague, teacher and academic leader since she arrived in 2005 as assistant professor in English,” Margaret Faut Callahan, Loyola’s provost and chief academic officer said. “The important initiatives she has fostered will continue to make Loyola a destination for top faculty and students. Our community has benefited from her innovative scholarship and service, and we wish her continued success in the next chapter of her career.”
A Holistic Approach
A scholar of African American literature and culture, and author of books including 2021’s “Afro-Nostalgia: Feeling Good in Contemporary Black Culture,” Ahad earned her BA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and MA and PhD at the University of Notre Dame. Her personal research sits at the intersection of cultural studies and positive psychology, a field grounded in the idea that social good, well-being and flourishing are at the core of human experience.
“This perspective informs my approach to academic leadership, which is to create environments where students, faculty, staff and the communities around them can thrive,” she says.
In Oxford, Ahad has found a place where her interests and talents coalesce with the institution’s student-centered identity, and the broader university’s commitment to Student Flourishing.
“The holistic approach to student learning and experience at Oxford and Emory is something that both attracted me and that is truly unique as well,” Ahad said. “You normally don't see that across the entirety of the institution. I appreciated the way in which there seemed to be care for the whole person reflected not just in the academic experience, but in the curriculum, career services and community engagement projects.”
At heart, the high-impact educational practices Emory and Oxford champion — experiential learning, engaged learning and interdisciplinarity — are, according to Ahad, “exercises in empowerment that allow students to really get a sense of how they can help bring about the positive change they want to see.”
A successful search
In announcing Ahad’s appointment, Bellamkonda expressed gratitude to both the Search Advisory Committee and Interim Dean Ken Carter for their dedicated work on behalf of Oxford over the past year.
“Throughout his service as interim dean, Ken has exemplified Oxford’s principles — belonging, care, accountability, learning, identity and presence — and reinforced the community engagement for which the college is known,” Bellamkonda said.
“I’m also grateful to chair Jan Love, co-chair Molly McGehee and all the members of the search committee. We could not have asked for more enthusiasm or energy as they worked to identify outstanding candidates for this important role.”
Love, who is the Mary Lee Hardin Willard Dean of Candler School of Theology, notes that Ahad rose to the top tier early in a search that attracted an “exceptionally strong” pool of candidates.
“Dr. Ahad brings a wealth of experience and a deep commitment to innovative undergraduate education,” Love said. “With every new encounter the Search Advisory Committee had with her, her candidacy displayed a breadth of convincing reasons that she would be an excellent fit for Oxford. I look forward to welcoming her to Emory.”
“Dr. Ahad is well prepared to meet the challenges that higher education faces in this era and to continue to build Oxford's reputation as a model for liberal arts learning,” McGehee said, associate dean for faculty development and director of the Oxford Center for Teaching and Scholarship. “Dr. Ahad brings with her impressive experience and accomplishments as an administrator, teacher and scholar and a deep commitment to placing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at the center of all that we do. We are honored that she will join us in August and look forward to the collaborative work ahead.”
Oxford College of Emory University is located on Emory's original campus south of Atlanta in Oxford, Georgia. Oxford provides a distinctive, liberal arts–focused education for the first and second years of college in a small-town, close-knit setting before students complete their undergraduate education on the Atlanta campus.