CULLOWHEE — Jill Dix Ghnassia, associate professor of English and former director of the honors program at the University of Hartford, has been selected as the dean of Western Carolina University’s Honors College.
Ghnassia’s appointment, recommended by Chancellor John W. Bardo and approved at the June meeting of the WCU board of trustees, is effective July 31, pending approval by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.
Ghnassia has taught English at the University of Hartford, located in West Hartford, Conn., since 1985, and served as director of Hartford’s honors program from 1994 to 1999. She was on the faculty at North Carolina Wesleyan College from 1983 to 1985, and was a Duke University Graduate Fellow from 1974 to 1976. At WCU, Ghnassia also will hold the title of professor of English.
A native of Milton, Penn., Ghnassia earned her bachelor’s degree in English at Bucknell University in 1969. She continued her education at Duke University, where she earned a master’s degree in English in 1972, graduating with distinction, and a doctoral degree, majoring in Victorian literature, in 1983.
Ghnassia is author and co-author of many publications, including three collections of poetry. She is married to Maurice Ghnassia, an author and former correspondent at the White House and United Nations.
Ghnassia succeeds Brian Railsback, who had served as acting dean of WCU’s Honors College since July 1997. Railsback left the Honors College to become head of Western’s department of English.
“Dr. Railsback has passed on to me a thriving program,” Ghnassia said. “I hope not only to follow in his footsteps, but also to branch out to widen opportunities for the college and, through its students, to reach out to the rest of the campus and neighboring communities.
“I hope to lay the seeds for future growth in the areas of scholarship programs, service-learning opportunities and study abroad. These areas will necessarily overlap with other parts of the university community, and that is as it should be, because I would like the college to be fully integrated into all aspects of university life,” Ghnassia said.
WCU’s honors program was elevated to college status in 1997. Since then, enrollment has increased from 125 students to an estimated 600 students for this coming fall, while the average SAT scores of freshmen honors students have risen from 1,160 to 1,217. Honors students live WCU’s Reynolds and Buchanan halls.
The Honors College is designed to support the intellectual and social development of academically talented students. Among the features of the college are smaller classes with faculty members dedicated to working with high-achieving students in an atmosphere of advanced study.