UMN Humphrey School welcomes first dean of color

As dean, Nisha Botchwey said COVID-19 safety is one of her top priorities.

The Humphrey School of Public Affairs as seen on Thursday, Sept. 19.

Image by Nur B. Adam

The Humphrey School of Public Affairs as seen on Thursday, Sept. 19.

by Maia Irvin

The University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs welcomed Nisha Botchwey as its first dean of color at the start of spring semester.
Botchwey said her “number one priority” is to listen and learn from the students, staff and faculty. She said she wants to “understand where we’ve been and where we can go” as well as look for ways to improve the school’s partnerships across the University and surrounding communities.
“The Humphrey School is a very special place,” Botchwey said. “Students, faculty and staff safety and wellbeing remain our top priority here at the Humphrey School.”
Botchwey said it is “a tremendous honor and a responsibility” to be the first female dean of color at the Humphrey School. As dean, she said she will create space for debate and research to support the school’s mission “to advance the common good in a diverse world.”
“And while it’s humbling to be the first [dean of color],” Botchwey said, “I know I will not be the last.”
The school has previously come under scrutiny about Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s position on the Dean’s Advisory Council and cases of sexual misconduct. Botchwey acknowledged these past instances but did not provide further comment.
Botchwey was born in Jamaica and raised in Miami, Fla. She studied environmental science and public policy at Harvard University before studying urban communities at the University of Pennsylvania. She later became a professor in public health at the University of Virginia.
Continuing her education through graduate school was always her plan, she said. Botchwey credits her parents for pushing her to value education.
“My parents are immigrants to the U.S. I’m a first-generation college student and my parents always said that they want [Botchwey and her sisters] to do better than they did,” Botchwey said. “Education is core to what we were expected to do.”
Botchwey eventually moved to the Georgia Institute of Technology and taught there for 10 years. Her research primarily focused on health in the urban environment with an emphasis on youth advocacy and equity, she said. Botchwey was also the associate dean for academic programs at Georgia Tech.
In those positions, she led projects centered on health and wellbeing within neighborhoods, cities and institutions, said Michelle Rinehart, interim dean at Georgia Tech’s College of Design, in an email to the Minnesota Daily.
“Nisha approached all of our work with compassion and empathy and was a constant advocate for the needs of our students, staff and faculty,” Rinehart said. “Nisha was absolutely a leader, not only in the planning field, but on [the] Georgia Tech campus.”
Botchwey was also on the team responsible for Georgia Tech’s COVID-19 response. She said she helped to develop the Georgia Tech Hybrid Remote Teaching Academy, which helped train others on teaching during a pandemic.
“I learned that we need to be flexible and really encourage the community to communicate their needs … [and] try to encourage them not to be afraid to try something new,” Botchwey said.
Beyond being flexible, she said she learned to meet students, staff and faculty where they were at to best provide support. Providing support is important as job scopes continue to change throughout the pandemic due to people leaving the University, moving to different positions or being out of work due to illness, Botchwey said.
“Supporting those who need the support and help but also working to make sure that we keep everyone as safe as we possibly can” is an important lesson to learn, she said.
University Vice Provost Rachel Croson said she is confident in Botchwey’s skills and experiences to lead the Humphrey School as its new dean.
“Dr. Botchwey brings an extensive background as an accomplished academic leader, researcher and educator to the University,” Croson said in a statement emailed to the Minnesota Daily. “I am confident her experience and collaborative leadership will position the Humphrey School well for the future, building on its legacy and collective strengths.”
Botchwey said she thinks she has the necessary perspective and skills to advance the common good and support faculty, staff and students as dean.
“This job is something that I am loving and … it’s about the faculty, the staff [and] the students who I really have the privilege to work with,” Botchwey said. “So I’m excited to be here.”