New Downtown associate dean of honors college hopes to ignite passion in students

Rhonda Phillips is the new associate dean for Barrett, the Honors College on the Downtown campus. (Stephanie Snyder/DD)

A new associate dean representing ASU’s honors college has been appointed following a myriad administrative shuffles that took place on campus last year.

Rhonda Phillips was tapped as the newest associate dean for the Downtown campus arm of Barrett, the Honors College, over the summer after previous Associate Dean Laura Peck announced she would be taking a sabbatical.

Phillips is a professor in the School of Community Resources and Development at ASU, which is housed within the College of Public Programs. She holds a doctorate in urban regional planning from the Georgia Institute of Technology, with an emphasis in community economic development.

Phillips said as dean she intends to stress the importance of the local community in college students’ lives.

“We are in this dynamic urban environment and we want (students) to connect to our community partners,” said Phillips.

Phillips said she is excited to enhance Barrett Downtown’s course programming and is developing courses that will connect students of all Downtown campus majors with nearby communities.

Phillips said she is currently working on a course in concert with the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education. The one-credit course would involve gathering a group of downtown students and visiting nearby educational facilities on Native American reservations.

The course would take a group of Barrett students on a two-day trip to educational facilities in Canyon de Chelly, with some tours led by Native Americans, said Phillips.

“It’s not just going to class (for Barrett students), it’s going to class and helping foster positive change in our surroundings and beyond,” she said. “Barrett students seem to pursue their passions with a vigor that is incomparable. I haven’t seen anything like it in my eighteen years of teaching. That is why I wanted to take this job.”

Phillips joined Barrett Downtown to in order to fill the position of former associate dean, Peck, who resigned earlier this year.

Peck, the founding associate dean of Barrett Downtown since 2008, stepped down on June 30 in order to take a year-long leave and dedicate more time to her research.

Peck said she has confidence that Phillips will succeed in her new role Downtown.

“I think that the kind of research and teaching that (Phillips) has done is relevant to all the academic programs downtown, so I think that she will bring a good academic perspective,” Peck said. “And in the past she has shown a major commitment to honors students, so that along with her academic perspective will help her to be successful.”

Jill Johnson, the program manager for Barrett Downtown, said Phillips will be a great advocate for Downtown students, a visionary for the campus and a credible student-body leader.

“I think that (Phillips) is very supportive of honors students, in the pursuits of journalism, nursing or health initiatives, as well as social services,” Johnson said. “She’s extremely passionate about connecting students with the right people, be it professors or professionals, and helping them to accomplish whatever they are interested in.”

Philips said she hopes to inspire Barrett Downtown students to pursue their passions and interests in her new position.

“There is a very favorite quote of mine by (W.B.) Yeats,” Phillips said. “‘Education is not the filling of a pail, it’s the lighting of a fire.’ And we are sitting here in the Valley of the Sun — where better to really ignite those passions of learning than right here?”

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