Championing Student Success: Jason Zara Named Associate Dean for Academic Affairs

March 27, 2024

Jason Zara

As a faculty member and administrator, Dr. Jason Zara acknowledges how fortunate he is to work with GW Engineering students every day, assisting in preparing them for success as they transition to their next chapter. Since 2021, he has been supporting undergraduate students as the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies (ADUS), and in September 2023 took on the additional responsibility of supporting graduate students as the Interim Associate Dean for Graduate Studies (ADGS). 

On March 1, Zara merged the two roles to support GW Engineering students of all levels when he stepped into the new position, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs (ADAA). GW Engineering Dean John Lach identified Zara as a strong candidate for this role because “this joint service has prepared him well for the combined role of ADAA.”

“Dr. Zara has a track record of excellence as a teacher, educational innovator, student advocate, and leader, winning numerous awards, including the 2020 Trachtenberg Prize for Teaching Excellence,” Dean Lach stated.

Zara joined GW in 2002, the same year GW Engineering’s biomedical engineering program was created, meaning he has taught every student who has ever gone through the program. His inspiration to become a professor originated in his undergraduate days when his physiology professor walked into the classroom one day, sighed, and said, ‘I get older every year and you’re always 20.’ Zara said, “That struck me because he went on to talk about what a gift it is to be able to work with people at this stage in their lives.”

The new ADAA position is a natural evolution of the various leadership roles Zara has held at both the university and school levels over the past 22 years. He spent six years chairing university-wide task forces and panels where he became very familiar with the university structure. This knowledge will help him achieve his ultimate goal for the ADAA position, ensuring all GW Engineering students know where to go for support, because, for Zara, “it’s always been about the students.”

“Every time I’m able to help a student, it’s tinged with the concern, did this happen to someone else that I didn’t know about? I want to make sure that you don’t have to be in a conversation with me to get your problem solved,” said Zara.

As ADUS, Zara oversaw GW Engineering’s undergraduate student recruitment, admissions, enrollment, and advising, and spearheaded initiatives to expand student support and access. His accomplishments include piloting a new support class for first-year students, splitting the Intro to Engineering course from a 240-student lecture into 12 different sections with 20 students each, and lowering the GPA requirement for a 5-year master’s program.

“Lowering the GPA requirement was one of my favorite things I was able to accomplish when I first moved into the office,” Zara reflected. “I feel that GPAs, typically high GPAs, are often unnecessary barriers to things.”

In his new role, Zara aims to continue expanding student support and access as he oversees all aspects of the school’s undergraduate and graduate academic programs, student affairs, and the overall student experience. He emphasizes how he must continually work with students to determine what this looks like, particularly at the graduate level, to ensure they are building the systems they want. Zara’s own Ph.D. experience was very formative, so he would like to strengthen GW Engineering’s doctoral student experience as well.

“In this role, I can influence things best by having conversations, talking about what we want to happen and what is going to happen,” Zara stated.

Zara’s responsibilities as ADAA range from facilitating and supporting cross-department and cross-school academic programs to overseeing recruitment, admissions, and enrollment management for all programs. He is in constant contact with faculty directors and staff overseeing these and other aspects of academic affairs to synchronize efforts across the school. This will make it clearer for GW Engineering students at all stages of their academic journey where to go for support on various topics, ensuring that no student’s issue ever slips through the cracks and remains unsolved.

Determined to consolidate efforts across all levels of student engagement, Zara is striving to provide clear pathways for student support and success as ADAA. His profound understanding of the university landscape, coupled with a passion for student advocacy, positions Zara to lead GW Engineering toward a future marked by academic excellence and holistic student development.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to coordinate better the efforts we make at all of the levels I will be operating with,” said Zara. “I think there’s a whole lot of synergy there, so I’m excited to bring all of those conversations together and figure out how to best support our students and give them what they’re looking for.”