Continuing a Life of Service at Tufts
About halfway through Diane Ryan’s 29-year career in the U.S. Army, she was overseeing communications infrastructure in Baghdad with the 1st Cavalry Division when she received a secondary assignment: help integrate women into the Iraqi Army.
Ryan, who joined the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life as the associate dean for programs and administration in July, recalled one female Iraqi Army volunteer in particular who pleaded for more leadership training for women despite the threat from political factions opposed their integration into the military.
Touched by the woman’s courage and energized by the opportunity to help, Ryan developed the U.S.-Iraqi Army Women’s Partnership Project, working with women entering the Iraqi Army in small discussion groups, helping them get their concerns heard and addressed by the U.S. Army. “It was the thing that made me want to get up in the morning,” Ryan said. “It was meaningful to be a part of something bigger than myself and to have that added sense of purpose. And I realized I had reached a point where it was my responsibility to bring people along with me.”
That ethos has informed Ryan’s career. She went on to work with NGOs in Baghdad on peace and security initiatives, and then to complete a dissertation on gender attitudes in the U.S. Army as part of her Ph.D. in psychology from North Carolina State University.
Ryan also served as acting deputy head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at the United States Military Academy at West Point, one of the largest academic departments at the school. There she established a capstone course with an interdisciplinary focus on learning through community engagement, and spearheaded an initiative with New York City public schools that grew to involve more than 750 West Point cadets and thousands of underserved high school students each year. She was a charter member of the West Point Core Interdisciplinary Team, which develops young leaders who apply the knowledge, skills, and perspectives of multiple disciplines to complex societal problems.
It should come as no surprise that Ryan ultimately ended up at Tisch College, whose mission is to study civic life and young people’s participation in it, to embed civic engagement across all disciplines at Tufts, and to assess and promote practices that strengthen civic and democratic life in the United States and around the world.
“I was recently talking with someone about the West Point’s mission of inspiring leaders for ‘a lifetime of selfless service’ and realized the commitment to active citizenship at Tufts is similar,” Ryan said. “I was intrigued by what it means, how to operationalize it, and how to ensure that our students carry that mantle with them through a lifetime.”
In her new role, Ryan oversees courses that help all undergraduates acquire the knowledge, skills, and values to engage in productive civic lives, and service learning programs through which professional school students can hone their skills while making a difference in their local communities.
To this work, she brings an insight acquired in her years serving West Point students: it’s the experiences that really stick with people. “I’m excited to help grow the curriculum at Tisch, as well as the co-curricular opportunities that takes it to the next level as transformational for students,” Ryan said. Her duties as associate dean also include growing resources for faculty research and professional development with a community or civic engagement focus.
Ryan is still adjusting to civilian life—switching away from the 24-hour clock and deciding what to wear every day have been particularly tricky—but she has been delighted with her new colleagues and the Tufts students she has met so far. She said she is excited to help the school become a beacon for the global community.
“I look forward to the day everyone automatically knows what Tisch College is, as we continue to expand our leadership role as the academic center of civic studies and the home of the very best civic education in the world,” Ryan said. “The vision here is for Tisch to be a household name, and I’m inspired to be a part of that.”
Monica Jimenez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.