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Meet Ana Mari Cauce, Dean of Arts & Sciences

Story by
Nancy Joseph
Ana Marie Cauce

Ask Ana Mari Cauce why she chose a career in academia, and she’ll share some of her earliest memories. “Actually, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a teacher,” says Cauce. “By age five, I was lining up my stuffed animals and teaching at them. Fortunately my teaching has improved. My students have too.”

On March 31, Cauce (pronounced cow-say) will bring that life-long passion for teaching to her new position as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. She will also bring years of research and administrative experience.

Cauce, Earl R. Carlson Professor of Psychology, came to the UW as an assistant professor in 1986. She had been on the faculty at the University of Delaware but yearned to live in a larger city. “The UW had one of the top child clinical psychology programs in the country, so applying was a no-brainer,” she says. “Then I came for my interview on a crystal clear January day— one of those days when the mountains are just etched across the sky. As the plane was landing, my mouth literally dropped open. I fell in love with Seattle.”

By 1990, Cauce was taking on administrative roles in the Psychology Department in addition to her teaching and research. She served as the department’s director of clinical training for seven years, and then chaired the Department of American Ethnic Studies for three years. She went on to serve as director of the UW Honors Program and as chair of the Psychology Department before becoming executive vice provost in 2005, where she has worked on University-wide issues.

“I describe myself as an ‘accidental administrator’,” says Cauce. “It’s not something I’d thought about very much, but I really enjoy it. I love wrestling with problems, looking at them from different angles. And I like working with people. It’s about creating opportunities and nurturing talent. You have to enjoy watching growth in others, with the understanding that their success is your success.”


Keeping a Hand In Teaching and Research

A similar satisfaction in others’ successes can be found in teaching. Cauce’s students have described her as energetic and generous with her time. In nominating her for the University’s Distinguished Teaching Award, one student commented, “I have never met a faculty member who was more egalitarian and concerned about the welfare of her students.” Another wrote, “The sheer volume of students whose lives she has touched through small classes and personal mentoring is staggering.” Cauce received the University’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1999.

“One of the things teaching does is to remind us why we’re all at this university,” says Cauce. “I view teaching not only as an opportunity to impart something to students in a classroom, but also as an opportunity to work side by side with them in a lab, making new knowledge.”

Cauce hopes to keep her hand in teaching while serving as dean of the College. She may be limited to teaching a summer quarter course or presenting guest lectures, but she wants to maintain that link to students. She also plans to remain involved in research.

At-risk youth are central to Cauce’s research. She has worked with homeless youth in the University District, teens from disadvantaged families, and minority youth. While her projects have varied, her subjects are usually adolescents.

“It’s an age group that I always find fascinating,” explains Cauce. “It’s the age when patterns for the next fifty years are formed. It can be a period of real magic but also of tremendous risk. All of a sudden, things matter. Things that you do can affect the rest of your life.”

Plenty can go wrong during adolescence, and Cauce has seen it all in her research. Drugs. Teen pregnancy. Homelessness. But her perspective remains mostly optimistic, with an emphasis on resilience as well as risk. “I’m interested in the possibility that while things may go wrong, we can bounce back and learn and grow and mature by making mistakes. In an ideal world, adolescents should be able to take risks, but with a strong safety net underneath them. I’m particularly interested in those without that safety net.”


Shaped by Early Challenges

Cauce first discovered psychology research as an undergraduate at the University of Miami. She had gone through seven majors in the course of a year and a half (“much to the exasperation of my parents,” she says) and had finally settled on an English major. Then she realized that what attracted her to novels were the character studies. That led her to sign up for a psychology class, in which the professor asked her to work in his research laboratory. 

Ana Mari Cauce (above left, with a student in 2000) received the UW Distinguished Teaching Award in 1999.

Ana Mari Cauce (above left, with a student in 2000) received the UW Distinguished Teaching Award in 1999. Media credit: Kathy Sauber

“Working in the lab, I found that it was my first love,” says Cauce. She became 
a psychology major—but still managed to complete her English major and two minors, in history and classics. She went on to earn M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in psychology at Yale University. 

Completing a Ph.D. would be an accomplishment for any student, but it had special meaning for Cauce. Her family had fled Cuba at the start of the Cuban revolution, when Cauce was three years old. Her father had been the Minister of Education in Cuba; in Miami both parents worked in shoe factories.

“I think it was incredibly difficult for my parents,” she says. “They didn’t speak English, and they had to start from scratch. Now I can imagine how hard it must have been for them, but at the time I was a kid. All I knew was that my parents loved me and made sure I had whatever I needed. My memories are of family picnics and trips to the beach. I had a great childhood.”

Then tragedy struck while Cauce was in graduate school. Her older brother was murdered at the first anti-Ku Klux Klan rally in Greensboro, North Carolina, which he had helped organize. He had been working as a labor union organizer, with plans to attend graduate school at Berkeley the next fall. Cauce was devastated.

“When I was interviewing for the dean position, people would ask, ‘Can you do the tough stuff?’” says Cauce. “It’s hard to imagine anything much tougher than what I’ve already been through, having to make the call to my parents about my brother. 
I know that I can survive anything. You grow. All that has happened is part of 
who I am.” 


Returning Home to A&S

A few years ago, Cauce created a UW scholarship in memory of her brother. When she received a thank you note from the first scholarship recipient, she realized the power of giving. “It felt so good,” she says. “And the scholarship will continue to help students for years to come.”

With that gift, Cauce added another facet to her complex relationship with the University. She has been a teacher, a researcher, a department administrator, a university administrator, and a donor. All of these facets will come into play as she tackles the role of Arts and Sciences Dean. She can’t wait to get started.

“This sounds hokey, but I really do love Arts and Sciences,” says Cauce. “It’s 
my first home. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to give my best efforts to the part of this university that I most love. We have amazing faculty here, and amazing students. It’s very easy to feel very good about working here.”