Undergraduate Academic Affairs

September 30, 2023

Janice DeCosmo to retire from Undergraduate Academic Affairs

Danielle Marie Holland

Janice DeCosmo, associate vice provost for undergraduate research and associate dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs, will retire in October, capping off over 20 years of impact and leadership within Undergraduate Academic Affairs and 30 years at the University of Washington.

Photo of Janice DeCosmo

Janice DeCosmo, associate vice provost and associate dean of Undergraduate Academic AffairsPhoto by Bryan Nakata

Along with her role at the Office of Undergraduate Research, formerly known as the Undergraduate Research Program, DeCosmo will step down as associate dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs, a position she has held since 2006. As associate dean, DeCosmo stewarded the Undergraduate Academic AffairsCenter for Experiential Learning & Diversity, directed the Mary Gates Endowment for Students and served as interim director of the Robinson Center for Young Scholars

“Janice DeCosmo has been a leading figure for not only undergraduate research, but for the entirety of the undergraduate academic experience,” said Ed Taylor, vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs. “Under her guidance, Janice stewarded a nationally-renowned research program that has offered our undergraduates the opportunity to apply their learning to address society’s biggest challenges.” In 2022, more than 7,000 undergraduates devoted over 1,200,000 hours engaged in research across the University’s colleges, schools, departments and research centers.  

“Janice has been both an inspiration and guiding light for the role of undergraduates in research,” said Tom Daniel, president and CEO of Washington Research Foundation and professor emeritus of neuroscience at the UW. “The level of excellence that she and the staff of the Undergraduate Research Program have provided has made the UW one of the top programs nationally for undergraduate research experiences.” 

Celebrate Janice’s legacy with us!
As she retires, help us celebrate Janice and her legacy with a gift to the Undergraduate Research Gift Fund.Donations of all sizes will provide undergraduate researchers with the tools, experiences and funding to make the most of their research experience.Thank you for your support of Janice, our program and our students!Make a gift

Through DeCosmo’s focus on highlighting the student experience, the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium has become one of the largest of its kind in the nation. This signature event for the University of Washington celebrates scholarship and cutting-edge research and typically features over 1,000 undergraduate researchers presenting their work from all academic disciplines. 

DeCosmo’s journey at the UW began in 1991, when she earned a doctorate in atmospheric sciences in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences specializing in atmosphere-ocean interaction. She became a research faculty member in the Department of Earth and Space Sciences in 1994, serving as associate director, and later director, for the Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium. In 2000, DeCosmo joined Undergraduate Academic Affairs as the first director of the Undergraduate Research Program (now named the Office of Undergraduate Research), a program she grew to connect thousands of undergraduates to faculty research annually. 

DeCosmo served as the 2019-20 president of the national-in-scope Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), where she was previously an issue editor for CUR’s journal, Scholarship and Practice of Undergraduate Research, for five years. While serving as CUR president, DeCosmo represented undergraduate research at the White House Summit of the Joint Committee on the Research Environment. She has served as an elected member of the board of governors of the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research (NCUR). DeCosmo directed the Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium in the College of Arts and Sciences from 1997 to 2006, leading the program to receive a Brotman Award for Instructional Excellence in 2005. 

Sophie Pierszalowski, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research since 2021, said DeCosmo is a constant champion of undergraduate student voices at the UW. Even when she had the most responsibility and obligations in her career, “Janice made a point to continue serving on undergraduate research application review committees and to meet individually with students to offer feedback and career advising. This allowed her to keep a pulse on the undergraduate experience and develop important programming that meets students’ needs.” 

Photo of students presenting their posters

More than 1,000 undergraduates presented their research in the 26th annual Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Scott Heimlich, president of the Amgen Foundation, said DeCosmo gave undergraduates ownership of their educational research experiences. From “regularly meeting with students, giving them the agency to apply for opportunities and reach out to researchers, to just her thoughtfulness for taking that time to think and communicate, DeCosmo not only impacted those students but became a clear leader in the field.” DeCosmo would go on to write the opening chapter for Amgen Scholars: Best Practices in Summer Undergraduate Research Programs

Mary Gates Scholar Ruby Barone, ‘23, said that experiencing DeCosmo’s mentorship transformed her as an undergraduate researcher and as a young professional. “Janice’s tenacious spirit fueled my academic pursuits, while her unconditional kindness and unwavering support provided a foundation upon which my work and I could thrive.” 

“Watching students develop as they encounter authentic questions, research that is relevant and important to them, is so inspiring,“ said DeCosmo of her experience over the decades working with undergraduates. “When students own the work they are doing, when they learn to develop and explore their curiosity and discover how that research can impact others – that is what drives me.”

Whether a student continues the line of inquiry they began as undergraduates — and many do, with great success — or whether they take the curiosity and confidence they developed to a brand new field or activity, it is gratifying to see how they grow through these experiences,” said DeCosmo. 

Barone reflected on DeCosmo’s legacy as one that “will forever remind us of the remarkable impact one person can make in fostering a culture of resilience and motivation across all fields of study.” 

The Office of Undergraduate Research looks forward to honoring this important legacy of undergraduate research excellence while continuing to advance the role of the University of Washington in the development of technology and discovery for the public good.