Dr. Virginia Beard of the Hope College political science faculty has been appointed director of women’s and gender studies.

An associate professor of political science, she will begin her three-year term with the start of the 2015-16 school year.  She succeeds Priscilla Atkins, formerly a long-time member of the library faculty who has continued to serve Hope as a visiting associate professor and the program’s director.

The women’s and gender studies program was established as a women’s studies program in the 1990s, initially offering a minor and expanding to include a major in 2005.  The program became women’s and gender studies in 2014.

The interdisciplinary program includes courses from multiple departments and programs, including art, communication, dance, English, history, interdisciplinary studies, modern and classical languages, music, political science, psychology, religion, and sociology and social work.  The program is based in Lubbers Hall.

Beard has been a member of the faculty since 2007 and has taught courses in the program throughout her time at the college.  Her areas of specialization are comparative politics, focused on Africa, as well as public policy. Her research interests are in the areas African political development; democratization; conflict and stability; land rights in Africa; the role of institutions in political development; identity politics with a focus on gender, religion and ethnicity; public policy in political development; homelessness policy; and public policy and poverty. She has spent much time in Kenya and has language experience in both Swahili and German.

Her external professional activity includes serving as the book review editor for the “Journal of Poverty and Public Policy.”  Her article “Reexamining Current Breast Cancer Screening: An Analysis of the 2009 U.S. Preventative Services Task Force Guidelines for Breast Cancer Screening,” co-authored with Carol Ann Beard, is forthcoming in “Women & Health.”

In 2012, she was one of only 15 scholars nationwide chosen to participate in the 2012 Lilly Fellows Program Summer Seminar for College and University Teachers, “Teaching Peace and Reconciliation: Theory and Practice in Northern Ireland.”  She has received awards from the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) including a GLCA Library of Congress Digital Humanities grant and GLCA New Directions grant.

In addition to her teaching, she mentors students as collaborative participants in her research projects.  Her involvement in the life of the college has also included speaking through the “Last Lecture Series” coordinated by Hope’s chapter of Mortar Board in 2013 and presenting a focus session during the college’s 2012 Critical Issues Symposium focused on reconciliation.

Beard earned a bachelor’s degree in political science with a focus on African Politics and Third World Development from Calvin College in 2000. After a year living in Dallas, Texas, as an AmeriCorps VISTA working on affordable housing and microlending projects, she returned to Michigan and pursued graduate studies at Michigan State University, where she earned a master’s degree in public policy and administration in 2005 and her doctorate in political science with a focus on international development and African politics as well as public Policy in 2006.

As a graduate student, Beard worked on the Afrobarometer Survey Research Project, a nationally recognized and awarded dataset that covers economic and political opinions among citizens across 18 African nations. She continues to conduct research and evaluation work in East Africa, primarily in Kenya, but also in Rwanda and Uganda.

Prior to joining the Hope faculty, she worked for a year at Public Policy Associates Inc., a Lansing-based policy research and evaluation firm. She also has served as a commissioner on the Greater Lansing Commission on Race and Diversity and is committed to racial reconciliation and being part of community initiatives to combat institutional forms of exclusion and oppression.

Beard is a long-distant runner, completing the Boston Marathon in 2011 and 2013, and enjoys traveling, spending time investing in local community, and visiting family around Michigan as well as in her homes of Texas and Mississippi.  She lives in Holland with her husband, a University of Michigan Law School graduate and attorney in Grand Rapids.