New Burnett Honors Dean Drawn to UCF’s ‘Dynamic Environment’
After a national search, UCF has selected Sheila Amin Gutiérrez de Piñeres as its new dean of The Burnett Honors College.
Piñeres will join UCF next summer from Austin College in Texas, where she serves as executive vice president of Academic Affairs and Special Initiatives and dean of faculty.
“Dr. Piñeres stood out because of the depth of her own scholarship and her experience engaging students and faculty across the university,” said Provost and Executive Vice President Dale Whittaker. “I am confident her leadership will help foster new partnerships among The Burnett Honors College and faculty and colleges across UCF to enhance the academic and outreach experiences for our students, as well as expand the college’s high-impact practices through community engagement and research.”
Prior to Austin College, Piñeres served in several administrative and faculty roles at the University of Texas at Dallas, including dean of undergraduate education and professor of political economy and economics.
However, Piñeres is not new to UCF or to environments like The Burnett Honors College. During 2011-12, she served as an American Council on Education Fellow assigned to UCF. For a year, she shadowed President John C. Hitt and then Provost Tony Waldrop and took every opportunity available to learn about the different areas of the university.
“My fellowship experience at UCF was absolutely amazing,” Piñeres said. “I worked at UT Dallas at the time and was on campus every other week packing my schedule with everything I could. I even spent four days at the Knights Pantry learning how to help students and staff start our own food pantry at UT Dallas.”
Piñeres said Austin College – a highly selective liberal arts college with about 1,300 students – is similar to The Burnett Honors College, and she is excited about opportunities that could be created because of UCF’s scale.
“I was drawn to UCF because of its dynamic environment that supports and encourages innovation and creativity, and because it looks to the future to answer ‘What’s next?’ instead of waiting to see what’s coming,” she said. “I met [former Burnett] Dean Wang during my fellowship, and I’m really excited to build on the great things he has done and to answer ‘What’s next?’ for the college.”
Piñeres said she wants to preserve the values of a liberal arts education within a larger institution, leveraging UCF’s resources to increase opportunities for students. Her own experiences as a student helped her understand the importance of these opportunities, especially faculty mentorship and studying abroad. Both experiences landed her on her current career path and helped her meet her husband.
When her original plans to attend Cornell University fell through because of her father’s job loss, Piñeres instead attended Texas A&M University, where she met her mentor, Professor Steve Pejovich, who encouraged her to pursue a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Chicago and then supported her when she decided to move to Duke University.
“Dr. Pejovich invested in me and defined what it was to be a professor and mentor,” she said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without him, and I hope all students are afforded that opportunity.”
Piñeres plans to move with her husband, Victor, whom she met in Colombia during a high school exchange program and married eight years later. They have two sons: Victor, who recently graduated from Austin College and works as an analyst in Dallas, and Sebastian, a freshman at the University of Tulsa. They also have three rescue dogs: Lola, Lucky and Bautista.
“So many things happen in your life. You might not know the reason for some of them at the time, but there comes a point when all things come together,” she said. “My work in admissions taught me how to recruit students. My work in undergraduate education taught me that students develop differently. My ACE Fellowship taught me about UCF and the importance of scale, and Austin College helped me understand the values and importance of what an honors education can be and what it means to students. UCF is where all of these roles are coming together for a purpose.”
Piñeres will be taking over from Martin Dupuis, who has served as interim dean since August when Alvin Wang stepped down to return to the faculty. Dupuis will be returning to his previous role as associate dean of the college.