Our Team


Kelsey E. Johnson, PhD Professor, Department of Astronomy

Associate Professor Kelsey Johnson, Director of the Echols Scholars Program, is an award-winning teacher and advocate for public astronomy education whose research on galaxy evolution has earned a National Science Foundation CAREER Award and other prominent honors.

A member of the Department of Astronomy’s faculty since 2004, Johnson draws a broad spectrum of science and non-science majors to her signature undergraduate course, “Unsolved Mysteries in the Universe.” The course was recently featured in an Illimitable video produced by the University. Elected to the UVA Academy of Teaching in 2015, Johnson was recently named as one of four “ACC Distinguished Professors” in the Atlantic Coast Conference of universities. Johnson’s other teaching awards include the UVA Center for Teaching Excellence’s All-University Teaching Award and the Z Society’s Distinguished Faculty Award.

Her work in the classroom is heavily influenced by embracing and promoting students’ sense of curiosity and appreciation for life-long learning. UVA students are not the only ones to benefit from her teaching. A champion for the importance of science literacy in modern society, Johnson also is the founding director of the award-winning “Dark Skies, Bright Kids” outreach program, which connects UVA astronomers, graduate students and volunteers to elementary schools in rural areas. Her research spans galaxy evolution, with a focus on ancient star formation in the universe. In addition to the NSF CAREER Award, Johnson was named a 2007 Packard Fellow, a prestigious distinction awarded annually to 20 top young researchers from a variety of scientific disciplines. She also has been recognized with an NSF Distinguished lectureship for her research, which has been featured in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and other national news publications. She has served as chair of the international ALMA Science Advisory Committee, and in 2016, she was appointed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee. Johnson serves as the Vice President for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific; earlier this year, she was elected to the board of the American Astronomical Society. 

Johnson served on the College’s General Education Committee that crafted the proposal for the new curriculum approved last May by a faculty vote. She continues to serve as a member of the College Fellows, appointed by the Dean’s Office to design the Engagements courses for first-year students enrolling in the new pilot curriculum this fall.

Johnson earned her Ph.D. and M.S. in astrophysics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She received her B.A. in physics from Carleton College.


Association Dean and Assistant Director

Sarah R. Cole, PhD Assistant Professor, Department of English

Sarah Cole joined the Echols Scholars Program in 2013, after teaching in the History and Literature program at Harvard University and serving in several advising roles at Harvard College. She received her B.A. summa cum laude from Bryn Mawr College and received her PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. At U.Va., she teaches in the English Department and the COLA (College Advising Seminar) program, while serving as Association Dean for the Echols Scholars and as Assistant Director of the Echols Scholars program.

Dr. Cole’s academic interests include nineteenth-century British fiction and poetry, gender studies, and concepts of national and ethnic identity in Modern Europe. Her research focuses on the literary genre of the Bildungsroman (or novel of education), exploring how stories of youthful development relate to historical changes in British gender and class relations. Her work has appeared in journals such as Victorian Poetry and Nineteenth Century Literature, and she has frequently presented at conferences including the Modern Language Association and the North American Victorian Studies Association. She teaches a variety of interdisciplinary seminar courses that aim to connect classic works of literature with questions that are relevant to today’s society. One recent course, “Migrant Europe,” explores the experiences of immigrants and ethnic minorities in modern Europe, using examples ranging from nineteenth-century fiction to contemporary films and newspaper articles. Her teaching has received several awards, including the Harvard University Certificate of Excellence in Teaching.

As an Association Dean at the College of Arts and Sciences, she provides academic advising and support for the Echols Scholars. She is available to discuss issues such as course choices and career goals, and she hopes to serve as a resource for any students experiencing challenges that affect their academic work. She also serves as Assistant Director of the Echols Scholars program, collaborating with the Director and members of the Echols student community to plan academic initiatives that enhance the Echols experience.