Alyssa Ayres, a foreign policy practitioner with expertise in India and South Asia and an award-winning scholar with unique experience across multiple sectors, has been named dean of the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Dr. Ayres will be the first woman to serve as dean of the Elliott School.
She begins the role Feb. 1. She is no stranger to the Elliott School, as she previously taught a course on U.S.-South Asia relations.
“Dr. Ayres is an extraordinarily accomplished and highly regarded international affairs practitioner and scholar,” President Thomas J. LeBlanc said. “She will be an inspiring leader of our Elliott School of International Affairs and a passionate advocate for our incredible community of students, faculty, staff and alumni. I am delighted to welcome her back to GW.”
Trained as a cultural historian with a scholarly interest in South Asia, Dr. Ayres has worked across the nonprofit, government and private sectors. She is currently a senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Her work focuses on India’s role in the world and on U.S. relations with South Asia, and she has directed policy-relevant projects including the CFR-sponsored Independent Task Force on U.S.-India Relations and a MacArthur Foundation-supported initiative on the new geopolitics of China, India and Pakistan.
“I could not be more excited about joining the Elliott School and becoming part of the Elliott School community’s next phase” Dr. Ayres said. “Between the pandemic, global economic upheavals, climate change and the return of geopolitics, to name just a few of the urgent challenges we are facing, rigorous international affairs education and research has never been more important.
“We are all connected, and the Elliott School’s emphasis on developing international leaders, and on research that contributes to public debate and broader understanding of global affairs, brings together the best of scholarship with a commitment to public impact. I look forward to what we can do together to advance this mission,” Dr. Ayres added.
In her previous role at the U.S. Department of State as deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Dr. Ayres managed all issues across the dynamic region of 1.3 billion people and provided policy direction for multiple U.S. embassies and consulates. She had served previously in the State Department as special assistant to the undersecretary of state for political affairs as a CFR international affairs fellow.
Dr. Ayres was founding director of the India and South Asia practice at McLarty Associates in Washington, D.C., and has remained a part-time senior adviser to the firm. In the nonprofit sector, she helped lead the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Advanced Study of India and managed foreign policy and politics-focused public programs at the Asia Society in New York City.
“Dr. Ayres’ unique experiences as a practitioner-scholar and the extensive network she has built during her career are a perfect fit for the Elliott School, which prepares students for careers in international affairs by equipping them with the knowledge to become leaders,” Provost M. Brian Blake said. “She will be a tremendous asset to our students and faculty, with a vision encompassing scholarly excellence and preparation for careers in international affairs.”
As an author, Dr. Ayres has published with prestigious university presses. She released Our Time Has Come: How India is Making Its Place in the World with Oxford University Press in 2018 and Speaking Like a State: Language and Nationalism in Pakistan with Cambridge University Press in 2009, which won an American Institute of Pakistan Studies 2011-2012 book prize. She is currently working on a third book about India’s urban transformation, under contract with Oxford University Press. She also has written many essays, op-eds, policy papers and reports in her field of expertise, as well as edited numerous volumes.
Dr. Ayres earned an A.B. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Harvard College and an M.A. and Ph.D. from The University of Chicago in South Asian Languages and Civilizations. She speaks Hindi and Urdu.
The university charged a search committee that was chaired by James E. Foster, Oliver T. Carr Professor of International Affairs and professor of economics. Trustees, professors, members from the Elliott School Board of Advisors, alumni and graduate and undergraduate students comprised the committee.
“Dr. Ayres brings to the Elliott School a remarkable portfolio of experiences in the art and practice of international affairs, matched with an enduring commitment to scholarly endeavors. She is an authentic scholar-practitioner with the vision and skills to lead us to the next level,” Dr. Foster said.