Rosemary Blieszner heard the question on the other end of the phone. Her jaw dropped.

Thanassis Rikakis, former Virginia Tech provost, asked Blieszner to serve as interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Blieszner, a faculty member and leader at Virginia Tech since 1981, had never been a dean.

She remembers the quick question and then an invitation to meet him about it the next day.

“I never would have dreamed that I would be called upon to be a dean,” said Blieszner. “I was in a state of shock. I thought ‘I should probably say something.’”

That was in 2017. In the time since that phone call, Blieszner has served as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and currently is interim dean of the newly renamed College of Architecture, Arts, and Design.

It’s no secret that Blieszner has built a universitywide reputation for stepping up to serve in all kinds of roles when the need arises.

Service defines her. In the 41 years that she has been a Hokie, Blieszner has held positions that span the university, all while serving through her leadership, scholarship, and teaching.

In recognition of her ongoing work in the university’s key mission areas, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors  named Blieszner an Alumni Distinguished Professor for the third time. The honor is given to faculty who demonstrate extraordinary accomplishments and academic work across teaching, research or creative activity, and engagement. Each is appointed for 10 years.

Blieszner, a faculty member in the Department of Human Development and Family Science, first was named to the prestigious position in 2002. Ten years later, in 2012, her position was renewed. Only 10 university faculty receive such an award.

“I’m very honored and very grateful for this recognition” she said. “The past and current Alumni Distinguished Professors are educators and scholars whom I admire greatly.”

Since 2003, Blieszner, who formerly was associate director of the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech, has worked with colleagues on research specific to caregivers for people living with early memory loss and dementia. The group received funding from the Virginia Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Research Award Fund, the Alzheimer’s Association, the National Institute on Aging/National Institutes of Health, and the Virginia Tech COVID Rapid Response Fund.

Last year, Pennsylvania State University, Blieszner’s doctoral alma mater, named her an alumni fellow, an honor that recognizes alumni who are leaders in their professional fields.

In the area of teaching, Blieszner has taught undergraduate and graduate courses and supervised undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral student research. She also helped faculty with developing proposals for new courses, graduate degrees, and graduate certificates as part of her responsibilities as an associate dean of the Graduate School from 2009-17.

Blieszner perhaps is best known for stepping into a variety of leadership roles at Virginia Tech, in particular when unexpected vacancies have occurred. While she was an associate dean of the Graduate School, she concurrently served as assistant vice provost for enrollment and degree management from 2015-17.

For the next two years, she was both interim dean and then dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Since 2021, she has been interim dean of the College of Architecture, Arts and Design.

Blieszner also chairs Virginia Tech’s Sesquicentennial Steering Committee.

When she was young, she learned that service to her community was important. Her parents modeled it. Her mother volunteered in schools and in church, and she was a Cub Scout leader for Blieszner’s brothers. Both her parents raised money for scholarships and volunteered for Duquesne University, her sister's alma mater.

“I just really thought this is what I’m supposed to do, I’m supposed to help out,” Blieszner said. “I am very loyal to Virginia Tech. I’m a Hokie through and through.”

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