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Heather Williams to Serve as SAO's First Chief Operating Officer

Heather Williams

Heather Williams will become the first Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), beginning July 12, 2023.

Ms. Williams brings almost three decades of extensive experience leading operations at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to the SAO COO role. Having served in various capacities within MIT, including the Department of Physics, the School of Science, and the Provost's Office, she deeply understands the complexities of supporting collaborative scientific organizations. Heather's expertise spans diverse areas, ranging from managing funding portfolios, finance, and human resources functions to streamlining bureaucratic processes that can hinder scientific progress.

"We look forward to Heather bringing her wealth of knowledge and expertise to advance our SAO mission and vision," said Lisa Kewley, Director of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA), which encompasses SAO in a collaboration with the Harvard College Observatory.

Currently, Ms. Williams spearheads large-scale initiatives, programs, and projects in collaboration with colleagues across MIT as Assistant Provost for Strategic Projects. Her recent achievements include restructuring graduate student funding, contributing to the establishment of the Office of Research and Data, playing a pivotal role in negotiating MIT's graduate student union contract, and creating the first website for the Provost's Office.

Prior to her position in the Provost's Office, Ms. Williams was the Assistant Dean for Administration in the MIT School of Science for fifteen years, where she oversaw administrative and operational functions for six academic departments and five research units. At the School of Science, she led the operations, including human resources, resource allocation/budgeting, administration and management, communications, and space planning, while participating in the creation and execution of strategic plans and initiatives within the School.

Before her time at the School of Science, Ms. Williams spent eight years in the Department of Physics, during which she actively participated in transformative endeavors such as the Pappalardo Postdoctoral Fellowship program and a significant renovation project that consolidated the department's teaching and administrative functions and co-located the department's theoretical physicists. Heather's dedication to fostering growth and organizational excellence is further evidenced by her leadership of a graduate course on human resources development at Boston College, where she emphasized organizational design, talent acquisition, training, leadership development, and cultivating a positive employee experience and culture.

Ms. Williams holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Journalism from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a Masters' degree in Psychology from the Harvard University Extension School.