Two senior leadership appointments announced

Jen Smith named College of Arts & Sciences dean, Sharon Stahl promoted to vice chancellor for students

Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton has announced two senior leadership appointments at Washington University in St. Louis — the dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and the vice chancellor for students — to fill the dual roles held by James E. McLeod before his death Sept. 6.

Jennifer R. Smith, PhD, associate professor of earth and planetary sciences and of environmental studies, both in Arts & Sciences, has been named dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.

Sharon Stahl, PhD, associate vice chancellor for students and dean of the First Year Center, has been named vice chancellor for students.

Smith and Stahl, whose appointments are effective July 1, will become members of WUSTL’s University Council, which comprises the chief administrative officers and deans of the university.

Stahl, along with Wayne Fields, PhD, the Lynne Cooper Harvey Distinguished Professor of English in Arts & Sciences, has been leading the College of Arts & Sciences, in addition to her other responsibilities, on an interim basis since Oct. 1.

Stahl will remain a member of the College of Arts & Sciences as senior associate dean.


“In drawing Stahl and Smith to our leadership team we have a combination of talented, experienced leaders who will build on the foundation built by Jim McLeod,” Wrighton says.

“Continuing to strengthen the student experience in every way is our objective, and I am very pleased to be able to work with Sharon Stahl and Jennifer Smith in the era ahead.”

Smith to lead largest undergraduate school

Gary S. Wihl, PhD, dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences and the Hortense and Tobias Lewin Distinguished Professor in the Humanities, says that Smith has the “courage, vision and energy” to lead WUSTL’s largest undergraduate school with 4,000 students.

“Like Jim McLeod, she sees potential in every one of our students and will guide the college in the coming years to bring out the best in our undergraduates.

“She is also a highly accomplished member of our faculty, who has won the esteem and admiration of her colleagues. Jen’s appointment will generate excitement and interest, particularly as she becomes better-known to our graduates, parents and friends.”

Wihl, who appointed an eight-member search committee last November to identify internal candidates for the position that reports to him, acknowledged the work of the committee, which was chaired by Wolfram M. Schmidgen, PhD, associate professor of English in Arts & Sciences.

“Wolfram Schmidgen and the members of his search committee did an outstanding job in identifying Jen as a candidate and recruiting her for this appointment,” Wihl says. “Jen and Wolfram represent the emergence of the next generation of leaders who are stepping forward to continue to build Washington University as one of the nation’s leading institutions of higher education.”

Continuing McLeod’s legacy

Smith has served on more than 20 department and university committees since joining the WUSTL faculty in 2002 as an assistant professor of earth and planetary sciences. She was promoted to associate professor in 2009.

“I am deeply honored by the opportunity to continue the formidable legacy left by Jim McLeod,” Smith says. “The potential of our undergraduates to rise to the myriad challenges presented by today’s society gives me great hope, and I am excited to work with the faculty and staff of Arts & Sciences to help fully develop that potential.”

As dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, Smith will be responsible for the university’s liberal arts curriculum as well as every phase of student life, from admission through graduation and onward to postgraduate success.

Among other responsibilities, she will lead the undergraduate four-year advising program with its 17 deans in the college and six in other schools; manage an annual budget of more than $3 million; work with the Undergraduate Council to address student governance issues; and work with the offices of the Dean of Students, Campus Life, Residential Life, the First Year Center, and other academic support units that deal with the undergraduate experience.

She came to WUSTL after a yearlong lectureship appointment in Harvard University’s Department of Anthropology.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in earth and planetary sciences, magna cum laude, from Harvard College in 1996 and a master’s of science in geology in 1998 and a PhD in earth and environmental science in 2001, both from the University of Pennsylvania.

Her research interests include understanding the interaction between humans and their environment in the archaeological record by examining how natural climatic and environmental changes affected the resources available to people through time, as well as how changes in population and technology have affected the amount and nature of human impact on the natural environment.

Much of her research uses tools from sedimentology, geomorphology and geochemistry to reconstruct the landscapes and environments occupied by prehistoric people.

Smith, who has been cited as a contributing author on more than 100 published articles and abstracts, has done field work in Belize, Axel Heiberg Island (a Canadian island), Egypt, Croatia, Sudan, Morocco, Iraq, Syria, Dubai, Ethiopia, Greece and Bolivia.

Taken the initiative to get to know students’

A native of Trumbull, Conn., Smith said in a 2010 Washington People Record profile that she learned how to face challenges from her father, a pipefitter, and how to make a difference in her students’ lives from her mother, a former parochial school teacher.

Smith is known for her commitment to students, both undergraduate and graduate, through her supportive and encouraging teaching and advising. She also is known for being generous with her time, energy and ideas.

A prolific academic adviser, she has advised more than 70 students to their degree, including three PhD students, two master of science students and 66 bachelor degree students.

She currently is advising a PhD and a master’s degree student and 56 bachelor degree students.

The recipient of a Faculty Mentor award from the Graduate Student Senate in 2005, she has also acted as a mentor to undergraduates pursuing research on climate change through the Office of Undergraduate Research.

In 2010-11, Smith participated in the Faculty Associates Program, designed to provide opportunities for significant faculty-student interaction outside of the classroom setting. As a faculty associate, she engaged with a resident adviser and a floor of some 50 first-year students living in Danforth House on the South 40.

“From a student perspective, we are interested in having a new dean of the college who will carry on Dean McLeod’s legacy and his invested interest in knowing each student ‘by name and story.’ In her time at Washington University thus far, Professor Smith has taken the initiative to get to know students both inside and outside the classroom, whether as a four-year adviser or faculty associate,” says senior Ashley D. Brosius, a student representative to WUSTL’s Board of Trustees who served on the dean search committee.

“From my conversations with Professor Smith, she seems deeply committed to the student experience and attuned to our academic needs. I think as dean she will importantly be able to relate to students in both the humanities and the sciences and prioritize our interests as the College of Arts & Sciences moves forward,” says Brosius, a triple major in anthropology, political science, and women, gender, and sexuality studies, all in Arts & Sciences.

Smith’s service to the university includes serving on the college’s Academic Planning Committee and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences’ committees on strategic planning and curriculum.

She has been director of undergraduate studies for the department since 2003. Previous work includes serving on the university’s Committee on Retention of Women in STEM fields in 2009-10 and the Environmental Studies Executive Committee from 2008-10.

A member of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), she was co-chair from 2008-09 of the society’s Geoarchaeology Interest Group aimed at, among other activities, assisting in educating future geoarchaeologists.

From 2003-09, she was newsletter editor for SAA and the Geological Society of America Geoarchaeology.

Stahl committed to enhancing undergraduate experience

Stahl joined the university in 1988; all of that time has been spent in the College of Arts & Sciences, largely under the direction of McLeod, the person she considers her mentor.

“My years in the college have been such rewarding ones — wonderful colleagues, faculty, deans and staff and the most amazing and inspiring students anyone could hope to advise and mentor,” Stahl says.

“And I was so very lucky because I had the good fortune to be advised and mentored by Jim McLeod for 20 years. My effectiveness as an adviser and mentor to students, every positive contribution that it has been my privilege to make, can be traced back to Jim’s mentorship and his ability to bring out the best in every life he touched.

“Being asked to serve as vice chancellor for students is both an honor and a privilege,” Stahl says. “It is such an exciting opportunity to work with Washington University students in this role, and I look forward to learning more about all the facets that define the undergraduate experience, an experience that is as individual as each student.

“I look forward to coming to know all those names and stories — stories that are narrated by the classroom, the athletic field, the laboratory and the library, and the more than 300 student organizations that enrich the lives of our students every day.”

“I admire and respect Sharon Stahl, a valuable friend and colleague, for her commitment over the past two decades guiding hundreds of students through their undergraduate years at Washington University,” says Provost Edward S. Macias, PhD, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences.

“She has done a wonderful job as well leading the First Year Center since its inception in 2009, helping new students transition to university life,” Macias says. “She is committed to providing our freshmen and transfer students an exceptional undergraduate experience by engaging them with the academic, intellectual and social life of the Washington University community.

“Sharon is ideally suited to be vice chancellor of students,” Macias says. “Her dedication to preparing our students for lives of purpose and meaning is immeasurable.”

Ability to connect with students

As vice chancellor for students, Stahl will oversee the teaching and learning of undergraduates, with overarching responsibility for a wide range of offices: Campus Life, Community Service, Greek Life, Student Activities, Career Center, Orientation, Student Health and Counseling, Office for International Students and Scholars, Residential Life, Athletics, Cornerstone, First Year Student Center and Event Services.

Stahl, who also was featured in a Washington People Record profile, started her career at WUSTL in the College of Arts & Sciences, serving as part-time scholarship coordinator for the Honorary Scholars Program until 1992, when McLeod became dean and named her assistant dean.

She was promoted to associate dean of the college in 1995. Among her responsibilities, she was a four-year academic adviser and was assigned 40 incoming freshmen every year. Those students stayed with her until they left the university, either to pursue employment or graduate degrees. Not infrequently, these relationships continued beyond the student’s tenure.

As director of the Life Sciences Pre-Professional program, Stahl advised undergraduates applying to medical school. She also served as the liaison between Arts & Sciences and the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

Recognizing Stahl’s ability to connect with students and help them through their college years, McLeod named her associate vice chancellor for students and the inaugural director of the First Year Center in 2009.

In this position, Stahl works with colleagues in all areas of the university that can influence a student’s arrival and transition to campus life, including the five undergraduate schools and many other offices and programs. She also works with faculty members who have large classes with first-year students.

Stahl also directs the Danforth Scholars program, which provides full or partial scholarships to students upholding the highest academic and character standards.

Stahl earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Missouri-Columbia, in 1968, and completed graduate work in art history in 1970 from Vanderbilt University, where she worked in undergraduate admissions.

After moving to St. Louis, and with three young
children at home, Stahl entered the doctoral program in history at Saint
Louis University, earning a degree in 1987.

She met her future husband — Philip D. Stahl, PhD, now professor of cell biology and physiology at the WUSTL School of Medicine — at Mizzou’s Research Reactor Facility, where she was an undergraduate tour guide and he was doing postdoctoral training.