Smith named vice provost for educational initiatives

Jennifer R. Smith, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, has been named to the new position of vice provost for educational initiatives, announced Beverly R. Wendland, provost and executive vice chancellor.

Jen Smith
Smith

The appointment is effective July 1, 2021, and Smith will remain as dean until the end of the academic year. Arts & Sciences will announce plans for identifying candidates for the College of Arts & Sciences dean position later this month.

“I am so pleased that Jen Smith is joining the provost’s office in a position that is particularly timely in light of the challenges of educating our students during COVID-19,” Wendland said.

“In her role as dean in the school with the largest undergraduate enrollment, and in her recent additional role on the executive committee of the Danforth Campus Fall Planning Committee during an extraordinary time, Jen has shown her commitment to helping our students realize their full potential no matter the challenges they face. She is passionate about our students and has an endless amount of energy and ideas toward creating challenging, enriching educational experiences for them.”

Among her responsibilities in the provost’s office, Smith will focus on enhancing equity in undergraduates’ academic opportunities, experiences and outcomes; deepening student research experiences; assessing educational programs; and fostering innovation in educational programs and practices. She will serve as a key member of the provost’s core leadership team, regularly advising the provost on strategic decisions.

In addition, Smith will work closely with Laurie Maffly-Kipp, interim vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School as well as the Archer Alexander Distinguished Professor in the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics.

“Working with our students, faculty and staff to advance the undergraduate educational mission is a privilege and a joy,” Smith said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to deepen relationships and build new ones across the university in pursuit of a transformative and equitable education for every undergraduate student.”

Smith joined the Washington University faculty in 2002 as an assistant professor of earth and planetary sciences 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 degree in geology and a PhD in earth and environmental science in 1998 and 2001, respectively, both from the University of Pennsylvania.

Her research has focused on understanding the role the environment has played in human societies in the archaeological past, particularly where water resource availability was a critical issue. This work took Smith to places such as Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Croatia, Bolivia and the Canadian Arctic.

She became dean of the College of Arts & Sciences on July 1, 2012, and was promoted to professor of earth and planetary sciences in 2016. She was named a 2013 Eisenhower Fellow and spent her one-month fellowship in India learning about innovation in higher education.

As dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, which has more than 4,000 students, Smith is responsible for the university’s liberal arts curriculum and supports Admissions in recruiting new students as well as the Career Center in preparing them for life after graduation.

She leads the undergraduate four-year advising program with its 22 deans in the college and even serves as a four-year adviser to over 60 students; oversees an annual budget of more than $3 million; and collaborates with the offices of the Dean of Students, the First Year Center, the Center for Teaching and Learning and others toward fostering a holistic undergraduate experience.

Since April, Smith has served on the Fall Planning Committee (FPC) helping plan a safe return to school this semester during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to being on the FPC’s executive committee, she co-chaired its Educational Mission Working Group charged with guiding and supporting the shift in academic instruction to hybrid online/in person for this fall semester. And she chaired the Academic Operations subcommittee that, among other areas, was responsible for ensuring that classrooms are both safe and accessible for students and faculty.

A focus on student success

Under Smith’s leadership, Arts & Sciences has strengthened programs focused on student success, including enhancing support structures for first-generation or low-income students; adding an emphasis on inclusiveness to the advising system; incorporating life planning into academic planning; and expanding the financial and academic support associated with the First-Year Summer Academic Program for incoming under-resourced students.

Smith has worked closely with STEM departments and faculty to enhance the  foundational science curriculum and student experience in courses in ways that encourage student persistence and improve learning outcomes. She also oversaw the transition of College Writing and Overseas Programs under the college umbrella.

She is also responsible for creating a strong community among Arts & Sciences administrators, faculty and students, including hosting (pre-COVID-19) regular home-cooked dinners with students and bringing her dogs to campus.

She started a treasured tradition her first year as dean of asking first-year students to write a simple phrase — a goal, dream, aspiration or expectation — onto a small square of fabric. Those pieces are then assembled, hung in her office, and presented back to the class four years later at Commencement.

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