Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Susan R. Wente, Ph.D.
Susan R. Wente has been Vanderbilt’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs since 2014 and recently served coincidently as interim chancellor from August 2019 through June 2020. She has many years of distinguished service to the university, where she started in 2002 as professor and chair of the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology in the School of Medicine. During her time at Vanderbilt, she has held multiple key roles in research, administration and leadership. She currently is also appointed to the endowed Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair.
As the university’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, Wente oversees all academic programs and leads initiatives to advance the university’s mission. Since becoming provost, Vanderbilt has ascended in the U.S. News & World Report rankings from #16 to #14 and has jumped from #20 to #10 within Reuter’s assessment of the World’s Most Innovative Universities. Drawing on her distinguished background in biomedical science, Wente combines her expertise in scholarship and research with an overarching vision that spotlights innovation, collaboration and discovery. As Vanderbilt’s first female provost and the first woman to lead the university in an interim capacity or otherwise, she is an advocate for women in science and the importance of equity and inclusion across all academic affairs.
As interim chancellor, Wente oversaw all facets of the university, working to elevate Vanderbilt’s mission and uphold its values of discovery, inclusion, immersion and achievability while navigating the unprecedented challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Wente defined her leadership principles of trust, transparency and teamwork early on in her term, promising they would guide her work as interim chancellor, just as they had in her role as provost. These principals continued to drive the university’s decisions and processes during the university’s response to the pandemic and though the subsequent re-opening plan.
A commitment to greater diversity and inclusiveness on campus were reflected in her leadership appointments that included the first female athletic director in Vanderbilt’s history and the first African American woman to serve in that role in the Southeastern Conference, the first Latino dean of the Blair School of Music and two permanent appointments of vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and director of the Provost’s Office for Inclusive Excellence. Wente also worked to advance the arts and humanities, global engagement and focus on FutureVU during her time as interim chancellor. She appointed faculty and staff to a new University Arts Council to promote the arts on campus and to increase the university’s connections with the Nashville creative community and oversaw significant campus expansion and renewal as the Nicholas S. Zeppos College and Faculty Commons expansion projects moved towards completion. Significant sustainably efforts during her tenure included the university’s advancement towards carbon neutrality and the campus operating exclusively on renewable energy by 2050. A pioneering agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Nashville Electric Service was also established to procure off-site large-scale renewable energy to help mitigate the campus’ greenhouse gas emissions.
As provost, she also oversees faculty, staff, programming and initiatives for all 10 of Vanderbilt’s schools and colleges: the Blair School of Music, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Divinity School, the School of Engineering, the Graduate School, the Law School, Owen Graduate School of Management, Peabody College of education and human development, the School of Medicine – Basic Sciences, and the School of Nursing. In addition, she leads the areas of student affairs, housing, admissions and financial aid, fostering a dynamic student experience. Under Wente’s leadership, Vanderbilt was ranked No. 1 for financial aid and No. 2 for happiest students by the Princeton Review.
Wente is also credited with co-chairing the development and now leading the implementation of Vanderbilt’s Academic Strategic Plan, which emphasizes how the university’s key pillars of cross-disciplinary research, an immersive undergraduate residential experience, innovative educational technology and healthcare solutions can benefit Vanderbilt and all of society. Towards this end, she has championed the development of the university’s residential college program and launched the university’s first Office for Inclusive Excellence, the university’s first innovation center, the Wond’ry and the Russell G. Hamilton scholarships for graduate education. She is also responsible for the implementation of Immersion Vanderbilt, an innovative long-term experiential learning program that is a cornerstone of the university’s undergraduate curriculum. The academic affiliation agreement supporting the historic transition of Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center into two separate nonprofit organizations was led on the university’s side by Wente, with a priority of ensuring that the university and medical center’s culture of research and education collaboration continued to flourish while further securing the financial stability of both entities.
Prior to becoming provost, Wente was named associate vice chancellor for research in the medical center in 2009 and was concurrently the senior associate dean for biomedical sciences, where she led several trans-institutional graduate programs and oversaw the training of over 1,000 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.
Wente continues to run an internationally respected research program that has made groundbreaking discoveries regarding the exchange of proteins and RNA, which have enabled opportunities for further characterization of the biological mechanics behind cellular transport. She has personally mentored 36 predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees.
Throughout her career, she has received many honors and awards, including the coveted MERIT award from the National Institutes of Health (2010 – 2020), the Women in Cell Biology Senior Career Award from the ASCB (2011), the John H. Exton Award for Research Leading to Innovative Biological Concepts (2008), the Kirsch Foundation Investigator Award (2001 – 2003), the Beckman Young Investigator Award (1996) and was named a Woman of Influence in the “Trailblazer” category by the Nashville Business Journal (2020). Additionally, she is an elected fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Society for Cell Biology and has been featured in Nashville Medical News’ “Women to Watch.”
Wente earned her Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from the University of Iowa and her Ph.D. in Biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. She was a post-doctoral fellow at The Rockefeller University and prior to joining Vanderbilt served on the faculty at Washington University in St. Louis from 1993 to 2002.
205 Kirkland Hall