Sarah Church to become vice provost for undergraduate education

May 14, 2020

Church will succeed Harry J. Elam, Jr., who will leave Stanford July 1 to become the next president of Occidental College.

 Stacy H. Geiken Photography

Stanford physics Professor Sarah Church will become the vice provost for undergraduate education effective June 1, Provost Persis Drell announced today.

Church currently serves as the vice provost for faculty development, teaching and learning. In this position, which she assumed in October of last year, Church has been responsible for the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), and has jointly managed the Office for Faculty Development with C. Matt Snipp, vice provost for faculty diversity and engagement. With Church’s new appointment, CTL will also move to the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE).

In addition, Snipp has been appointed vice provost for faculty development, diversity and engagement, and will lead the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Development. Snipp’s new position is also effective June 1. 

Image credit: Stacy H. Geiken Photography

New VPUE leadership

Church has a long history of supporting undergraduate education at Stanford. In 2016, she was named the senior associate vice provost for undergraduate education, assisting and advising Elam on a number of matters, including supporting equity in the classroom for women and underrepresented minority students. For the last decade, she has been deeply involved in designing and teaching introductory physics courses for students who may need extra preparation as they enter Stanford.

“Sarah’s dedication to undergraduates, particularly first-generation or underrepresented students, has been exemplary,” Drell said. “Throughout her time at Stanford, Sarah has been tireless in her efforts to better the educational experience for all undergraduate students. She has a strong record of success in helping our students who arrive at Stanford from under-resourced high schools succeed and flourish. She is perfectly positioned to carry on Harry’s excellent work and to lead educational efforts for our undergraduate population.”

Church joined Stanford’s faculty in 1999. Since that time, she has led or served on multiple committees involved in the improvement of undergraduate education. Most recently, she served as co-chair of the faculty design team focused on a common first-year experience, one of two efforts – along with the future of the major – to revitalize the concept of a broad or “liberal” undergraduate education at Stanford. 

In 2014, Stanford named Church the Pritzker University Fellow in Undergraduate Education in recognition of her extraordinary contributions to undergraduate learning.

“I’m deeply honored to assume this role,” Church said. “As a first-generation student myself, I know personally what a profound impact an outstanding undergraduate experience can have on the lives of students far beyond their time at university. I have such admiration for what Harry has accomplished over the last decade and I look forward to working with students and VPUE staff to continue his legacy of advancing inclusion for undergraduates of all backgrounds.”

“Throughout her Stanford career, Sarah has been truly devoted to undergraduate education,” Elam said. “Soon after I appointed her as senior associate vice provost, she led a major examination of the first-year experience. The stellar report from Sarah’s committee impacted the changes in undergraduate education recently approved by the Faculty Senate. She has been an especially strong supporter of first-generation, low-income students, most specifically working to even the playing field in introductory science courses. In her current role as leader of the academic continuity team during this time of pandemic, Sarah has been an unflappable strategist, leading the way for faculty and students alike. She brings deep experience and commitment to this new role.”

Members of the VPUE search committee echoed Elam’s sentiments.

“With humility and compassion, Sarah Church brings to VPUE a vision for liberal education, a commitment to diversity and inclusion, and a sensitivity to the wide spectrum of student experience at Stanford,” said Vaughn Rasberry, associate professor of English and a member of the VPUE search committee. “But what sets Sarah apart has been her leadership during the current pandemic.”

Added another member of the search committee: “Sarah Church has dedicated her career to undergraduate education at Stanford,” said Justin Grimmer, professor of political science. “Her innovative teaching has made science courses more accessible and her tireless leadership during the COVID-19 crisis ensured the smoothest possible transition to an online-only quarter. She is a passionate advocate for undergraduates and will shape the VPUE to help all Stanford undergraduates have the best possible college experience." 

Initial priorities

Church plans to focus on two priorities when she assumes the VPUE role. The first involves how to implement the work done by the design group around rethinking the first-year experience. This includes outlining clear goals and metrics for success as the university looks to encourage a curriculum that emphasizes a more global view and places greater emphasis on civic responsibilities. On May 7th the Faculty Senate approved a pilot of a new Civic, Liberal and Global Education Requirement. Beginning in Fall 2021, students will take two courses in their first year to fulfill the requirement, with oversight responsibility for the program residing in VPUE.

“I learned a great deal from my humanities colleagues on the faculty design team about the value of a broad, liberal education,” Church said. “We need to support students who are pursuing all majors and ensure that all our students have greater exposure to the thoughts and ideas that will influence their lives as global citizens.”

Church’s other top priority is to support the IDEAL presidential initiative, with a special focus on educational equity and inclusive classrooms. With its global view of activities across the university, VPUE is the right organization to convene others on this topic, advocate for students and advance programs that ensure every student thrives at Stanford, she said.