By Esha Dhawan
Provost Persis Drell announced on Thursday that physics professor Sarah Church will become the new vice provost for undergraduate education (VPUE) on June 1. Church will succeed Harry Elam, who is leaving Stanford to become the next president of Occidental College.
Church currently serves as the vice provost for faculty development, teaching and learning and is responsible for the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). With Church’s new appointment, CTL will also move to the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education.
“I’m deeply honored to assume this role,” Church told Stanford News. “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.”
Members of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) student government said they hope that Church will continue to work toward goals of equity and inclusion.
“As I’ve known Sarah, she’s been a strong advocate and ally for students especially around equitable grading policies for spring quarter and I’m looking forward to working with her,” wrote ASSU Undergraduate Senate Chair Munira Alimire ’22, who is expected to be part of the next ASSU Executive.
“I’m excited that the Provost’s note mentions that Prof. Church will focus on equity and inclusion during her tenure — I hope she works jointly with students to ensure that changes closely track the needs of the community at a time when educational inequities are exacerbated by the move to remote learning,” wrote Jonathan Lipman ’21, who serves as the Undergraduate Senate representative to the Faculty Senate and has written for The Daily.
Entering her new role, Church has described her priorities as working to implement the changes to the first-year experience and to support the IDEAL (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access in a Learning Environment) initiative, with an emphasis on educational equity and inclusivity.
“While Prof. Church has very big shoes to fill, I’m hopeful that she’ll be able to build trust and deep connections with the student body,” Lipman wrote. “I encourage Prof. Church to go on a ‘listening tour’ to hear from as many students as possible what their needs are, particularly during this moment of crisis.”
Church served as VPUE senior associate vice provost, appointed by Elam himself, from 2016-18. She also served as co-chair of the faculty design team focused on a common first-year experience that was 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,” Elam told Stanford News.
As a physics professor, Church has also been involved in adapting introductory physics courses for students who may need extra support and preparation upon entering Stanford.
Church discussed Elam’s decade-long tenure as vice provost for undergraduate education with The Daily in November.
“I think given VPUE touches every student, it’s hard to overstate the impact that Harry has had on undergraduate life,” Church said. “I think he understands a lot about the undergraduate student condition and he’s always thinking about how the decisions he and others make impact students.”
Church described her role as providing a STEM perspective for course- and grant-related decisions for undergraduate studies. She also described working with Elam on the Stanford in New York program and on matters including supporting equity in the classroom for women and underrepresented minority students.
“Sarah’s dedication to undergraduates, particularly first-generation or underrepresented students, has been exemplary,” Drell told Stanford News. “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 also serves as the team leader for a committee focused on academic continuity formed in response to the COVID-19 crisis in March as part of Stanford’s emergency operations committee.
“We have worked with students to make sure that they have the resources they need to be successful in the online academic environment,” Church told The Daily about the academic continuity group in April. “This includes helping students who may not have good internet access, or who lack laptops and other necessary technology for online learning.”
“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,” Elam told Stanford News. “She brings deep experience and commitment to this new role.”
“What sets Sarah apart has been her leadership during the current pandemic,” added Vaughn Rasberry, associate professor of English and a member of the VPUE search committee.
“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,” Church told Stanford News.