Editor’s Letter


Our cover story marks the fifth anniversary of Nicholas S. Zeppos’ tenure as chancellor. While reading Jim Patterson’s account of the past five years, what struck me most was the number of major changes at Vanderbilt during that short span of time, many of them highly visible. If you’re in a Reunion class this year or trying to decide whether to come back for Homecoming this fall, I’d urge you to make the effort not only for the chance to meet up with old friends, but for the opportunity to see a transformed campus.

Zeppos’ own life experience, I think, presents a compelling argument for why the liberal arts remain so relevant. He was an undergraduate history major at the University of Wisconsin. A chancellor’s job requires focusing on the here and now and divining the future—but Zeppos’ mindfulness of our shared past informs his leadership style as well.

He began teaching at Vanderbilt as an assistant law professor in 1987, within a few months of the time I began working here. By then Colleen Conway-Welch was already shaking things up in Godchaux Hall. The young, fearless, glamorous new School of Nursing dean had arrived on campus two years earlier at a precarious time in the school’s life. Expanded opportunities for young women in other fields, combined with competition from nursing programs at less costly public institutions, had brought Vanderbilt School of Nursing to a crossroads with no clear direction.

The Vanderbilt Nurse was the first publication I edited at Vanderbilt, so I had a front-row seat as Conway-Welch dismantled the bachelor’s program in nursing and ushered in an era of advanced practice nursing. See our feature article for a look at her lasting legacy at Vanderbilt and on the nursing profession.

Among Vanderbilt’s 10 colleges and schools, Conway-Welch was, at the beginning of her tenure, the only female dean. Now the College of Arts and Science and Peabody College both have female deans, as will the Divinity School with the arrival this summer of Emilie Townes. (Look for more about her in the next issue of Vanderbilt Magazine.)

Zeppos and Conway-Welch share a passion for something that is changing the very fabric of how universities interact with students: digital learning. Nursing was the first school at Vanderbilt to embrace the concept, allowing students to attend Vanderbilt from a distance, and Zeppos has rallied resources around campus this year to ensure Vanderbilt is at the forefront of this field, which is growing at a breakneck pace.

To learn more about the latest in digital learning, check out Doug Schmidt’s account of his experience teaching one of Vanderbilt’s first MOOCs (massive open online courses). A professor of computer science and associate chair of the computer science and engineering program, Schmidt offers an accessible and fascinating introduction to this important new trend in higher education.

Also make sure you check out our gallery of reader-submitted photographs. Then think about sending us a photo yourself—we’re featuring a reader-submitted photo on the back cover of each issue. Email yours to vanderbiltmagazine@vanderbilt.edu.

Thanks for your words of praise and constructive criticism about the magazine’s new design. As I’ve said here before, readers provide us with some of our best ideas and never cease to surprise and delight us with nuggets of information about all things Vanderbilt.


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