Future of graduate and professional student housing focus of chancellor’s working group

Developing housing options for graduate and professional students that extend learning and collaboration beyond the classroom and laboratory is the aim of a working group appointed by Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos. The group, which includes senior leaders from across campus, began their work in June to formulate recommendations that can be addressed as part of FutureVU, the campus land use planning process underway now.

Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos (Vanderbilt University)

“We have a tremendous opportunity to extend the interdisciplinary discovery and teaching occurring on our campus every day to a dynamic new community for graduate and professional students who represent a diverse range of disciplines, cultures, geographic areas, economic backgrounds, life stages and nationalities,” Zeppos said. “Exposure to a diversity of ideas promotes creativity, discovery and understanding that will broaden students’ perspective in the classroom and the world beyond. This effort will buttress Vanderbilt’s expanded commitment to attract and support the very best graduate and professional students.”

The working group is partnering with Demographic Perspectives, LLC, a leading consultant in university housing analysis. Demographic Perspectives is conducting research and taking a data-driven approach to support development of various graduate housing options and amenities tailored specifically to Vanderbilt, including potential intellectual and social programming. The firm has worked on similar projects at peer institutions including Harvard, Princeton and Cornell universities and Washington University in St. Louis.

Demographic Perspectives held 28 interview and information-gathering sessions this summer with representatives from all 10 colleges and schools as well as other stakeholders. The working group also visited universities in the New York City and Boston areas to benchmark against their current graduate and professional student housing offerings and to learn from their experiences.

Provost Susan R. Wente (Vanderbilt University)
Provost Susan R. Wente (Vanderbilt University)

“Improving the experience of our graduate and professional students and the support provided to them is a cross-cutting theme of the Academic Strategic Plan; housing in particular was a topic of focus in the recent Graduate Education Study Group report titled ‘A New Vision for Graduate Education at Vanderbilt,'” Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan R. Wente said. “The rigorous process we are undertaking right now is designed to respond to recommendations made in the report as well as to understand the fundamental design and location elements that must be in place. Our goal is to create options for graduate and professional student housing that reflect Vanderbilt’s emphasis on living and learning environments where student development happens both inside and outside of the research setting and the classroom.”

The planning efforts dovetail with the university’s focus on mental health and well-being.

Graduate School Dean Mark Wallace (Vanderbilt University)
Graduate School Dean Mark Wallace (Vanderbilt University)

“Graduate and professional students have unique needs. Through this process, we are looking for opportunities to enhance the overall health and well-being of these students by providing amenities and programming that are relevant to them and to their families,” Dean of the Graduate School Mark Wallace said. “We are interested in creating another opportunity to deepen student connection and community.”

Sustainability and student ease of access to campus are also themes that are built into the planning process and are linked to FutureVU. Available and affordable graduate student housing close to campus has become increasingly difficult to find as Nashville’s real estate market continues to boom.

Vice Chancellor for Administration Eric Kopstain (Vanderbilt University)
Vice Chancellor for Administration Eric Kopstain (Vanderbilt University)

“Through building design and location, we are seeking to provide the opportunity for students to live close to campus and actively encourage them to walk, bike and ride public transportation,” Vice Chancellor for Administration Eric Kopstain said. “Green building designs and systems are also features we are evaluating.”

Focus groups with graduate and professional students are being held Oct. 27 to better understand the importance of housing to the overall student experience. Additional focus group meetings and a survey of graduate and professional students will take place this winter. At that point, the committee will use all information gathered to develop a strategy and design for next steps.


The working group members are:

  • Chris Guthrie, dean of the Law School, John Wade-Kent Syverud Professor of Law;
  • Eric Johnson, dean of the Owen Graduate School of Management, Bruce D. Henderson Professor of Management;
  • Eric Kopstain, vice chancellor for administration;
  • Ifeoma Nwankwo, associate provost for strategic initiatives and partnerships, Chancellor’s Higher Education Fellow, associate professor of English, of teaching and learning, and of American studies;
  • Michael Perez, associate vice chancellor of administration and chief facilities officer;
  • William H. Robinson, associate dean of the School of Engineering, associate professor of electrical engineering and of computer engineering, Faculty Senate representative;
  • Christopher Serkin, associate dean for research, Law School, and professor of law;
  • Tina Smith, assistant vice chancellor, Chancellor’s Higher Education Fellow;
  • Brett Sweet, vice chancellor for finance and chief financial officer;
  • Mark Wallace, dean of the Graduate School, Louise B. McGavock Professor of Medicine, professor of hearing and speech sciences, of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and of psychology;
  • Donna Webb, associate professor of biological sciences and of cancer biology, Faculty Senate representative;
  • Susan R. Wente, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, professor of cell and developmental biology.

Learn more about FutureVU >