What’s On My Mind: Strengthening Vanderbilt’s impact on the global stage

In the last two years, we’ve widened our aspirational lens to build Vanderbilt’s reach and reputation internationally by developing strategies with a global scope. The cutting-edge work conducted by faculty and students at research universities contributes enormously to the welfare and advancement of our society. Now more than ever, with external narratives being woven that aim to undermine higher education, this is a critical time for universities to engage.

Seeking to navigate the constant barrage of news being shared daily from an unprecedented number of sources, the general public is thirsting for reliable information from trusted intermediaries. Vanderbilt and our peer academic research universities have a critical role to play in advancing knowledge, leadership and ideas that drive positive change.

It’s up to us to advance the conversation by pushing forward, constantly and effectively, with evidence-based research. And we plan to do just that.

Today, we announced the Chancellor’s Public Voices Fellowship, designed to deploy our strategic communications resources to amplify the impact of our faculty’s scholarly work on the global stage. The creation of this fellowship was driven by our faculty through the Committee for Enhancing Voices in the Public Sphere, chaired by Ganesh Sitaraman. It also builds on the work and recommendations of the International Strategy Working Group, chaired by Ted Fischer and Ingrid Wuerth. Not only do we share governance at Vanderbilt, we share values—this initiative is one of many proof points of the impact of that approach.

As Professor Sitaraman and his colleagues wrote in their committee’s report: “ … So much of this research has relevance beyond the academy: This work helps us understand the natural world, it elucidates issues of considerable public importance, it informs the human experience—and as a result, it is essential that this work reaches an audience beyond our fellow academics.”

Look no further than our faculty research awards announced last month to find examples of discovery that inform the discourse on issues of the moment, including Jessica Kennedy’s timely research into gender differences in the workplace or Michael Vandenbergh and Jonathan Gilligan’s novel approach to reducing global carbon emissions.

The new fellows program intentionally brings together the incredible teaching and discovery of our renowned faculty with the strategic communications expertise of our Division of Communications to leverage our collective strengths for greater impact. This is what we do here at Vanderbilt—through a uniquely collaborative and creative culture, we bring the best of Vanderbilt to the world around us.

The Chancellor’s Public Voices Fellowship will be a semester-long, multifaceted communications curriculum for faculty whose work is poised for broad public engagement. What does that look like? A customized strategic communications plan supported by a range of tactics—from media outreach to op-eds to videos and infographics—to effectively inject our experts and their research firmly into national and international dialogue.

As part of this program, a constant feedback loop will help the Division of Communications further refine each iteration of the program and identify broader opportunities to engage more faculty with communications training and support.

We’re moving forward with our international and outreach strategies on many fronts, and I’m optimistic about the impact our new Chancellor Public Voices Fellows program can have on our education and research mission.

What’s On My Mind is a regular column from Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos on the life, people and mission of Vanderbilt University and issues affecting higher education today. Share your thoughts at