Provost Susan R. Wente receives Mary Jane Werthan awardby Ann Marie Deer Owens Apr. 9, 2021, 7:00 AM
The Women’s Center presents awards each spring to recognize Vanderbilt community members who have demonstrated leadership, fostered mentorship, promoted gender equity and contributed significantly to the advancement of women at the university.
Wente, who has been a trailblazer as the first woman to serve as Vanderbilt’s provost and the first woman to lead the university as interim chancellor, is the recipient of the Mary Jane Werthan Award. Named in honor of the first woman to serve on Vanderbilt’s Board of Trust, this award is presented annually to an individual who has contributed significantly to the advancement of women at Vanderbilt University. The award honors three qualities characteristic of Werthan: vision, persistence and extraordinary skill in interpersonal and institutional relations.
Wente, who holds a Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair, led the university through the early months of the COVID-19 global pandemic while she was serving as interim chancellor. One of her nominators noted that her work at this time required “profound empathy, commitment, transparency and expertise.” Other nominators commended Wente for her work supporting women at all levels. For example, when she served as chair of the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, she dramatically increased the number of women in the basic sciences at Vanderbilt. As provost, she created the Office for Inclusive Excellence in 2017 and convened the WAVE Council in 2018. As interim chancellor, she appointed the university’s first woman athletic director.
Through all of this work, as one nominator stated, Wente served as “an invaluable source of inspiration and counsel as a strong, persistent and visionary woman leader on campus.” Another nominator wrote, “Susan Wente leads the way for those to come.” Wente will become the first woman president of Wake Forest University on July 1.
The Mentoring Award honors a member of the Vanderbilt University community who fosters the professional and intellectual development of Vanderbilt women. This year there are three winners.
The first recipient of the Mentoring Award is Stacey Floyd-Thomas, associate professor of ethics and society, who holds the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair. According to her nominator, Floyd-Thomas “speaks honestly about the obstacles that women face in the academy and society, especially Black women and women of color, and offers invaluable guidance and support for women students in successfully navigating institutional barriers without sacrificing their well-being.” Nominators noted Floyd-Thomas’ assistance as they learned how to maneuver through the academy’s organizational structures as well as the job market itself. One letter writer stated that, throughout “job interviews, contract negotiations, publishing commitments and the enduring quest toward promotion and tenure, Dr. Floyd-Thomas has remained a steady guide.” Another stated that Floyd-Thomas has always “wanted to do whatever she could to help me succeed.”
The second recipient of the Mentoring Award is Sharon Shields, senior associate dean of student empowerment, engagement and development for Peabody College of education and human development. One of Shields’ nominators describes her as a “tireless advocate and staunch supporter” of students; her “generosity with her time, talent and treasure are boundless.” According to another nominator, “Shields is the ‘moral compass for Peabody College.’ She makes us see what we might have missed otherwise in the heat of trying to solve a problem.” Several of Shields’ nominators noted her talent for recognizing and nurturing potential. One nominator relays that when she returned to graduate school, Shields “saw a path for me that I was unable to see in the moment—a path that seemed daunting and overly ambitious—but her belief in me made the movement forward an adventure and a possibility.”
The third recipient of the Mentoring Award is Ally Sullivan, executive director of Facilities Business Operations. According to her nominator, Sullivan “demonstrates all the characteristics of a great leader: integrity, honesty, diplomacy, common sense and personal responsibility. She has empathy for her staff without losing sight of the university’s priorities and needs.” Of Sullivan, one nominator writes that she is an example of a “professional woman who doesn’t have to compromise herself or her family to be successful.” The nominator explains that, through Sullivan, she has learned “how to make my voice and opinions known and respected”; Sullivan “is always willing to listen to her team, develop our ideas and goals, and work with leadership to make them a reality.” Another nominator writes that Sullivan translates leadership’s goals so that her team can achieve them. She provides “support and coaching such that we all feel that we can be successful.”
The Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center Leadership Award honors an undergraduate or graduate student who demonstrates leadership in activities that contribute to the achievements, interests and goals of women or that promote gender equity.
This year, Madison Hitchcock, a junior at Peabody College, has received the award.
As editor-in-chief of The Slant, Vanderbilt’s humor and satire publication, Hitchcock has worked to challenge an organization that was formerly hostile to women’s leadership and to create in its place an inclusive and welcoming environment where women’s contributions are valued. Aware that comedy is itself a male-dominated industry, Hitchcock worked to make The Slant a publication where women’s voices could be heard. According to her nominator, Hitchcock “deliberately focused her recruiting efforts on improving gender parity, and she succeeded. The imbalance of the staff she inherited was remedied, as the staff become 50 percent female.” Another nominator writes: “Madison stands out as one of the strongest and most effective leaders within Vanderbilt’s student media organizations. And she’s funny.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no ceremony was held this year, but the awards were distributed individually.
For more information on the Women’s Center’s awards, contact Women’s Center Director Rory Dicker.