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Distinguished Alumni/ae Award

On Tuesday, October 17, 2017, alumni/ ae, friends, and supporters of Vanderbilt Divinity School and the Graduate Department of Religion joined Dean Emilie M. Townes for a celebration dinner honoring the 2017 Distinguished Alumni/ ae award recipients. 

This year's Divinity School recipient is Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs, D.Min.'92, of West Hartford, CT. The Graduate Department of Religion Distinguished Alumni/ae Award is presented posthumously to Reverend Dr. Chandra Taylor Smith, B.A.'83, Ph.D.'01. 

2017 Distinguished Alumni/ae Award Honorees

Rabbi Stephen Fuchs

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs, D.Min.'92

Rabbi Fuchs is the 2017 Divinity School Distinguished Alumni/ae Award recipient. As a writer and lecturer, Rabbi Fuchs promotes social campaigns that encourage racial and religious affirmation and respect.

Rabbi Fuchs served as Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, CT, from 1997-2011. Prior to his service at Beth Israel, Rabbi Fuchs was Senior Rabbi at The Temple Congregation Ohabai Sholom in Nashville, TN, for 11 years, and was the first full-time spiritual leader at Temple Isaiah in Columbia, MD, for 13 years. Following his retirement from Beth Israel, he began an appointment as President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ). He traveled the world while serving in that role until October 2012.

Currently, Rabbi Fuchs writes and lectures extensively, both domestically and abroad. He has worked hard to convey that the essence of Jewish values are found in gemilut hasadim — concrete acts of caring and kindness that make a difference in the lives of others.

Rabbi Fuchs’ first book, What’s in it for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives, was published in 2014 and translated into German in 2015 and into Russian in 2016. His second book, ToraHighlights, a collection of commentaries on each weekly Torah portion, was published in the fall of 2016 and is available in both English and German. The rabbi's third book, Why the Kof? Getting the Best of Rabbi Fuchs, is a collection of his best (to date) essays and blog posts compiled and edited by freelance writer Susan Marie Shuman of SusanWritesPrecise. 

To learn more about Rabbi Fuchs, visit

Rev. Dr. Chandra Taylor Smith

Reverend Dr. Chandra Taylor Smith, B.A.'83, Ph.D.'01 

Reverend Dr. Taylor Smith is the 2017 Graduate Department of Religion Distinguished Alumni/ae Award recipient. Reverend Dr. Taylor Smith was a nationally recognized pastor, speaker and writer who dedicated her life to theological education, public education, and environmental justice. Her husband, Bennie Smith, will attend the dinner and accept the award on her behalf. 

Reverend Dr. Chandra Taylor Smith most recently served as Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion at the National Audubon Society. In this role she managed the national operational support and program development for Audubon’s unparalleled nationwide network of 42 nature Centers and more than 460 local Chapters as well as Audubon’s education department and flagship corporate partnership, Toyota TogetherGreen. With a background in education policy and an academic concentration in ecological theology, Chandra brought to Audubon’s extensive network of environmental learning opportunities her passion and commitment to education and her life-long interest in the intersections of the cultural, spiritual, and physical health dimensions of human connections with nature.

Before joining Audubon, Chandra was Vice President for Research at the Council for Opportunity in Education and Director of The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, where she led Pell’s mission to encourage policy makers, educators, and the public to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for low-income, first-generation, and disabled college students. Prior to her tenure at the Pell Institute, she was the first Executive Director of College Summit Chicago (opening the first regional office of the national non-profit College Summit) and then served as Deputy Director of the Postsecondary Education and Student Development Department and District Director for AVID at Chicago Public Schools under then CEO, Arne Duncan.

About the Distinguished Alumni/ae Award

Learn more  about previous recipients  of the Distinguished Alumni/ae Award. 

The Divinity School award is given to someone who has demonstrated excellence and distinction in justice making through their work in congregational ministry, religious institutions, ecumenical organizations, community –based organizations, government, or other social institutions.

The Graduate Department of Religion award is given to someone whose scholarship, teaching, or research has advanced the understanding of religion and its formative impact in the world.