A note from dean townes on staff transitions at Vanderbilt Divinity
We are in a season of transitions as we begin a new academic year with a “new” building that has increased the Divinity School’s physical footprint that better reflects who we say we want to be based on our Purpose and Commitments. Living into one’s best self, particularly when that one is a theological school like VDS is both complicated and joy-filled. Complicated because we are a diverse group of folks—more diverse than I think we realize most days. It’s more than race and gender that adds to the rich beingness of who we are, it’s geography, theological viewpoints, age, denominations, sexuality, economics, and so much more. Each of us who comes to VDS to learn and teach brings worlds within each one of us. And if we get it right, we celebrate the myriad of ways that shapes each of us rather than try to crunch one another down into a one-size-fits-all person of faith or a person seeking meaning and purpose in life. It’s a challenge to live into a more expansive sense of community that we advocate, but one that we take up with vigor.
As we populate our new building, there are new faces. Most obvious will the entering class for this new year. Now, nearly 80 folks strong we are also welcoming students in the new Master of Theological Studies (ThM) program, a 30 credit hour degree program that enables students who already possess a MDiv or equivalent first theological degree to return to school to deepen their study in a particular area related to their ministry or to prepare more fully for applying to doctoral programs. We continue our transition into the new curriculum with last year’s MDiv students now joining the MTS students from last year in declaring their concentrations.
And then there are the people transitions. Professor Melissa Snarr has retired from the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs after seven years of service in that office. She did an incredible job as academic dean—helping to put in place common-sense protocols and guidelines for the degree programs and she was integral to our successful reaccreditation for ten years by one of our major accrediting bodies, the Association of Theological Schools. She has begun parental leave and will transition in to research leave as she returns to her scholarly research on the intersection of religion, social change, and political ethics. Transitioning into the office is Professor Ellen Armour. Ellen is also the director of our Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender, and Sexuality and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair in Feminist Theology. Ellen brings a wealth of experience to the deanship as she has her MA and PhD from Vanderbilt. I am looking forward to working with her as we continue to build out the new curriculum.
Another people transition is in the Admissions, Vocation, and Stewardship Office (AVS). After nine successful years, Assistant Dean for AVS, the Reverend Katherine Smith, has returned to alma mater Duke Divinity School to serve as the Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives. This is an exciting new position and we wish Katherine well and all the best in her new position. Joining us is the Reverend Laura Mariko Cheifetz. Laura is a PC(USA) minister and a 2005 graduate of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. She is also a graduate of Western Washington University (BA) and North Park University (MBA). Laura has experience in non-profits, theological education, and denominational leadership through her work with the Presbyterian United Nations Office, Mission Presbyterian Church, McCormick Theological Seminary, the Fund for Theological Education (now the Forum for Theological Exploration), the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. We look forward to the new directions she will take AVS in the future.