After an international search for the 14th president of Wake Forest University, the Board of Trustees, upon the unanimous recommendation of the appointed search committee, has named Susan R. Wente as the next leader of Wake Forest.
A renowned biomedical scientist and visionary higher education leader, Wente has served as Vanderbilt’s provost and vice chancellor for the past seven years. She took on the additional role of interim chancellor from August 2019 to June 2020. During her tenure at Vanderbilt, Wente has advanced the excellence of academic programs and guided the university’s response to the pandemic.
“Dr. Wente is the right person to enable Wake Forest to seize the opportunities before it.” Gerald Roach, chair of the search committee and the Board of Trustees
“Among a field of highly-qualified candidates, she stood out as a transformational leader and world-class academic who is committed to the personal connection and engagement that Wake Forest values,” Roach said.
Wente will become Wake Forest’s president on July 1, 2021. She succeeds Nathan O. Hatch, who has served as the University’s president since 2005.
“I have long admired the people associated with Wake Forest,” Wente said. “This is a special institution, committed to excellence with a tremendous ability to develop leaders of great integrity for our world.”
“I look forward to joining the Wake Forest community and working with the outstanding faculty, staff, students and alumni to seize the multitude of opportunities for Wake Forest to excel even further as a national leader and model.” Susan R. Wente, Wake Forest University's 14th president
The search process began on October 14, 2020, following President Hatch’s announcement of his intended retirement on June 30, 2021. More than 1,600 Wake Forest students, faculty, staff and alumni participated in the search process through an extensive community listening program led by the Board of Trustees.
The presidential search included an extraordinary field of diverse candidates who represented the full spectrum of the higher education landscape and several non-traditional backgrounds. Wente emerged as the leading candidate because of her unique combination of experiences, talents and passions.
Wente has been widely praised for her bold and engaged leadership and for accomplishing a number of firsts, including the appointment of Vanderbilt’s first female athletic director and the creation of the university’s Office of Inclusive Excellence. Wente led Vanderbilt’s efforts to launch a new structure for the university and medical center’s academic relationship. As provost, she has been the chief academic officer responsible for all 10 of Vanderbilt’s schools and colleges. She also developed the university’s 10-year strategic plan. Wente has overseen innovative initiatives to enhance the undergraduate experience and elevate the arts and humanities, and she served as the Vanderbilt faculty athletics representative for the Southeastern Conference and NCAA.
Wente holds a doctorate in biochemistry and began her teaching career at Washington University’s School of Medicine. She served on the faculty there from 1993 to 2002. She was recruited to Vanderbilt and served as a professor and chair of the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology in the School of Medicine. She advanced through the administrative ranks at Vanderbilt, serving as associate vice chancellor for research and senior associate dean for biomedical sciences, before becoming the University’s provost in 2014.
Wente was Vanderbilt’s first female provost and will be Wake Forest’s first female president.
Wake Forest senior Savarni Sanka, who was recently awarded the Rhodes Scholarship and served on the presidential search committee, was particularly drawn to Wente’s style of leadership.
“Dr. Wente’s warmth is simply infectious. When she walks into a room, she brings with her this sense of togetherness, resolve and trust.” Savarni Sanka ('21)
“You can tell that a deep desire to cultivate genuine connections and care for others informs her every conversation and act,” Sanka said. “I could not be happier to welcome her to the Wake Forest family as our next president.”
While charting the course for higher education institutions, Wente has maintained a commitment to groundbreaking research.
She has personally mentored dozens of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. In the Wente cell biology lab, she and her laboratory team focus on understanding pathways between the nucleus and cytoplasm of cells. Wente has authored or co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed research articles and has served on editorial boards for leading academic journals in her field.
“Dr. Wente is a respected cell biologist whose work has impacted our understanding of human motor neuron diseases, such as ALS, proving her academic excellence for decades,” said Herman Eure, a University Trustee, professor emeritus of biology, and search committee member. “The fact that she continues to run a respected research program and mentors students shows that she has the curiosity of a scientist and a heart of an educator.”
Professor of Law Wilson Parker, who also served on the search committee and is the former chair of the Faculty Senate, noted Wente’s deep experience in many areas central to the Wake Forest community. “Dr. Wente’s experience allows her to see a university through multiple lenses,” he said. “With a firm commitment to academic excellence, she carries a deep appreciation for the liberal arts, dedication to professional studies, and above all, experience creating opportunities for faculty and students.”
Wente has also been recognized for her engagement with the community. She was named a “Women of Influence” by the Nashville Business Journal in 2020.
“Dr. Wente has significant experience leading a private university with a medical center,” said Wake Forest Trustee and Vice Chair of the Wake Forest Baptist Health Board Don Flow. “Her vast network of relationships, hands-on expertise in medical and academic research, and extensive knowledge of the healthcare enterprise are a rare combination and are extremely valuable in a university president. I believe she will be a strong and invested partner in our community.”
Wente earned a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry from the University of Iowa and her Ph.D in biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. She was a postdoctoral fellow at both the Rockefeller University and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Wente has received a number of honors and awards for her research and leadership.