Sarah Church will step down as the Freeman-Thornton vice provost for undergraduate education (VPUE) at the end of fall quarter after three-and-a-half years in the position.

Provost Jenny Martinez appointed Lanier Anderson, the J.E. Wallace Sterling Professor in Humanities and professor of philosophy, as interim vice provost and said that a search committee for Church’s successor will be formed as soon as possible.

The Office of the VPUE has broad oversight of undergraduate studies and comprises Academic Advising, the Center for Teaching and Learning, Stanford Introductory Studies, the Program in Writing & Rhetoric, the Haas Center for Public Service, and the Bing Overseas Studies Program.

“It has been an honor to serve as Stanford’s vice provost for undergraduate education. It has been extremely gratifying to work on enhancing the educational experiences of our wonderful undergraduate students and to develop resources and support for faculty in their teaching,” said Church. “I would love to continue to lead this work, but at this time, I need to reduce my workload to focus on an ongoing health issue. I’m grateful to be receiving excellent medical treatment and expect to make a full recovery.”

“The VPUE team is phenomenal – all of them committed to making Stanford one of the best places for undergraduate education – and I am so proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish together these past three-and-a-half years. I’m confident that this great work will continue to ensure that our undergrads have exceptional educational experiences at Stanford and are well-prepared to have an impact in the world,” said Church.

“Sarah is a brilliant leader, a great collaborator, and exceptional colleague,” said Provost Martinez. “She has devoted her career to improving the educational experiences for all undergraduate students. This dedication to undergrads, particularly first-generation and underrepresented students, has been inspiring. Her efforts during the pandemic were extraordinary – working tirelessly to ensure the continuity of our undergraduates’ education under extreme conditions. She has contributed so much during her years here at Stanford, and we wish her all the best.”

A campus leader for more than 20 years

Church has been in teaching, research, and senior-level administrative roles at Stanford for more than 20 years, with a long history of supporting undergraduate education at Stanford.

Prior to being named vice provost in 2020, she served briefly as vice provost for faculty development, teaching and learning at Stanford. Previously, Church was senior associate vice provost within VPUE, working on a number of initiatives, including supporting equity in the classroom for women and underrepresented minority students. For over a decade, she has been deeply engaged in designing and teaching introductory physics courses for students who may need extra preparation as they enter Stanford.

Under her leadership, VPUE launched a Leveling the Learning Landscape (L3) initiative that seeks to equalize educational access and opportunity for all undergraduates and evaluate ways in which the university can broaden and deepen support for all students regardless of background and interest. As part of the L3 initiative, VPUE developed the Curriculum Transformation Institute within the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), which provides funding, support, and other resources to faculty who wish to enhance their curricula. This past summer, VPUE kicked off the Stanford Summer Fellows Program, which connects dozens of rising sophomores from first-generation and/or low-income backgrounds to mentored research projects, micro-internship placements, and additional summer coursework.

A first-generation student, Church has shared with undergraduates her own story of struggling in physics as a first-year student at Cambridge University. In turn, she has prioritized the development of a holistic academic well-being initiative within VPUE. This effort included the establishment of a leadership position wholly focused on cultivating partnerships across Stanford in this sphere, as well as connecting faculty to resources that help them better support their students and navigate issues connected to students’ academic well-being.

During the COVID-19 crisis, as vice provost, Church led Stanford’s Academic Continuity Group as part of the university’s pandemic management structure. This group was responsible for ensuring the continuity of education during the global pandemic.

Church also co-led, with Professor Dan Edelstein, the Long-Range Vision design team that reimagined the first-year experience at Stanford. In May 2020, the Faculty Senate approved the establishment of a Civic, Liberal, and Global Education (COLLEGE) requirement for first-year students, based on the design team’s proposal. Launched in fall 2021, the program serves as a common curricular foundation based on the tenets of a liberal education, providing students with the skills, training, and perspectives for engaging in meaningful ways with others.

Church has been a faculty member in the Physics Department at Stanford since 1999, where she established a research program in experimental astrophysics. In 2014, she was named the Pritzker University Fellow in Undergraduate Education in recognition of her extraordinary contributions to undergraduate learning.

Church received her BA in natural sciences and PhD in radio astronomy from Cambridge University.