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Understanding the Importance of the Provost Position

After a competitive national search, I’m pleased to share with you that Northern Arizona University will welcome a permanent provost this summer. While our provost is new to the position, she is not new to NAU and Flagstaff.

Unless you work at the university, or have been engaged in higher education circles, you may know very little about what it means to be a provost or understand the important role of this position.

A quick glance at the NAU website gives you this explanation: “Northern Arizona University Provost supports innovation and cutting-edge approaches to education and research. The Office of the Provost provides resources, support and leadership for academic faculty, staff and programs to facilitate the development of teaching, learning and research outcomes that reflect the university’s mission and values.”

That doesn’t tell you everything about the provost role, but I can add that this position is critical to the success of a university. I’m providing this background as I proudly share that Dr. Diane Stearns has accepted my offer to become the next provost and vice president of Academic Affairs at Northern Arizona University.

NAU and Flagstaff are Diane’s home and she is dedicated to ensuring the best for each. Currently, she is serving as the interim dean of our new College of Engineering, Informatics and Applied Sciences, having worked with faculty and academic leadership to create the college in July 2018.

Diane came to NAU in 1997 by joining the faculty in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, became a full professor in 2006, and has also served as the associate vice president for research.  Building relationships and collaborative engagement are skills that have been defining characteristics of Diane’s career at NAU, having led numerous initiatives and serving on committees that have helped shape NAU’s future.

Diane has played a significant role in the impactful work with the Southwest Health Equity Research Collaborative (SHERC), which was recently awarded a $21.4 million grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. SHERC is working to address health disparities in diverse populations in our region to find useful solutions to the problem surrounding socioeconomic factors, environmental exposures, access to care and cultural components of lifestyle choices.

In a recent message to our campus community, Diane shared her enthusiasm for the position and the opportunity it provides to engage with the NAU and campus communities. “I was attracted to the challenge of strengthening both NAU’s commitment to student success and our national reputation,” Stearns said. “I am humbled to have been selected by President Cheng and the NAU community to serve in the role of provost, and I look forward to working with all of our campuses, academic colleges and administrative units to implement our strategic plan that will lead us to enhance the student experience, increase our impactful scholarship and serve all members of our extended community.”

A national search for a new provost began in the fall. The search committee reviewed an extensive number of applications, invited potential candidates for preliminary interviews in February, and held campus interviews with the four finalists in early March.

Throughout the process, it was clear that Diane’s history and understanding of the university and its culture was supported by the campus community. Her institutional knowledge, combined with a strong academic record and administrative experience, set Diane apart. I have complete confidence in her ability to engage with the entire campus community and provide strong leadership for our academic units.

Diane will work with our Interim Provost Brian Levin-Stankevich to transition into her new position and I look forward to introducing Diane as Provost to the Flagstaff community. FBN

By Rita Cheng

Rita Cheng is the president of Northern Arizona University.

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