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The third of four finalists to become the University of Iowa’s 22nd president is Georgia State University’s Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Wendy F. Hensel — who worked as a private attorney and judicial clerk before launching her career in academia.
All three finalists announced so far have been women — beginning with Hari Osofsky, dean of Penn State Law and the Penn State School of International Affairs, followed by University of Illinois System Executive Vice President and Vice President for Academic Affairs Barbara Wilson.
Hensel, like the others, will visit Iowa City for two days and meet with a wide range of campus leaders and constituents — from UI Health Care to athletics to outgoing UI President Bruce Harreld and his cabinet. She also will meet with student, faculty and staff leaders.
Her public forum is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Monday.
Hensel has spent her entire professional academic career at Georgia State, starting as an instructor in 1999, advancing to visiting and assistant professor in the early 2000s, and earning the title of associate professor and then full professor in 2011.
Her first administrative stint came in 2012 as associate dean for research and faculty development in Georgia State’s College of Law, followed by a stint as interim dean that landed her the job on a permanent basis from 2017 to 2019.
Hensel became interim provost in 2019, again procuring her the job on a permanent basis later that year — a role she’s remained in since.
She was educated in the Big Ten, earning her undergraduate degree “with highest honors” in American public affairs from Michigan State University in 1992. Hensel graduated cum laude with her juris doctor from Harvard Law in 1995.
In 1991, Hensel served as an administrative assistant to the chief justice on the U.S. Supreme Court — then Justice William Rehnquist.
From 1995 to 1996, she was a judicial clerk for the U.S. District Judge Orinda D. Evans in Atlanta. And from 1996 to 1999, she focused on labor and employment counseling and litigation with the law firm Alston & Bird LLP in Atlanta.
Among her more recent key accomplishments as Georgia State provost, Hensel lists leading the development and execution of “multi-semester university academic plans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including (the) shift to all online instruction for nearly 11,000 classes within a two-week period.”
She also served as a key member of the team making COVID-19-related decisions, including those addressing the budget, athletics, housing, student services, testing and contact tracing.
Like Iowa’s public universities, Georgia State offered options for both online-only and some in-person learning — with many classes happening in a hybrid format.
The campus opened its residence halls and — like UI — didn’t require its students get tested for COVID before moving in, a protocol Iowa State University employed.
Georgia State did “strongly” recommend students get tested, however, and offered free saliva-based testing to students, faculty, and staff on campus.
It didn’t adjust its academic calendar or eliminate spring break — something all three of Iowa’s public universities did this semester to limit high-risk travel.
Regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, Georgia State has made it available for its community members but has “no plans to make the vaccine mandatory.”
In her Georgia State bio, Hensel calls herself a “passionate advocate for people with disabilities,” serving on the board of directors for several organizations “committed to their full inclusion in society.”
Much of her writing in books and articles has related to people with disabilities — discussing autism in the workplace, vouchers for students with disabilities and the limits of federal disability law.
She also, according to her Georgia State bio, has led the formation and execution of diversity, equity, and inclusion action plans, “with the goal of setting Georgia State on the path to becoming a national leader in this area.”
“Using an approach combining data analytics, open communication, transparency and community engagement, the university has made significant progress in creating a university for all,” according to Georgia State.
In 2019, the Association of Governing Boards did a case study on Georgia State’s ability to enhance student success — given shifting demographics on its campus.
With 60 percent non-white students, 33 percent first-generation and 58 percent receiving Pell Grants — all populations historically associated with lower postsecondary achievement — Georgia State employed several integrated programs meant to level the playing field.
Georgia State re-imagined its advising process using 10 years of student data, grades and graduation rates to create a list of 800 indicators of academically at-risk students, according to AGB.
Those indicators enabled Georgia State to create an early warning system for advisers, sending them push notifications about students who might be at risk.
Georgia State also instituted a microgrant program for qualifying students — and AGB found the two initiatives “profoundly impacted student success at Georgia State.”
The university in 2019 was conferring 67 percent more undergraduate degrees than it did six years earlier and “achievement gaps between high-risk student populations and the total student body have disappeared, with African American students, Hispanic students and low-income students graduating at the same rates as white and middle- and upper-income students,” according to AGB’s findings.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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