When Jennifer Summit, dean of Undergraduate Education and Academic Planning, steps into the position of interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs on Thursday, colleagues expect her to excel in the challenging new role.
Summit is temporarily replacing Sue Rosser, who was recently appointed to the state Chancellor’s Office, effective Thursday. Summit’s appointment will last one year or until a permanent replacement is found, according to a press release issued by President Leslie E. Wong on Aug. 8.
“In her short time, her leadership has brought a new vision to undergraduate education, academic advising, student success, curriculum development and the intellectual and social development of our students,” Wong said in the release. “…The University has much to do this coming year. I am confident that we will achieve much with Dr. Summit’s leadership.”
As interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, Summit will head the division that oversees the seven colleges, all faculty, academic programs, curriculum and support areas; which include research, sponsored programs, and the library.
She will also work on rolling out Graduation Initiative 2025, a statewide initiative beginning this semester to increase graduation rates across the California State University’s 23 campuses by 2025.
History Department Chairperson, Trevor Getz, who worked collaboratively with Summit over the last two years, said her expertise will be instrumental in ensuring the college meets its goals.
“She’s given the task — in this crucial year — of putting in motion the plan that’s going to let us get from 51 percent to 69 percent graduation rates,” Getz said. “It’s going to be a major, major thing. I actually believe that we can do it. I believe that Jennifer is the person who can make that happen.”
In her two years as a dean at SF State, Summit led the creation of the Division of Undergraduate and Academic Planning. The consolidated division includes: general education, writing in the disciplines, writing across the curriculum,student academic support and advising, curriculum development, student learning assessment, the Metro College Success Program and the Institute for Civic and Community Engagement.
She also led initiatives supporting student academic achievement and success in the majors, including a faculty-led curriculum redesign in the majors, supported by the Teagle Foundation and a pre-major structured pathway to support students in the lower division, supported by the Keck Foundation.
“It’s amazing for a university of ours (CSU) to get money from the Keck Foundation and the Teagle Foundation,” Getz said. “That’s astounding that (Summit) managed to bring that money in. Teagle, as far as I know, has not funded any other comprehensive four-year public university.”
Despite leading these efforts, Summit insists the achievements are not hers alone.
“It’s a very collaborative division and I think what we do here that is strongest happens through relationships,” Summit said. “I would like to think that while I was here I built up, strengthened and supported the relationships that made and continue to make great things happen supporting student success.”
Summit began her career in academia on the tenure track as a professor in Stanford’s English Department, where she worked for nearly 20 years and garnered numerous teaching awards. She is a widely published scholar of medieval and Renaissance literature, with fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Modern Language Association.
“As a literary scholar you are trained as a reader first,” she said. “The challenge of reading and interpreting complex evidence is something I think that feeds into the challenge of making decisions in a complex institution.”
A proud Bay Area native, Summit grew up in Silicon Valley before the once sprawling orchards and mustard weed were paved over to make way for the many techie campuses there today.
The Bay Area holds a profound spot in her heart, she said, adding that she is in love with her homeland and the SF State community she serves.
The time Summit spends away from work is largely dedicated to her two kids, who keep her fascinated with their passions for video games and fantasy and science-fiction novels.
American educator Janet English once said “teaching is like sailing.” The analogy is one Summit will take with her into her new role.
“You know the direction you want to go, but you can’t control the winds and the waves. You can control the sail and how it responds to the winds and the waves, but you also have to be extremely sensitive to where the winds and the waves are coming from,” Summit said.