Yesterday at a large staff meeting I had the opportunity to hear from someone I’ve known a long time, but who is approaching a new role as the Dean of the College effective July 1: Michele Gillespie. She was named Dean of the College earlier this spring (see official announcement here) but she was at our staff meeting to talk a little bit about her Wake Forest experience and why she is so excited about the future. I won’t do justice to her presentation, but here are some select moments.
She talked about growing up in a rural part of New Jersey and that she had a transformational experience in high school as an exchange student to Indonesia. That abroad experience made her want to go to a college that wasn’t in the Northeast and that would challenge her – certainly not as much as Indonesia, but in a place that was new to her.
She ended up in Texas at Rice University and was an English-History double major. Rice, she said, was a lot like Wake Forest in terms of its undergraduate experience, with an emphasis on student-faculty engagement and excellent teaching. At Rice, she had the opportunity to work more closely with faculty and helped work with the Journal of Southern History.
Michele ended up at Princeton for her PhD in History, working with historian James McPherson, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning Battle Cry to Freedom. She taught for nine years at Agnes Scott College, an all-women’s school in Atlanta. She did a lot of work with race, class, and sex in the early South and how women were represented (or absent) in history, particularly as it involved women and work.
Her husband, Kevin Pittard, is a 1985 graduate of Wake Forest and was a teacher. He won the Waddill Award for Excellence in Teaching (an award given to two outstanding Wake Forest alumni teachers) and he and Michele came to campus to receive the award. Michele recalled that some of Kevin’s former faculty came to a reception in his honor, and she was blown away by the campus and its sense of community and hospitality, not to mention academic excellence.
She said that she had been happy at Agnes Scott College, but having seen Wake Forest firsthand, when a job in the History department opened up about six months later, she felt like she wanted to throw her hat in the ring and have a chance to be part of this great community.
The rest, as they say, is history. She came back to teach history, and her husband Kevin also came back to Wake as an Associate Dean of Admissions.
Knowing Michele as my friend, as well as a faculty member and administrator, I can say she really is a wonderful person. She gives a lot to her students, helping mentor them. She worked for several years in the Provost’s office and was a thoughtful and talented administrator, and she was always a hit any time she spoke to groups of alumni or parents.
I know she’ll do a great job for your students as Dean of the College and am excited to see what the future brings.
— by Betsy Chapman