Jan Thomas, senior associate provost at Kenyon, has been named senior advisor for community relations, effective Sept. 1. In her new role, Thomas will lead Kenyon’s efforts to grow its partnerships with community organizations, area leaders and state and federal officials.
“Building the capacity to connect and collaborate with our neighbors is vital both to Kenyon’s academic mission, and to our civic responsibility. Jan is an ideal partner for this work,” President Sean Decatur said. “She has long recognized the educational and civic value of working with community members on pressing local issues, a commitment you see in her teaching and in her record of service in Knox County.”
Thomas began her tenure as associate provost in 2012 and became senior associate provost in 2016, focusing on faculty development and mentorship efforts, as well as overseeing the work of the Center for Innovative Pedagogy, the Office for Community Partnerships (OCP) and the Institutional Review Board. She joined Kenyon’s sociology faculty in 1996, teaching courses on gender, health and illness, social movements, and research methods.
Her work experience prior to Kenyon sparked a lifelong enthusiasm for community-engaged learning. Thomas worked as a counselor, educator and administrator at women’s health centers in Chicago and Denver for several years before earning her doctorate in sociology from the University of Colorado at Boulder. In 2005, she spent a sabbatical year in Sweden conducting research on maternity care, engaging with new mothers and midwives to study how individual choices regarding health care factored into a nationalized health care system.
She will continue to promote community-engaged learning in her new role leading the OCP, created in 2015 with support from an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant. Last year the OCP helped nearly 200 students enroll in classes that collaborated with community organizations on issues including public health, childhood literacy and immigration.
“In my role as associate provost, I have had the great fortune to work with and support Jen Odenweller, the first OCP director. She did a terrific job setting up the office’s infrastructure, coordinating our move into the Wright Center in downtown Mount Vernon, nurturing academic and community partnerships, and launching the office into the broader community,” Thomas said. “I am extremely fortunate to be able to work with the staff of the OCP, and key campus partners, to build on this strong foundation and deepen academic experiences for Kenyon students as well as our ties to our broader regional community.”
Thomas, a Gambier resident, is a member of the Board of Trustees of Knox Community Hospital and the Mount Vernon Rotary Club. She also has served on the United Way of Knox County Community Investment Committee.
“Jan is gifted at bringing people together to collaborate in accomplishing good work,” Provost Joseph L. Klesner said. “This benefited the Provost’s Office immensely, and will surely serve both Kenyon and the Knox County community as she moves over to the Office for Community Partnerships.”
Thomas replaces Heidi Hansen McCrory, who recently was named vice president for development at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina; Lisa Schott, managing director of the Philander Chase Conservancy, has served as interim director of OCP during the transition. Thomas will retain her duties as senior associate provost until Jan. 1, 2019, when Associate Professor of Chemistry Sheryl Hemkin will become associate provost.
“Sheryl Hemkin has demonstrated herself to be an enthusiastically engaged faculty member who has developed strong and warm connections across the faculty,” Klesner said. “She is deeply involved in global education issues, community-engaged learning, and our inclusion programs in the sciences and beyond — several initiatives at the heart of the Kenyon 2020 plan. Sheryl chaired the chemistry department superbly, and also led neuroscience with vision and an eye to including as many faculty as possible when that interdisciplinary program emerged as a new, independent department.”
Over the course of Hemkin’s 15-year career at Kenyon, she has served as chair of the Department of Chemistry, as co-director of the Neuroscience Program and as co-director of the Biochemistry and Molecular Sciences Program. She also served as a member of the presidential search committee that selected Decatur in 2013. As associate provost, she will serve as a liaison to academic departments, programs and committees; assist with faculty recruitment and hiring; and advise the provost on the development and administration of academic policies, among other duties. She also will serve as a member of Senior Staff to advise Decatur.
“I am truly honored and excited by this opportunity,” Hemkin said. “The dedication of my colleagues and those in Bailey House to the high standards of Kenyon’s teaching and scholarship is inspirational, and I look forward to helping support those endeavors in the coming years. With respect to the larger picture, I look forward to working with Kenyon’s outstanding faculty, staff and students as we continue to evolve in very positive ways under the leadership of President Decatur.”
Hemkin, a physical chemist, joined Kenyon’s faculty in 2003 and was promoted to associate professor in 2009. Her research focuses on the chemistry behind cyclical biological processes in plants and animals, such as sleep cycles, heartbeats and brain functions. Hemkin earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago, a master’s degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a doctorate from Purdue University.