Leading researcher, advocate for women in science named MSU provost
Michigan State University president, Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., has named Dr. Teresa K. Woodruff as the university's next Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs. She's currently Dean of the Graduate School and the Associate Provost for Graduate Education at Northwestern University.
Woodruff talks about her past interactions with MSU and the state of Michigan, and says she “grew up wanting to be a teacher. I never thought about being a provost. When I went to college, I was thinking about being a first grade teacher. My mother was a teacher, and my grandmother was a teacher of all grades on the Panhandle of Oklahoma during the great Dust Bowl. My goal was really set in education. And so in many ways, I've continued with that particular goal, but as I got into college, I really fell in love with research, really trying to not only understand how people derive those answers in the back of the book, but really how to come up with those questions.”
Dr. Wooodruff is an expert in ovarian biology and reproductive science. She explains how in 2006 she coined the term oncofertility to describe the merging of two fields, oncology and fertility. Oncofertility is now globally recognized as a medical discipline with insurance and reimbursement available to patients and providers in many countries. In addition, she’s an advocate for women in science and has led efforts to change federal policy to mandate the use of females in fundamental National Institute of Health research.
“It's not every day that new fields of medicine are developed that change the fabric of how reimbursement and insurance actually gets done. Because of what we were able to accomplish, we really do have options for most male and female young cancer patients from zero age all the way up to about 40 years of age,” says Woodruff.
Woodruff was presented with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring by President Obama in an Oval Office ceremony in 2011.
“That was really the highlight of my life,” explains Woodruff. “President Obama is such a champion of mentorship, science, and medicine. Standing in front of the Lincoln Desk in the Oval Office listening to him really talk about how we have to make sure that the next generation of learners understands how science informs their lives was so inspiring.”
President Obama told Woodruff how “’the most important thing to me is making sure that we have a bright light on mentoring and we make sure that everybody understands that mentoring is really a part of the fabric of how America continues to grow and develop.’ It was really a very inspiring, inspiring moment. At the very end he leaned into me as he was shaking my hand and said, ‘Say hi to everyone back in Chicago.’ So a really exciting moment.”
As provost, Woodruff will be the chief academic officer for the university, providing leadership for academic programs, research and outreach involving faculty, students and staff. Woodruff will also be an MSU Foundation Professor of obstetrics gynecology, reproductive biology and biomedical engineering.
Woodruff says she was attracted to the position because “there are great underlying strengths at Michigan State. It's a great AAU institution. I have been very interested in leadership and wanted to make sure that I could contribute whatever I've learned over my time to the next generation of learners. Michigan State really is a place that is pivoting towards a very exciting future and it's a place that I really admire and have admired over time. It's been stress tested, no doubt, over the last several years, but it's a very exciting place to be. I'm most excited about President Stanley. He really is an amazing individual. He has a great national reputation. And as someone who is an expert in infectious diseases himself, he's a great scientist, and he's also a great leader for us at this time.”
Woodruff talks about some of her short and long term goals for MSU and says “there are headwinds because of COVID-19. How will we use technology to communicate and what does that means in terms of community? The university is a great place where we learn not just by what is in the books or that you can Google, but when you talk to people, how you think, and how your professor thinks. That's really an important part of how we learn and how we think. So we're going to have to really think through a lot of that. Whether we're in person or not, all of those nuts and bolts of what it is to be within a university setting are going to have to be part of our thinking, and so we're just all going to work together to enable the best outcomes for our community. And I look forward to being part of that decisioning.
“I am looking forward to really working together with the university family to really enable the creation of people and ideas to do the best of what they do and to make not only our individuals better, but our community better and hopefully our world better. That's something that I really can't wait to get started on.”