In Tenn., a New College of Sciences Attracts a Founding Dean

Belmont U.

Thomas G. Spence
April 14, 2014

For Thomas G. Spence, the decision to leave Loyola University New Orleans, where he has taught for the past 15 years, wasn’t an easy one. He has been assistant and associate professor of chemistry, chair of the department, and, since last year, a vice provost. And his family loves the New Orleans area.

But when he found out last year that Belmont University, in Nashville, Tenn., was searching for someone to lead its new sciences college, he saw a chance to take on something different and exciting.

"To become founding dean of a new college," he says, "that opportunity doesn’t come along all that often.

‘We’re going to miss Mardi Gras," he adds, laughing.

This summer, Mr. Spence, 44, will head north to become founding dean of Belmont’s College of Sciences and Mathematics. The new college is the result of Belmont’s splitting its College of Arts and Sciences into two parts, the other being the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. The new structure takes effect June 1, a month before Mr. Spence officially takes charge in his new role.

In Belmont, Mr. Spence will join one of the nation’s fastest-growing universities. The private Christian institution’s enrollment has more than doubled since 2000, from 3,000 to 6,900 students.

"Their ability to stay student-focused has been a big part of that success," Mr. Spence says.

He is looking forward to giving Belmont students a school that will devote itself entirely to the hard sciences. It doesn’t hurt that his college will be moving into a brand new, $76-million building outfitted with state-of-the-art laboratories and classrooms. The Wedgewood Academic Center, scheduled to open this fall, will house both colleges and contains 32,000 square feet of science labs.

The College of Sciences and Mathematics is expected to enroll 446 undergraduate majors in the fall.

One of the challenges with the new sciences college, says Mr. Spence, will be making a smooth transition away from the humanities without losing touch with them completely.

"It’s definitely going to be a learning curve," Mr. Spence says. "We need to keep the discussion going as to what’s working and what’s not working so that we don’t lose contact." He wants students at the new sciences college to continue to get solid training in the liberal arts.

Serving as vice provost for institutional effectiveness, assessment, and student success at Loyola for the past year, Mr. Spence says, has allowed him to learn about how a university administration functions and how students interact with the university outside the classroom.

"It made me a lot more cognizant of parts of the university that you knew existed," he says, "but you didn’t really know how they worked."