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Elizabeth Chilton brings listening ear to WSU as its new provost

Closeup of Elizabeth Chilton.
Elizabeth Chilton

Provost Elizabeth Chilton officially begins her WSU tenure today, bringing her experience in academic leadership as well as a background in anthropology.

Chilton arrives in Pullman by way of Binghamton University of the State University of New York system, where she served as the dean of the Harpur College of Arts and Sciences. She is stepping into the new role two weeks earlier than planned to ensure as much acclimation time as possible prior to the start of the Fall 2020 semester.

“This is the first time in my life that I’ve accepted a position never having seen where I’d be living or meeting people I’ll be working with face-to-face,” Chilton said. “Since I accepted the position, I’ve met with the president’s cabinet as well as chancellors, deans, vice presidents, and staff within the Provost’s office, all via Zoom, all in an effort to ensure that I’m not starting at step one on day one.”

She’ll introduce herself to the broader WSU community on Friday as part of the university’s latest COVID-19 online town hall. The event will be broadcast live beginning at 11 a.m.

Chilton’s work prior to joining WSU includes teaching stints within the SUNY system, at Harvard University – where she also served as an associate curator for the archaeology of Northeastern North American at its Peabody Museum – as well as 16 years at her alma mater, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

She’s expecting to frequently call upon her anthropology expertise in her new role at WSU.

“If someone were to ask me to describe anthropology in one word, I’d say holistic,” Chilton said. “The goal of anthropology is to look at things from the inside out and around 360 degrees, with consideration of a culture or community’s history, beliefs, economy, environment and practices.”

She continued, “I think of universities as cultures: how people understand and identify themselves is critical. From my brief time so far as part of the WSU family, I’ve seen how strong the Cougar identity is, and it’s exciting to be a part of that.”

As provost, Chilton will use a philosophy epitomized by something a past choral director said: “To have a fine chorus, each singer has to listen louder than they sing.”

Among her first priorities as WSU’s provost will be assisting in the hiring of a new vice provost for enrollment management. The position will interact with numerous departments, from undergraduate admissions to financial aid and the University registrar, employing the best available technology to ensure the short and long term success of the WSU system. It’s a vital role, especially so at a time of uncertainty within higher education and for a relatively young system like WSU, Chilton said.

Chilton’s family includes her husband Michael Sugerman, as well as an 18 year old son Emmet, and two dogs – a Bernese-poodle mix named Sammy and a lab named Lola. Sugerman is joining the College of Arts and Sciences as a career track associate professor of anthropology, and providing administrative support to the college as well.

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