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Wentz appointed ASU dean of social sciences

portrait of Elizabeth Wentz

Elizabeth Wentz has been appointed dean of social sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University.

June 15, 2015

Elizabeth Wentz, professor and director of the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, has been appointed dean of social sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University.

Effective July 1, Wentz assumes the leadership role previously held by Patrick Kenney, who is now university vice provost, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies.

"As a New American University, ASU is focused on being a global leader in elevating the stature of the social sciences as an integrative science,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said.

“Our teaching and discovery contributions range from global climate change to digital humanities, the geologic anthropocene and engineering solutions. All of which require comprehending and communicating human behavior, social dynamics, cultural differences and political interactions across broad geographic and time scales. Dr. Wentz has the background and experience to move us toward our goal.” 

“The social sciences offer creative and effective solutions to the nation's and world's most complex problems,” said Robert E. Page Jr. “Take human health outcomes. At one time the leading cause of death globally was infectious disease. Research in the social sciences identified how the urban infrastructure and human activity contributed to the spread of diseases. This knowledge led to innovative engineering solutions for sanitation systems.

“Dr. Wentz has the understanding and leadership to build connections within the university and partnerships that integrate social sciences into research, education and community efforts,” Page added, “whether for solution-building for today’s health challenges, such as obesity, or supporting new avenues for negotiating emerging challenges.” 

Wentz received her doctorate from Pennsylvania State University, and her master’s and bachelor’s from Ohio State University. She came to ASU in 1997 to focus on the design, implementation and evaluation of Geographic Information Science technologies, such as Geographic Information Systems, remote sensing and spatial analysis.

Using these tools, she analyzes human activities, physical processes and the interaction between them. Wentz’s teaching has included geographic technologies, as well as research design and proposal writing at the graduate level. She is the author of a book, “How to Design, Write and Present a Successful Dissertation Proposal,” which grew out of her graduate teaching. 

Wentz is also a senior sustainability scientist with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. One question of interest for her has been how to restructure cities to be more effective in the face of global climate change, most particularly understanding the factors influencing single-family water demand.

Her modeling efforts are reflected in the Decision Center for a Desert City-developed decision tool WaterSim, designed for use by local water managers. She also delves into the tradeoffs between residential water and energy use. In addition, her work extends to studies of land cover dynamics, spatial patterns of birds and human health.

“Director and professor Elizabeth Wentz is an outstanding selection to advance the social sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She is nationally and internationally recognized in her research arena, and she has been directing a highly interdisciplinary and top-ranked program in the School of Geographic Sciences and Urban Planning,” said Kenney. “She has experience working with the chairs and directors of the many and complex units in the social sciences. She grasps the power of the social sciences is to understand, explain and predict the behaviors of people as they interact with one another, their institutions and their environments.” 

ASU’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) faculty members are internationally renowned for their work developing GIS methods and software. During her tenure as director in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, the school launched a bachelor’s degree in geographic information science, one of the first programs of its kind in the U.S.

In addition to her ASU service, Wentz has been elected the 2015-2016 president for the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science, “a non-profit organization that creates and supports communities of practice for GIScience research, education, and policy endeavors in higher education and with allied institutions.”

“As dean of social sciences, I will advance the social sciences within ASU, nationally, and internationally. This involves in part, reaching across the campuses to engage with all ASU social scientists and linking problems to solutions,” Wentz said.

“I also see an educational opportunity to speak with political leaders on how the social sciences have shaped and contributed to better human outcomes,” Wentz added, “so that they better understanding of the importance of the social sciences in decision making and afford appropriate funding levels.” 

There are eight academic units reporting to Wentz. The units are:

• American Indian Studies
• School of Geographical Science and Urban Planning
• Hugh Downs School of Human Communication
• School of Human Evolution and Social Change
• School of Politics and Global Studies
• School of Social and Family Dynamics
• School of Transborder Studies
• School of Social Transformation, which includes African and African American Studies, Asian Pacific American Studies, Justice and Social Inquiry, and Women and Gender Studies

There are more than two dozen research centers and institutes operating in the social sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Of these, American Indian Policy Institute, Institute of Human Origins, the Melikian Center, Institute of Social Science Research, and the Consortium of Science, Policy and Outcomes will report directly to Wentz. 

In addition, Wentz will provide guidance for College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ departments of Aerospace Studies, Military Science and Naval Science.