Incoming Emory president focused on access, affordability, cooperation

Renowned public health researcher Claire Sterk initially didn’t think much about applying to become Emory University’s next president. Her colleagues pushed her to apply, and the job description mentioning collaboration and positioning Emory for the future excited her.

Still, she said, “it was a tremendous surprise … I never totally allowed myself to believe I would be a finalist.”

Sterk, Emory’s current provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, will become the university’s first female president in September. It’s a significant feat — about 26 percent of college presidents are female — but to her, not the most important one.

“I’m excited to be Emory’s first female president, but more excited about being Emory’s president,” she said.

Sterk will take over Sept. 1 for retiring president James Wagner, who led the institution for 13 years.

On her list of priorities are addressing some of the challenges in higher education including providing better access and making college more affordable for students, improving collaboration between faculty and students and increasing diversity among students and employees, particularly in science and technology fields. Also important is continuing leadership in the health care industry.

“One of the treasurers of Emory is to have the academic health center … which allows for training opportunities for students and allows for discovery and advances in health and healing. I’m proud that Emory has trained the majority of health care providers in the state of Georgia.”

Sterk, a native of the Netherlands, began her tenure at Emory in 1995 as a faculty member in the school of public health. She also chaired the behavioral sciences and health education department and was associate dean for research and senior vice provost for academic affairs.

During her professional career, Sterk has become a leading international expert in public health and anthropology. With her husband and research partner, Kirk Elifson — who is also a faculty member in Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health — she has attracted more than $33 million in research funding to Emory.