This past Saturday, March 14, Charles M. Allen Professor of Biology, Dr. Gloria Muday, was finalizing her lesson plan on Aspartate transcarbamoylase (all eight syllables of it), a catalyst that aids in the biosynthetic process, when a colleague sent her an email with the CV of Wake Forest’s incoming president, Dr. Susan Wente. Muday took a moment to glance at Wente’s CV, only to discover the very first publication listed was about no other enzyme than Aspartate transcarbamoylase.
Muday sent a quick email to her department chair, asking if she could extend an invitation to Wente for her class scheduled for Tuesday, March 16.
That, in short, is the story of how students in Muday’s biology class scored a 30-minute, wide-ranging discussion with the soon-to-be 14th president of Wake Forest.
“The students were able to ask her questions ranging from the biochemistry of that enzyme to her vision of running a university coming from a science background,” Muday said. “It was fun, in 30 minutes, to go from the nitty-gritty all the way up to the big picture.”
The students were almost universally impressed with Wente.
“She is a great communicator,” said Muday, “and that spans from explaining how certain amino acids in a protein have a very important function all the way up to how the experiences that you get from being a research scientist really prepare you to do things like run a university.”
Students got to hear directly from Wente about how her experience with testing hypotheses, which could turn out to be wildly incorrect or extremely successful, shapes her attitude toward trying new things on the administrative side.
“Life is an experiment,” said Muday, paraphrasing Wente. “You have to try things, and when they work well, great! And when they don’t, you tweak things to make them work better.”
Muday’s class also heard from Wente about how the experience of running a lab and mentoring students has prepared her to work with students and teams as president of Wake Forest.
“When I realized the enormous energy I felt from building and creating environments to support others’ successes,” Wente told the Old Gold & Black in February, “serving as associate vice chancellor for research and senior associate dean for biomedical sciences and then provost was the logical next step.”
Wente, for her part, greatly enjoyed the experience.
“I am passionate about the student experience and it was a special treat to briefly engage with Dr. Muday and her students,” Wente said. “I discovered my love of scientific research in an undergraduate biochemistry lab and I was heartened to see a classroom of students pursuing this field of study.
Wente also signaled that she would be open to joining classes next fall and beyond.
“Although I wished I could be in person like [Muday’s class was], it was actually possible for me to join due to the virtual platform,” Wente said. “I am hoping and planning for in-person opportunities during the fall semester once I arrive on campus.”