Dr. Jennifer Gunn has served as the director of the Institute for Advanced Study since 2014. Later this year, she plans to return to her tenured faculty position as History of Medicine Endowed Professor in the Medical School’s Program in the History of Medicine.
The IAS was established in 2005 and Professor Ann Waltner (Department of History) served for nine years as its first director. It is hard to imagine that the IAS could have found a stronger successor to take the IAS into its second decade than Jennifer, and we are immensely grateful for all she has given to the University community in that time. We appreciate all she has given the IAS, and want to take a moment to share our gratitude for how she has led the IAS these last eight years.
Under Jennifer’s directorship, the IAS has continued to expand its reach across the University’s system campuses and beyond to connect people, incubate ideas, and support significant initiatives in publicly engaged scholarship and projects across Minnesota.
Anyone who knows Jennifer is quick to describe her as a connector—of people, ideas, and resources. This quality begins with the fact that Jennifer likes people. She likes listening, hearing their ideas, has a great tolerance for quirkiness, doesn’t take things personally, and has a low need for personal credit. Put these qualities together with another set of qualities—a love of forging connections, building things, and making things happen—and you have the ingredients for an extraordinary leader of a center like the IAS that depends on bringing people together from different cultural, educational, and disciplinary backgrounds, of different ranks and standing from within and outside the University. Jennifer’s love of facilitating surprising and unexpected connections stems from an almost unparalleled level of enthusiasm for seeking out and supporting unique ideas. But it also comes from that desire to seek out and support the complicated, to make space for imagination and research to expand unfettered without the immediate pressure of a standard outcome. The sorts of programs the IAS hosts—and additional low-stakes programming innovations Jennifer has established in her time—further emphasize Jennifer’s commitment to caring about the people behind the work.
Acting as this sort of connector requires an immense amount of intellectual and personal generosity. Jennifer is quick to drop everything to support those she cares for, regardless of whether that means sharing opportunities or resources, her time and energy, or taking a Tupperware of soup to a colleague. When she meets with you, she often gives you the feeling that that is the only thing she is doing that day—despite the fact that she often manages to accomplish all of these acts of care in the same day, largely invisible, because she believes that care is at the core of facilitating opportunity.
Jennifer’s spirit of generosity has radiated throughout the way the IAS operates and has become a part of our core—how we function as a resource for all. The IAS is a place well known for scholarly innovation, intellectual collaboration, and where people from all disciplines are better off for taking part in the conversation together. We are known as an office readily available and genuinely excited to help problem solve, to spitball, and—most importantly—to help bring ideas to fruition. We are this way because of Jennifer Gunn, and we cannot thank her enough for her leadership.
—The IAS Staff