Dean Michele Gillespie

Michele Gillespie, Dean of the College, Wake Forest University

Michele Gillespie began her tenure as the Dean of the College in July 2015. A noted teacher, scholar, historian and author, she balances academic rigor with integrating holistic learning and community engagement into her work with faculty, staff and students of the undergraduate school of arts and science.

A historian by training, Dean Gillespie has been drawn to areas where complex identities in Southern communities create new patterns of economic and political power. She has an M.A. and Ph.D. in History from Princeton University and a B.A. from Rice University, where she majored in History and English. While pursuing her doctorate at Princeton, she studied with renowned Civil War historian James McPherson. Prior to her time at Wake Forest, Gillespie spent nine years at Agnes Scott College, where she taught U.S. History.

Dean Gillespie arrived at Wake Forest University in 1999, was named Kahle Faculty Fellow in 2004, and previously served as associate provost for academic initiatives from 2007 to 2010. Since 2013, she has been the Presidential Endowed Professor of Southern History. Additionally, she was honored as a pioneer in the national service-learning field with North Carolina’s Robert L. Sigmon Service Learning Award in 2010.

For Dean Gillespie, the engaged liberal arts provides Wake Forest students the chance to embrace fields of interest and deep learning that has lasting impact. For instance, in 2014, she worked with honors students in the history department and Tanya Zanish-Belcher, Director of Special Collections and Archives at ZSR Library, to collect 30 oral histories of parishioners at St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church to celebrate the church’s 75th anniversary. For her work in the project, she received Wake Forest’s Kulynych Omicron Delta Kappa Award, which recognizes those who bridge the gap between classroom and student life.

In addition to her work inside the classroom, Gillespie has published two prize-winning books. The first, Free Labor in an Unfree World: White Artisans in Slaveholding Georgia, 1789-1860 (2000) revolves around the socioeconomic complexities white tradespeople faced in the pre-Civil War South. A second publication, Katharine and R.J. Reynolds: Partners of Fortune and the Making of the New South (2012), represents 10 years of in-depth research by Gillespie on industry titan R.J. Reynolds and his progressive wife Katharine Reynolds, on whose 300 acres of property Wake Forest now stands.

Additionally, she has published articles and book chapters, and co-edited 10 books, all focusing on race, gender, class and religion in the history of the South. She has served on editorial boards for several prestigious journals — including the Journal of Southern History and N.C. Historical Review. She is a book series editor for the University of Kentucky Press and has been a longtime active member of the Southern Association for Women Historians.

Since her appointment as Dean of the College, she has prioritized department chairs’ leadership development; facilitated the diversification of faculty and curriculum; and promoted the “engaged liberal arts,” including through partnership with the Humanities Institute to secure two Mellon Foundation grants (in 2015 and 2018). Gillespie co-chaired the President’s First Year Experience Commission and implemented a new FYE 101 course and peer-mentoring model. She also led a review of the College’s core liberal arts curriculum and implemented new academic programs, including an Engineering Department at Wake Downtown.