The Wayne State University Board of Governors voted unanimously to elect Kimberly Andrews Espy, Ph.D., as the university’s 13th president, effective Aug. 1. Mark Gaffney, chair of the Board of Governors, made the announcement.
Espy will succeed M. Roy Wilson, who has served as president since Aug. 1, 2013, and announced last year that he would not be renewing his contract. She will be the first woman to serve as Wayne State University’s president.
“Upon receiving the news from President Wilson that he would be stepping down, we assembled a thoughtful and diverse search committee to find the next president for our university,” Gaffney said. “After a thorough search that included four publicly held presidential search listening sessions where students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university assembled and provided input, the board reached a unanimous decision to elect Dr. Espy as our next president. Her strong leadership roles in higher education and research and her national reputation for advancing institutional, academic and student success will be invaluable to maintaining the momentum of Wayne State into the next decade of growth and beyond. We are confident the skills she brings to this important leadership position will keep our university advancing toward its vision of being a preeminent public, urban research university. We are thrilled that she’s joined us here at Wayne State and we know our community will be as well.”
Espy’s appointment is the result of an extensive search that started last summer.
“Wayne State is a uniquely positioned R1, urban, public university that is nationally recognized and respected for its scholarship, student success and engagement with a resurgent Detroit. When the Presidential Search Committee launched a national search, there was a great deal of interest from a wide range of strong candidates across the country,” Gaffney said.
Espy currently serves as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), a position she has held since 2018. With more than 25 years of experience in higher education, she has consistently championed social and economic opportunity by promoting affordable access to a top-quality R1 university education.
During her tenure, UTSA earned the distinction of an R1 classification by the Carnegie Foundation in 2021, was invited to join the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities and earned the Seal of Excelencia from Excelencia in Education for its commitment to serving Hispanic students — and by extension, all students. UTSA was also named a 2022 Degree Completion Finalist by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities in recognition of a 40% increase in awarded degrees, which marked a 12-point improvement in six-year graduation rates under her leadership.
Espy’s commitment in this area played an important role in making UTSA one of only five research universities nationwide to receive a $40 million gift from Mackenzie Scott in 2021 to advance student success to those underserved by higher education.
As UTSA’s provost, Espy has strived to advance social mobility through improved student learning, which she has strengthened through a strong focus on the recruitment and retention of diverse faculty who are leaders in their disciplines. Employing both traditional departmental and targeted institutional hiring mechanisms created under Espy’s leadership, UTSA hired 183 outstanding new, diverse faculty across the campus, with more than 27 percent identifying from groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education.
Under her tenure, UTSA strengthened its commitment to preparing students for success beyond graduation. In 2020, the university established the Najim Center for Innovation and Career Advancement to provide students with resources for career exploration and preparation. The center plays a key supporting role in UTSA’s Classroom to Career Initiative, which focuses on expanding experiential learning opportunities to ensure students graduate career ready.
Espy also played a key role in UTSA’s contributions to San Antonio’s economic development. The San Pedro 1 Building, the new home for UTSA’s School for Data Science, opened in 2022 and is the university’s latest investment in the city’s downtown. For her commitment to the community and her work as an agent of change, Espy was recognized with a Women’s Leadership Award from the San Antonio Business Journal in 2022.
Prior to serving as UTSA’s provost, Espy was senior vice president for research at the University of Arizona, where she increased research and development to record levels. She also served as vice president for research and innovation and dean of the graduate school at the University of Oregon, where she helped secure funding from the Oregon state legislature to advance economic development and value to the state. She started her academic career at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, a rural, community-oriented medical school where she taught first-year medical student neuroscience using the then-pioneering problem-based learning curriculum, which has been widely adopted across the United States.
A native of Cincinnati, Espy received her undergraduate degree in psychology from Rice University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical neuropsychology from the University of Houston. She also completed a clinical/pediatric psychology internship at the University of Louisville School of Medicine/Bingham Child Guidance Center and a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. Espy is a licensed clinical psychologist.
Espy is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Psychological Association. Her work has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health since 2002, and she has earned more than $22 million in funding to study how young children control their attention to promote learning, academic, and health outcomes; how such skills are related to medical, environmental or social factors; and how they, in turn, predict later school, cognitive, health, psychiatric, and life outcomes.
She has also served on several national and state leadership boards and committees, including the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable.
“I am proud to accept this position to serve as the next president of such an exceptional institution of higher learning in the heart of the Detroit, a storied city that is on the move. Wayne State has played an important role in Detroit’s recent revitalization, and I’m excited about the opportunities that exist to continue building on that growth,” Espy said. “Wayne State University is a national model for student success, is recognized for its community impact, and is respected across the nation and around the world for its scholarship and health services, particularly in addressing health disparities in major cities. I am honored that the board has chosen me to be this university’s next leader, and I am excited to begin charting the journey we will all take together to continue to create and advance knowledge for our community and our world.”