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Dykens to step down as Vanderbilt Kennedy Center director

Feb. 9, 2016, 11:11 AM

Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D., Annette Schaffer Eskind Professor and director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC), has announced plans to step down from her role as the center’s director. To assist with the transition, she will continue to serve in this role until a successor is identified.

Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D.

Camilla Benbow, Ed.D., Patricia Rhodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development, and Steven Webber, M.B.Ch.B., James C. Overall Professor of Pediatrics and chair of the Department of Pediatrics, have been named as co-chairs for a committee that will conduct a national search for Dykens’ successor.

Before being named VKC director in 2009, Dykens served as interim director for approximately one year. She was recruited to Vanderbilt in 2003 to serve as the center’s associate director.

Dykens is stepping down at a time of multiple recent successes at VKC. Over the past two years, the center was successfully renewed for its two major federal infrastructure grants, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Intellectual and Developmental Disability Research Centers (IDDRCs), and the Health and Human Services Administration of Community Living’s University Center of Excellence on Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD).

Under Dykens’ leadership the impact and dissemination of VKC’s work, including professional training, services and research through the Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD) the UCEDD and the IDDRC has expanded in Tennessee and across the nation.

“I have been privileged to work with center members, investigators, staff, clinicians and trainees who are highly productive, creative and take to heart the mission of the center. They, and the center, are thriving, leading the field forward in an increasingly complex disability research and service landscape,” said Dykens.

Last year, VKC celebrated its 50th anniversary through a yearlong series of special lectures and events, including a daylong visit from Timothy Shriver, Ph.D., chair and CEO of Special Olympics. Shriver spoke to an audience at the center 50 years to the day his parents, Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, spoke at VKC’s opening convocation.

After this transition, Dykens plans to focus more time on her research into Prader-Willi, Williams and Down syndromes. Earlier work in her lab is now leading to multiple pharmaceutical and other clinical trials. Dykens said that with renewed interests in rare developmental disorders from the National Institutes of Health and the pharmaceutical industry, “now is an ideal time to move our research program in exciting and new directions.”

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