Durham, N.C. — The University of North Carolina Board of Governors on Friday named a U.S. Department of Education official as chancellor of North Carolina Central University.
Debra Saunders-White, 57, will begin work at N.C. Central on June 1. She will be the school's 11th chancellor and its first female leader.
"This Eagle pride that we have will continue to set the standard," she told students and faculty during an afternoon reception on campus. "My hope is that we will move very quickly to the international distinction."
Saunders-White has served as deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs in the Education Department since May 2011. Previously, she was a vice chancellor and interim provost at UNC-Wilmington and chairwoman of the UNC system's Chief Information Officer Council, and she also worked for IBM for 15 years.
“Over the past three decades, Deb Saunders-White has accumulated a wealth of leadership experience – in the corporate sector, at two highly respected universities and in the halls of Washington," UNC President Tom Ross said in recommending her to the Board of Governors. "At each step along the way, she has proven herself to be an energetic leader who promotes collaboration, creativity, strategic thinking and real-life commitment to engagement and public service. She has also demonstrated a passionate commitment to helping all students succeed academically and reach their full potential.
"With her broad experience in business, higher education and government, her proven integrity and sound judgment and her profound understanding of the changing marketplace in which our students must compete, Dr. Saunders-White will be a forceful and effective leader for NCCU," Ross said.
Saunders-White succeeds Charlie Nelms, who retired last August. Charles Becton, a Durham lawyer, a law professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and a former judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, has been serving as interim chancellor since then.
"Under her leadership, NCCU is poised for continued growth and future success. She possesses an innate passion for developing, educating and graduating the next generation of innovators and change agents," Dwight Perry, chairman of the N.C. Central Board of Trustees, said in a statement. "
N.C. Central faculty and alumni cheered Saunders-White's selection as they watched a live video feed of the Board of Governors meeting in a campus auditorium.
"I think it's a great day in North Carolina Central University's history," alumnus Andrew McArthur said. "I think we're going in the right direction, not just being of a female but because of an innovator. She seems to be a very bright star."
"Leadership determines how the flow of the university goes, and I think she will be a good fit," said Jim Harper, chairman of the history department.
"I just checked my Twitter, and it's really booming. They're excited to see her come to campus and see how she naturally engages her students," student body President Reggie McCrimmon said.
Saunders-White She spoke to students and faculty about the importance of fundraising, which she said equates to being visible and accessible. She said she has a lot of listening to do in the coming months.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said his former deputy would excel as chancellor.
"As a first-generation college graduate herself, Deb truly understands both the opportunity that higher education provides and the challenges that so many of our nation’s young people face in accessing and affording college,” Duncan said in a statement. “She has worked tirelessly to expand access to resources that have opened doors for millions of students across the country, and her leadership has furthered our department’s efforts to ensure that more young people have the chance to go to college."
A native of Hampton, Va., Saunders-White earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia, an MBA from The College of William and Mary and a doctorate in higher education administration from George Washington University.
She has won numerous awards in higher education that focused on improving operational efficiencies and has been recognized as a top leader among higher education executives by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and American Council on Education.