Women We Admire is pleased to announce The Top 50 Women Leaders in Education of 2023. Considering that the first U.S. universities only admitted men, women have certainly made great strides in the field of education. Presently, women have assumed a wide range of prominent roles in the sector, with a notable example being the higher number of women serving as U.S. school principals compared to men. Meanwhile, within the sphere of college leadership, women now occupy close to one-third of the positions of chief executives and comprise 48% of chief academic officers, according to data furnished by CUPA-HR. Perhaps not surprisingly, global data and studies have consistently demonstrated that educational institutions boasting a greater representation of women in governance exhibit notable improvements in areas such as student knowledge acquisition and the narrowing of the gender-based learning gap.
This award highlights the accomplishments of women who are at the helm of diverse educational institutions across the nation. These women leaders come from a broad spectrum of organizations, spanning from small liberal arts colleges to our nation's largest public universities, including Ivy League institutions, and beyond. Their collective efforts are instrumental in guaranteeing that educational establishments maintain their adaptability and responsiveness to the ever-changing demands of society.
Among this year’s awardees is Kimberly Gramm. Serving as the Chief Innovation and Entrepreneurship Officer at Tulane University. Under her leadership, Gramm's initiatives have given rise to an impressive 279 startups, attracting an astonishing $470 million in investment capital. Drew Gilpin Faust, another distinguished awardee, has earned accolades not only as an award-winning author but also as the President Emerita of Harvard University. During her tenure, she championed the cause of expanding financial aid to ensure broader access to Harvard College for students from diverse economic backgrounds. Lastly, we are honoring Whitney McNair, the driving force behind Stanford University's Office of Faculty Staff Housing. In her role, McNair skillfully manages an extensive portfolio, overseeing loans exceeding $1.2 billion, more than 1,100 long-term ground lease homes, and a substantial 2,100 rental units.
Please join us in celebrating the accomplishments of The Top 50 Women Leaders in Education of 2023.
1. Priya Singh
Chief Strategy Officer & Senior Associate Dean, Stanford Medicine, Stanford Health Care
Priya Singh joined Stanford Medicine in 2013. She currently serves as Chief Strategy Officer overseeing enterprise strategy for Stanford Health Care, Stanford Children’s Health, and the School of Medicine. Priya oversees Strategic Planning, Global Strategy, Public Relations, and Communications. She led Stanford Medicine’s first aligned strategic plan bringing together the research, education, and clinical care missions and highlighting Stanford Medicine’s revolutionary vision of Precision Health, which focuses on prediction and prevention.
Previously, Priya was an assistant dean at the Stanford Graduate School of Business where she was responsible for the GSB’s Global Innovation Programs. Before coming to Stanford University, Priya held marketing management roles at Oracle Corporation, Respond.com, and Levi Strauss & Co.
3. Tamara Carleton
CEO & Founder, Innovation Leadership Group
Tamara Carleton, PhD, is an award-winning professor, industry advisor, and investor in radical innovation and strategic foresight. She is a rare leader who truly works globally and is multidisciplinary. As an international professor of practice, Tamara is on the faculty of multiple business schools and technical universities around the world. Tamara is also the founder and CEO of the Innovation Leadership Group, which helps companies and government agencies build innovation capacity and map bold futures. She has written seminal books in innovation, including Building Moonshots: 50+ Ways to Turn Radical Ideas into Reality, Inventing the Almost Impossible, and the Playbook for Strategic Foresight and Innovation. She holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Stanford University.
5. Lisa Freeman
President, Northern Illinois University
Northern Illinois University (NIU) is an engaged public research university that serves a diverse student body. As President, Lisa Freeman works to support all aspects of the university’s mission, emphasizing NIU’s continued commitments to promoting the social mobility of their students, producing high-impact scholarship, and engaging with the region. She strives to create a learning environment where students, faculty, and staff from a wide range of backgrounds feel welcome and included. She takes pride in bringing people, ideas, and resources together to promote positive change. Freeman has been a member of NIU’s senior leadership team, and a Professor of Biology since 2010, serving previously as NIU’s vice president for Research and Graduate Studies, and executive vice president and Provost.
Freeman earned a BS in 1981, and a MS and DVM in 1986, from Cornell University. She went on to earn a PhD at Ohio State University in 1989 and subsequently worked as a postdoctoral fellow and research scientist at the University of Rochester School of Medicine. In 2004-05, Freeman was a Fellow of the American Council on Education (ACE) hosted by the University at Buffalo.
Freeman is an accomplished scientist and administrator with numerous professional publications and presentations. In addition, she has been recognized for her contributions to her profession and service to her communities, as the Outstanding Veterinarian of 2002 by the Association for Women Veterinarians, and was a First National Bank Community Leader in 2018. Freeman has served on the boards of the ACE Council of Fellows Program and the Chicago Council on Science and Technology. She is currently on the boards of the Altus Academy, the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association, the Universities Research Association, and the Chicago Zoological Society. Freeman is also the Executive Committee Chair for the APLU Commission on Information, Measurement, and Analysis.
6. Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska
Vice President for Knowledge Enterprise, The Ohio State University
Dorota A. Grejner-Brzezinska is Ohio State's Vice President for knowledge enterprise, a University Distinguished Professor, and the Lowber B. Strange Endowed Chair in Engineering. She is also a professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geodetic Engineering. She recently served as the Associate Dean for Research in the College of Engineering and the Senior Associate Vice President for Research, Corporate and Government Partnerships.
She is also a Director of the Satellite Positioning and Inertial Navigation (SPIN) Laboratory. Her research interests cover GPS/GNSS algorithms, GNSS/inertial and other sensor integration for navigation in GNSS-challenged environments, sensors and algorithms for indoor and personal navigation, image-based navigation using artificial intelligence (AI) methods, and mobile mapping. She published over 350 peer-reviewed journal and proceedings papers, numerous technical reports, and five book chapters on GPS and navigation, and led nearly 60 sponsored research projects with a total budget of over $30M.
She currently serves as Principal Investigator for the NSF Engineering Research Visioning Alliance (ERVA) and is a member of the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Advisory Board, and served on the US President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Dr. Brzezinska holds an MS and a PhD in Geodetic Science from The Ohio State University, and an MS in Surveying Engineering and Land Management Systems from the University of Warmia and Mazury, Poland.
8. Nadya Bliss
Executive Director, Global Security Initiative, Arizona State University
Dr. Nadya T. Bliss is a computer scientist focused on national security research and engineering. As the executive director of the Global Security Initiative (GSI) at Arizona State University, she leads a pan-university organization advancing research, education, and other programming at the intersection of technology and national security, with dedicated centers focusing on cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, data visualization and analytics, and disinformation. Before leading GSI, Dr. Bliss spent time as assistant vice president in Research Strategy at ASU, and a decade in various positions at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, most recently as the founding Group Leader of the Computing and Analytics Group.
Dr. Bliss is a Professor of Practice and Graduate Faculty in ASU’s School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence. Actively involved in national service, she is the chair of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Information Science and Technology Study Group, and the vice-chair of the Computing Community Consortium. She also serves on the National Academies’ Cyber Resilience Forum, the National Academies’ Climate Security Roundtable, and a National Academies’ ad-hoc committee examining defense-related STEM activities at minority institutions. Dr. Bliss received undergraduate and master’s degrees in computer science from Cornell University and a Doctorate in Applied Mathematics from Arizona State University.
10. Soncia Reagins-Lilly
VP for Student Affairs & Dean of Students, The University of Texas at Austin
Dr. Soncia Reagins-Lilly leads the Division of Student Affairs, the hub of student life and well-being at The University of Texas at Austin. She began serving as vice president for student affairs and dean of students in September 2016. Through her vision, the Division team collectively inspires every student — undergraduate, graduate, and professional — to live the Longhorn life through transformative student-focused opportunities and communities.
Dr. Lilly’s commitment to students and the student affairs profession began more than 35 years ago through her student involvement at the University of California, Irvine. That led to her professional career in student affairs at California State University, San Bernardino, as a student union program coordinator. Dr. Lilly then held progressive leadership roles in student affairs at California State University, San Bernardino; California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; and the University of California, Los Angeles. She joined UT Austin as senior associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students in April 2006.
Active in the community, Dr. Lilly serves on the Dent Education Board and the advisory boards for Texas 4000 and Derrick Johnson’s Defend the Dream Foundation. She previously served on the St. Michael’s Catholic Academy Board of Trustees, the Caritas of Austin Community Advisory Board, and the Austin Child Guidance Center Board of Directors. A graduate of Leadership Texas, Dr. Lilly is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Dr. Lilly earned an undergraduate degree in economics at the University of California, Irvine, a master's in education at California State University, San Bernardino, and a Doctorate in Education Administration at the University of Southern California. She is the proud mother of a son and daughter.
11. Robbie Melton
Interim Provost VP of Academic Affairs & VP of Technology Innovations, Tennessee State University
Dr. Robbie Melton, Interim Provost and VP of Academic Affairs and VP of Technology Innovations for the SMART Global Technology Innovation Center and tenured professor at Tennessee State University, serves as a global researcher and international consultant for Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Education and Emerging IOE (The Internet of Everything) Smart Mobile Technology of mobile devices, smart phone-tablets, wearables, smart gadgets and tools, and mixed reality of VR and AR. She formerly served as the associate vice chancellor for Emerging Technologies for the Tennessee Board of Regents, and the primary developer and chief administrator for system-wide Regents Online Degree Programs.
Her tributes include the 2019 USDLA Hall of Fame, 2018, Distinguished Women of Legend, 2017 OLC Leadership, 2016, WCET Life Time Achievement, 2014 Top 30 Technologists, 2013 Apple Distinguished Educator, 2012 Top Fifty Technology Innovator; and 2012 WOW EdTechnology Awards. She was a featured speaker at the International UNESCO Mobile Learning Symposium. She is known as an ‘Apologist’, for her extensive research of best practices with mobile devices (smartphone, tablets, wearable, and the creation of a Mobile App Resource Center. Currently, she is advocating for Open Education Resources (OER) for global access to education content. Plus, she serves as an Education Technology Trainers for Malawi and various countries in South Africa, promoting worldwide that “Everyone Can Code and Create” and “Academic eSports – Mixed Reality Gamification” for the new innovations of SMART Immersive Teaching and Learning, and a passionate advocate for empowering underserved populations, especially Black females, in becoming innovators and entrepreneurs for the digital world.
View the complete list of awardees
13. Dr. Sylvia Wilson-Thomas
Professor in Electrical Engineering & Interim Vice President for Research & Innovation, University of South Florida
Dr. Sylvia Wilson-Thomas is a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Interim Vice President for Research and Innovation at the University of South Florida where she leads the Advanced Materials Bio and Integration Research (AMBIR) laboratory. Dr. Thomas' research and teaching endeavors are focused on the investigation of bio (biomedical, biological) and nanoelectronic device integration using advanced material systems for nanomembrane technology, energy harvesting, sustainable environments, drug delivery, and bio-applications to meet global technological challenges. With over 25 years of global experience in academia and industry, Dr. Thomas has authored or co-authored over 50 publications and six book/book chapters. She holds 12 patents/pending patents and has received over $4M in funding. Her involvement and constant dedication to STEM education, diversity, and professional development have led to her recognition in local and national news and publications, including Guide to Florida's High Tech Corridor magazine, The Faces of Technology; St. Petersburg Times Recruiter, Role Model, Engineer; the United Nations-NGO Briefing on Girls and Technology: New Educational Opportunities; and Electronic Design 50th Anniversary Issue among others.
Over the course of her distinguished career, she has been recognized with a number of prestigious awards including, the National Academy of Inventors Senior Member, USF Undergraduate Teaching Award, Women in Leadership and Philanthropy Faculty Research Award, STEM Woman of the Year Award from Pinellas County Girls Inc., USF Graduate Faculty Mentor Award, McKnight Junior Faculty Fellow and more. Dr. Thomas holds BS and MS degrees in Electrical Engineering from Vanderbilt University, where she was a Patricia Roberts Harris Fellow. She received her PhD in Electrical Engineering from Howard University, as an NSF Materials Research Center of Excellence Fellow and was a National Science Foundation (NSF) research engineer in Korea at Chonbuk National University during her doctoral program.
14. Paola Hidalgo
Executive Director of Mexico Relations, Arizona State University
Paola serves as Executive Director of Mexico Relations at ASU's Office of Government and Community Engagement. In this role, she develops strategic collaborations with key partners including government agencies, universities, nonprofit organizations and companies in Mexico, and U.S. agencies with operations in that country.
In Mexico, she worked at economic development agencies in Sonora, strengthening the supply chain management and foreign companies’ soft landing. She also worked on small business development. She was the founding executive director of a nonprofit organization, where she helped prepare and supervised hundreds of business plans. She was the director of a tech-based business incubator, and directed the operations of the Small Business Development Center in Sonora, after the Maricopa Community Colleges’ SBDC model.
Paola earned a BS in industrial and systems engineering, summa cum laude, from Tecnológico de Monterrey, a master’s degree in public affairs, a specialization in environmental policy, and a portfolio in nonprofit studies from the University of Texas at Austin. In 2023, she earned the Professional Certificate Program in Digital Transformation from MIT Professional Education.
16. Shanita Williams
Associate VP of People Experience, Southern New Hampshire University
Dr. Shanita Williams serves as an Adjunct Faculty member and the Associate Vice President of People Experience for Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). She offers over 16 years of progressive experience in higher education administration with a special focus on talent development and talent management. As a leader in Human Resources, Dr. Williams is responsible for the development and oversight of employee-centric programs and initiatives that drive the recruitment, engagement, and retention of the most important part of the organization, the people.
Dr. Williams is a dynamic conference keynote, TEDx Speaker, and author of Feedback Mentality: The Key to Unlocking and Unleashing Your Full Potential. She has spent much of her career coaching, mentoring, and training countless individuals to reach their highest authentic potential. Dr. Williams believes that everyone has potential and that we are simply on the road to unlocking and unleashing it.
Dr. Williams enjoys volunteering in the community. She serves on the Board for Girls at Work, a non-profit committed to ensuring every girl feels confident and capable. She serves on the Membership, Founders Day, and Scholarship Committees for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated Stone Mountain-Lithonia Alumnae Chapter, and serves as a Volunteer Partner with the American Red Cross. A proud mother of three and California State University, Sacramento alumni, Dr. Williams now resides in Loganville, Georgia.
17. Missy Penland
Senior Associate VP for Development, Clemson University
Currently the Senior Associate Vice President for Development at Clemson University, Missy Penland leads a dynamic team of development and donor relations professionals to inspire philanthropic giving throughout the University community, including alumni, parents, and friends. She excels in operations of all sizes as a seasoned strategist with executive oversight responsibilities in major and principal gifts, prospect management, talent and financial management, donor relations, and board governance. Her leadership and contributions have gained meaningful engagement and strategic investments in Clemson’s educational objectives, strengthening the University’s reputation and securing Clemson’s future.
Penland is a nationally recognized philanthropic leader within higher education and community-based organizations and has been a member of AFP since 1999. Since then, she has served in various roles, both at the local and global levels. She is the former president of the AFP Greater Atlanta Chapter. Penland graduated from Georgia State University with an MPA, and from Wesleyan College with an undergraduate degree in history and political science.
19. Dulce Vasquez
Assistant Vice President, Arizona State University
Dulce Vasquez is an education advocate, changemaker, and passionate civic leader. Dulce currently serves as Assistant Vice President for Los Angeles' outpost of Arizona State University focusing on strategic partnerships and public affairs. ASU is a comprehensive public research university, measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how it succeeds; advancing research and discovery of public value; and assuming fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural, and overall health of the communities it serves. She was previously the Managing Director of Zócalo Public Square, L.A.’s civic forum. Dulce was appointed by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to serve as a Commissioner to El Pueblo Historic Monument, Los Angeles’ birthplace.
Born in Tampico, Mexico, she's lived all over the country but has called LA home for the last 15 years. After spending half of her childhood undocumented, she attended Northwestern University, The Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po). She earned a master’s in public policy from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
In 2022, she ran for Los Angeles City Council which gave her a platform to champion dozens of issues she cares deeply about, including housing, public transportation, support for small businesses, education, and LGBT+ & women's rights. She lives in South Central Los Angeles with her spouse and two dogs. She recently announced a run for California State Assembly, allowing her to focus on statewide education and housing policy.
21. Dr. Taffye Benson Clayton
Vice President & Associate Provost, Auburn University
Dr. Taffye Benson Clayton is the inaugural Vice President and Associate Provost for Inclusion and Diversity at Auburn University. Dr. Clayton and her team are tasked with strengthening Auburn’s diversity and inclusion footprint within the institution and nationally. She formerly served as associate vice chancellor for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and chief diversity officer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as associate provost and chief diversity officer at East Carolina University. Throughout her 25+ year career as an executive administrator leading diversity and inclusion efforts at major universities, Dr. Clayton has served students, faculty, staff, community, visitors, and alums. She is the designated executive leader for administering the University’s diversity and inclusion strategy and is the principal advocate and adviser to the Provost, President, and senior University leadership on issues of diversity and inclusion.
Dr. Clayton is known nationally for her presentations on faculty diversity recruitment and retention, integrating diversity and inclusion in higher education institutions, strategically positioning diversity and inclusion, and translating corporate diversity and inclusion promising practices into the higher education context. She is a Board Member at Large of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education NADOHE, where she sits on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Executive Council of The Conference Board, a global, independent business membership and research organization serving 1,200 public and private corporations and serves as Executive Chair for that Council. Dr. Clayton serves on the Executive Committee of APLU’s Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and is the Convener for the SEC VP/CDO group, with representation from senior Cabinet-level DEI leaders from universities throughout the Southeastern Athletic Conference. Dr. Clayton graduated from East Carolina University with an EdD, from the American University with an MA in administration, and from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with an undergraduate degree in speech communication.
22. Whitney McNair
Senior Associate Provost & Executive Director of Faculty Staff Housing, Stanford University
Whitney leads the office of Faculty Staff Housing for Stanford University, a division of the Office of the Provost. She oversees a department that administers Stanford's housing programs for eligible faculty and staff. The office manages over $1.2B in loans, more than 1,100 homes on long-term ground leases, and 2,100 rental units. Whitney's strategic vision and leadership of Faculty Staff Housing have been transformative in helping recruit and retain top talent. She has an exceptional ability to combine creative ideas and analytical decision-making to deliver exceptional outcomes.
Before her current role, Whitney led the Office of Land Use and Environmental Planning for Stanford University supporting the senior administration and the Board of Trustees with recommendations for long-term uses and the protection of land-based resources. She provided advice on securing land entitlements for university development and actively worked with local agencies and community groups.
Whitney has a background in city planning with a particular emphasis on policy development and implementation. She co-founded a planning consulting company before coming to Stanford. She has worked throughout the San Francisco Bay Area on large, complex, high-profile projects. She was instrumental in the preparation of award-winning planning documents, ranging from design guidelines to specific plans, and precise plans.
View the complete list of awardees
23. Adanna Johnson
Associate VP for Student Equity & Inclusion, Georgetown University
Dr. Adanna J. Johnson is the Associate Vice President for Student Equity and Inclusion at Georgetown University. In this role, Dr. Johnson provides leadership for the Office of Student Equity and Inclusion (OSEI), including the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, the Community Scholars Program, the Disability Cultural Center, the LGBTQ Resource Center, and the Women's Center. The OSEI oversees a broad range of work focused on student access and success, on our diversity and inclusion work with students, and in contributing to Georgetown’s work with the American Talent Initiative. She convenes two university-wide councils addressing these vital areas. She is also an Affiliate Faculty member in the Psychology Department at Georgetown.
Dr. Johnson has had a distinguished career in higher education. For 10 years, she was a member of the Loyola University Maryland faculty as an associate professor of Psychology and director of the African and African American Studies Program at Loyola University Maryland. At Loyola, she also co-chaired the institutional Racial Justice Training Implementation. Dr. Johnson completed her undergraduate work at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, and both her Master’s and PhD work at Marquette University. She has published extensively on a range of topics, with a particular focus on cultural competence and the use of artistic approaches to healing, as well as recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups in higher education. Her long clinical experience working with clients further deepens the perspectives she will bring to this work.
Dr. Johnson also has a history of extensive service in professional associations and on local community boards. Acknowledgments of her work include being named Mentor of the Year by the Maryland Psychological Association of Graduate Students; and receiving a certificate of appreciation from the city of Baltimore for her community healing work following the Baltimore Uprisings from then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, DC; and being recognized by the National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology with their Ethnic and Racial Diversity Individual Award.
24. Dr. Jamillah Moore
VP of Student Affairs & Enrollment Management, San Francisco State University
Dr. Jamillah Moore is the Vice President for Student Affairs & Enrollment Management at San Francisco State University. Vice President Moore is a scholar, an educator, and a policy activist who is a leading expert on justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) work.
Before her appointment at San Francisco State University, Vice President Moore was the president of Cañada College. She is an award-winning leader in higher education and a scholar. Her research on affirmative action and college admissions has propelled the recruitment and enrollment work in California colleges and universities, and her work examines the intersection of race, access, and institutional failure. Vice President Moore is also a policy consultant, providing guidance and direction that is shaping the future of American higher education.
26. Warrenetta Mann
Assistant VP for Health & Wellbeing, Wake Forest University
Warrenetta Crawford Mann, PsyD is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Cuts and Conversations, LLC, a program dedicated to the holistic healing of Black men via intrinsic healing methods. Through her consultation work, she provides professional supervision, executive leadership coaching, and organizational development using an inclusive excellence lens. She believes it is important to use her understanding of the essence of the common human condition to help individuals or groups identify and implement their core values, goals, and potential for greater success within an inclusive context.
Dr. Mann has spent the last two decades working in higher education as an instructor, advisor, counselor, and administrator. She currently works primarily as the Assistant Vice President for Health and Wellbeing at Wake Forest University where she oversees the Office of Wellbeing, University Counseling Center, Safe Office, and Student Health Services.
27. Christine Schiwietz
Professor & Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs, Georgetown University
Dr. Christine Schiwietz is an Assistant Dean at Georgetown University's branch campus in Qatar. Author of America’s Higher Education Goes Global, Dr. Schiwietz offers readers a deep dive into the dynamics of the university's branch in Education City, the challenges and opportunities of academic internationalization, and innovative perspectives on global learning and the multiversity approach. An expert in sociology and international higher education, Christine has shared her expertise at platforms like the UN Women’s Guild and has been quoted in the New York Times, Harvard Political Review, and the Gulf Times.
In addition to her academic pursuits, she plays an active role in the broader community. Dr. Schiwietz serves on the board of governors for The American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar and has led initiatives as the former president of the Georgetown Women’s Alliance in Qatar and the District of Columbia Sociological Society. Christine's talents extend to the realm of film, where she has directed award-winning documentaries. She has notably received Telly Awards for Sacred Mount Athos - Treasures from the Byzantine Millennium, and an innovative VR documentary spotlighting Georgetown's Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation Initiative.
An alumna of the American University and the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, Christine's vibrant personality extends to her passion for golf and equestrian activities. She also brings a global touch to conversations with her fluency in German, French, Greek, Italian, and English.
28. Coreen Petti
Associate VP of University Events & Partnerships, University of San Diego
Coreen G. Petti is the Associate Vice President of University Events and Partnerships at the University of San Diego. She is a successful, experienced strategic marketer and corporate fundraiser with over two decades of developing high-profile, promotionally-oriented programs and events that result in increased awareness and net revenue returns. She is responsible for having managed some of the university’s most high-profile special events and programs including the premier community event tied to the ’96 Clinton-Dole Presidential Debate, and the NFL Commissioner’s Luncheons associated with Super Bowl XXXVII and XXXII in San Diego.
Currently, Petti serves as Chair of the university’s signature fundraising event, the Founders Gala where she is responsible for securing sponsorships, procurement of gifts, donations, and auction items, as well as all aspects of execution of the event. The 2021 Founders Gala, held at San Diego Padres’ Petco Park, raised over $2.3M in net proceeds. Since its inception in 2009, the biennial Founders Gala has raised over $6M in net proceeds to support USD student scholarships.
Petti led the charge to raise the national profile of the university by implementing an institutional-wide branding effort resulting in a new University logo and graphic identity standards. She has negotiated multi-market broadcast television buys in association with the Olympics, Super Bowl, World Cup, and the Riders Cup. She was also instrumental in overseeing the development of the university's visual identity and promotional partnership marketing plan tied to the public phase of the university's $300M comprehensive Leading Change fundraising campaign. Prior to joining the University of San Diego in 1995, she served in a corporate marketing capacity as the manager of national promotions and corporate sponsorships for the Anheuser-Busch Theme Parks.
30. Lori Baker
EVP of Aspirational Excellence, Belmont University
Lori Baker serves as Belmont's Executive Vice President for Aspirational Excellence. In this role, she leads in connecting the daily operational efforts of the University to the strategic visioning work of the Office of the President. Before joining Belmont in January of 2023, Dr. Baker was a professor of anthropology at Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences with a specialization in molecular and forensic analysis of skeletal remains. She also served in several leadership capacities at Baylor, including Vice Provost for Strategic Initiatives, Collaborations, and Leadership Development, VP for Faculty Development and Diversity, Chair of Faculty Senate, and Faculty Regent. She holds a BA and an MA from Baylor, and a PhD from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Dr. Baker is a fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and is the founder and executive director of Reuniting Families, a program that aids in the recovery, identification, and repatriation of deceased migrants who perish in the United States border region. She was a finalist for Texan of the Year in 2014 in recognition of her leadership in this humanitarian effort. Lori has also acted as an advisor to numerous government officials and agencies both for the US and abroad, as well as contributed work and education for several Latin American Truth Commissions. She has been an invited speaker in many national and international venues such as the Peace Palace in The Hague, as part of the International Commission on Missing Persons Conference, and Amnesty International. Published in national and international journals, her work has been featured by such media as National Geographic, Scientific American, Discover Magazine, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, BBC, and MSNBC, among others.
31. Lambrini Lukidis
Associate VP of Strategic Communications & External Relations, Columbia College Chicago
Lambrini Lukidis joined Columbia College Chicago in September 2018 and currently serves as Associate Vice President of Strategic Communications and External Relations, where she is charged with overseeing the department and boosting Columbia's external visibility and reputation.
Lambrini has nearly twenty years of professional experience in a variety of communications roles. After working as a reporter in various TV markets across the country, she handled media relations for some of the Chicago Transit Authority's most high-profile projects. Immediately before joining Columbia, she successfully managed efforts in marketing, advertising, media relations, crisis response, and external relations for the Forest Preserves of Cook County. Lambrini attended Marquette University where she studied broadcast and electronic communications and Spanish.
View the complete list of awardees
32. Aurelia Williams
Senior Vice Provost for Academic &Faculty Affairs, Norfolk State University
Dr. Aurelia Taylor Williams is a transformational leader who believes in leveraging resources to expand the reach of higher education. Serving Norfolk State University (NSU) for over two decades, she has been an advocate and champion for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and utilizes networking to make an impact on multiple campuses. As Senior Vice Provost for Academic and Faculty Affairs, Dr. Williams leads, administrates, and oversees efforts related to faculty and staff activities in the Division of Academic Affairs. She led a team to secure the University’s first Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) grant. Her expertise has led to the implementation of professional development opportunities and programs to strengthen and support effective working relationships within the University Community.
A Professor of Computer Science and the Founding Executive Director of NSU’s Cybersecurity Complex, Dr. Williams passionately seeks new ways to strengthen the learning experience for both undergraduate and graduate students. As the former Computer Science Chair, she provided senior departmental leadership through a period of exponential growth. A leader for the HBCU Cybersecurity Workforce Development Consortium, Dr. Williams secured a $25M award to benefit 13 HBCUs. Due to her dedication, NSU received an HBCU Visionary award given by the US Department of Treasury. To date, Dr. Williams has led efforts to champion the University’s Cybersecurity initiative securing more than $50M in external funding.
At NSU, she chairs several University committees. Externally, she served as the inaugural chair of the Commonwealth Cybersecurity Initiative (CCI) Diversity and Inclusion Committee for two years while serving. as an executive member of the CCI COVA node and a member of the regional advisory board for the 757 Regional Internship Collaborative. A dedicated scholar and researcher, Dr. Williams earned an undergraduate degree in computer science from Norfolk State University, a master’s degree in computer science from Johns Hopkins University, and a doctoral degree from Pace University.
34. Linda Thompson
VP of Product & Customer Success, Robin
Linda earned her dual-degree MEd in inclusive and special education at Columbia University Teachers College and served in a wide range of urban schools from Harlem to the Lower East Side in NYC, before serving as head teacher at a strengths-based school for students facing developmental and learning challenges. She joined the Robin team in the early stages of the company and has led the partnerships, product, and customer success teams during that time, building on prior consulting experience and jumping to VP within a year of joining the company. Linda also holds a BA from the University of Michigan in economics, a master's in environmental economics from Boston University, and is in the process of earning her Doctorate in Education.
Linda has a deep passion for youth mental health and is the driving force behind the educational philosophy and unique framework for the Robin social-emotional learning and mental well-being program. She is responsible for developing innovative, evidence-based solutions that are relevant to the modern challenges facing today's educational communities, and responsive to educator and student needs in a changing society. Linda spends much of her time with her two daughters, ages 15 and 24, listening to music, spending time outdoors, traveling, and playing games. Linda enjoys swimming, walking, hiking, and writing.
35. Wendy Weinberger
President & Co-Founder, Illuminos Academic Coaching & Tutoring
Wendy is the President & Co-Founder of Illuminos, a passion-born business from her experiences growing up with numerous family members with ADHD. When her son received the same diagnosis, she worked hard to help him overcome the many challenges and decided to bring her cousin Evan’s unique curriculum-based academic coaching business to the DC area to help parents and students in her community with similar challenges.
A lifelong supporter of children’s causes, Wendy has been a long-time advocate for Children’s Miracle Hospital Networks and Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC for whom she raised more than $550,000 for the facility. She holds a Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University Law Center, and an undergraduate degree in science, cum laude, from the University of Maryland. Prior to founding Illuminos, she spent 25 years as a practicing attorney, general counsel & COO of publicly traded companies, gaining a broad range of experiences that she leverages today in managing Illuminos.
36. Katherine Bergeron
President Emerita, Connecticut College
Katherine Bergeron served as Connecticut College’s 11th president from January 2014 through June 2023, leading the College successfully through a global pandemic and overseeing one of the most significant periods of transformation in the College’s history. Through promoting a distinctive new approach to the liberal arts and a philosophy of full participation, she raised the bar for excellence at the College, burnishing its national and international reputation and breaking records in academic honors, athletics, applications, enrollment, and fundraising. Under her presidency, the college opened a renovated library, a Hillel, a center for global education, a center for career advancement, a revitalized center for performance and research, a center for film studies, a waterfront, and a student residence in the City of New London.
Bergeron is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Wesleyan University who earned master's and doctoral degrees in music history from Cornell University and wrote two prize-winning books on French music and culture. Before Connecticut College, she held faculty positions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Tufts University, University of California Berkeley, and Brown University, where she also served as Dean of the College. She has served many roles in higher education and community leadership, including Chair of the Board of the Council of Independent Colleges, and on the Boards of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the American Academic Leadership Institute, the New England Commission on Higher Education, President's Council of the NCAA, the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, and the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut.
37. Nwando Achebe
Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion, College of Social Science, Michigan State University
Nwando Achebe is the Jack and Margaret Sweet Endowed Professor of History, and Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, as well as an accomplished equity-minded academic leader and multi-award-winning historian at Michigan State University. She is a 2022-23 ACE Fellow and a 2022 HERS Leadership Fellow. She is also Co-Director of the Christie and Chinua Achebe Foundation, Co-CEO of Achebe Masterworks, LLC, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of West African History; Executive Board member of the Association for the Study of the World-Wide African Diaspora, and past member of African Studies Association’s (ASA) Board of Directors, and co-convenor of ASA’s Women’s Caucus.
Achebe is the author of six books, forty-two peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and essays. She is a public intellectual who has given over one hundred invited talks and keynotes. She served as an expert consultant for The History Channel/A&E Network Corporation, Disney Channel, Nutopia/Netflix, and an expert witness for court cases. She has also been interviewed and featured in documentaries and programming on three continents. Her scholarship has been supported by prestigious grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Wenner Gren Foundation, Woodrow Wilson, Fulbright-Hays, Ford Foundation, the World Health Organization, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
38. Suahil Housholder
Vice President for Finance & Treasurer, Anderson University
For over 14 years, Suahil Housholder has served as a dedicated higher education business officer at Anderson University. She currently serves as the Vice President for Finance and CFO. Her current portfolio includes the business office, business and auxiliary services, conference and events, information technology services, human resources, mail center, physical plant, police and security, and risk management.
Suahil earned her undergraduate degree in accounting and MBA from Anderson University and is a CPA in the state of Indiana. She is currently pursuing an EdD in higher education at Ball State University with a cognate in community college leadership, where her research interest centers around the study of decline and recovery at private institutions of higher education. Suahil currently serves on the Association of Business Administrators of Christian Colleges (ABACC) board of directors and is a founding donor and advocate for the Benjie Fund at Community Hospital Anderson, Indiana.
40. Toni Mooney Smith
Inaugural Vice Chancellor for Marketing & Communications, Rutgers University - Camden
Toni Mooney Smith is a multi-award-winning marketing and communications strategist who is highly sought to speak on strategic communications, marketing, branding, and crisis communication. Mooney Smith is a proven brand visionary and transformational leader who empowers complex communication teams to ignite innovation and create bold and meaningful campaigns to elevate the institution's brand and achieve successful integrated marketing outcomes.
Mooney Smith joined Rutgers University in Camden in 2021 as the inaugural vice chancellor for marketing and communications. Building on her proven experience, the newly created Office of Marketing and Communications (MarCom) at Rutgers–Camden delivers success after success to improve the university's visibility, reputation, and brand awareness. Under Mooney Smith, a new brand identity campaign was launched, demonstrating vision and action, that resulted in over 150 million brand impressions in less than one year. Mooney Smith's team won its first Circle of Excellence Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).
Mooney Smith has a career that spans 20 years in academic and health care, specializing in strategic communications, brand strategy, marketing, crisis communications, and public affairs. Mooney Smith holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications from the University of Houston and a Master of Science degree in communications from Northwestern University, as well as certificates from the Harvard University Institute for Management and Leadership in Education, and The University of Texas at Austin Executive Issues Crisis Management.
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41. Vilma Balmaceda
Associate Director, Duke University
Dr. Vilma “Nina” Balmaceda is the Associate Director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School, where she teaches theology, theory, and practice of conflict transformation and reconciliation. At Duke, Nina also serves on the Duke Human Rights Center Faculty Board, and—with an amazing team of collaborators—she co-leads the Americas Initiative for Transformation and Reconciliation, the Certificate on Faith-based Advocacy, Organizing, and Social Transformation, and the Certificate in Conflict Transformation and Reconciliation.
Nina is also the president/CEO of Peace and Hope International (PHI), a faith-based peace-building nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing violence and confronting other forms of injustice among marginalized communities through its sister organizations in Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador. As a Latinx scholar-practitioner, Nina's teaching, research, and activism are focused on the promotion of conflict transformation, gender equity, human rights, environmental justice, and reconciliation in the Americas.
Nina holds a PhD in political science, master’s degrees in international peace studies, and government and international studies from the University of Notre Dame du Lac, and a Law degree from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. Nina is happily married to Roberto Chia-Cherre. They live in Durham, NC, with their son.
42. Robyn Hannigan
President, Ursinus College
A distinguished scholar, entrepreneur, and academic leader, Robyn Hannigan became the first female president of Ursinus College in July 2022 following her service as provost at Clarkson University. Ursinus College, one of only 44 colleges in the US with the distinction of being a College That Changes Lives, centers its mission on the transformational power of the liberal arts in advancing sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing concerns.
Hannigan has earned wide recognition for developing and implementing strategic initiatives tailored to building both financial and institutional support for student success, research, and community engagement. A successful fundraiser and economic development partner, she has raised significant philanthropic support for facilities, scholarships, and research at the institutions she has served. She is the recipient of numerous national awards including the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Award for Encouraging Disadvantaged Students into Careers in the Chemical Sciences, and induction as a fellow to both the Geological Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Hannigan is a member of the board of directors of World Media Foundation, Inc. (Living on Earth Radio) and the Blue Institute and serves on several federal, state, and local committees and boards centered on economic development and the environment.
Hannigan earned her undergraduate degree in biology from the College of New Jersey, a master’s in geological science from the University at Buffalo, and a master’s and PhD in Earth and Environmental Science from the University of Rochester. She has translated her spirit for innovation into several start-up companies, founded with her students, and continues to be an active, prolific researcher and mentor, garnering over $32M in external funding and producing over 100 peer-reviewed publications with her students.
43. Becky Spurlock
SVP for Student Affairs & Enrollment Management, The University of Texas Permian Basin
Dr. Becky Spurlock is the Senior Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at The University of Texas Permian Basin. Dr. Spurlock's portfolio includes the Enrollment Management teams, comprised of Admissions, Financial Aid and Scholarships, and the Registrar's Office. In addition, she leads the Student Affairs, Student Success, and the Shepperd Leadership Institute teams. She also holds an appointment as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership in the College of Education.
Prior to joining UT Permian Basin, she served in several leadership roles at public and private universities in both Texas and Tennessee. As a first-generation college student, she believes in the transformational power of higher education. An educator, sought-after speaker, and leader in the field of Student Affairs, she regularly teaches, speaks, and consults on developing community, leadership, strategic planning, and assessment. Dr. Spurlock has more than 25 years of experience in Student Affairs. A high-energy speaker, Dr. Spurlock is known for her ability to engage audiences, address difficult topics, and connect through humor.
Trained in narrative analysis and as a qualitative researcher, Dr. Spurlock uses stories to connect, teach, and deepen relationships. Dr. Spurlock has a PhD in higher education administration from Texas A&M University as well as two degrees from Texas State University, a BS in recreational administration, and an MEd in counseling and guidance. In 2017, Dr. Spurlock completed the Management and Leadership Education Program Certificate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
45. Natalie Williams
Vice President of Client Operations, Ancora Education
Natalie Williams is the Vice President of Client Operations of Ancora Education, a leading workforce solutions provider addressing America’s labor gaps through innovative and technology-driven educational programs. Ancora operates in three divisions: Ancora High School, Ancora Education, and Ancora Training. Williams is a dynamic leader with over 10 years of experience as a sales and operations manager in post-secondary education. She builds and develops strong teams that deliver results and think outside the box to exceed performance expectations, customer satisfaction, and outcomes for students and employers. She has been successful in delivering incremental improvements in key performance indicators YoY as a sales manager and operations manager.
Previously, Williams was an admissions director at Miller-Motte Technical College. Earlier in her career she worked with Miller-Motte College as a campus director. Williams earned an MBA from Trident University International and an undergraduate degree in business, management, marketing, and related support services from the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
46. Laken Avonne Rapier
Chief Communications Officer, University of North Texas System
Laken Avonne Rapier is the Chief Communications Officer and Vice Chancellor of Marketing and Communications for the University of North Texas System. In this role, Laken serves as the primary contact for marketing and communications, providing strategic guidance to the Chancellor and Board of Regents. She also oversees the development of marketing and communications strategies in alignment with systemwide strategic priorities.
Previously, Laken served as the director of communications and community engagement for the City of Fort Worth’s Mayor and City Council. In this capacity, she managed all communications and media relations efforts for Mayor Betsy Price. Laken also played a crucial role in supporting community engagement initiatives, including town halls and civic engagement programs throughout the city. Collaborating closely with community leaders and stakeholders, Laken contributed to enhancing resident engagement and bolstering Fort Worth's national presence.
Laken's professional journey began on Capitol Hill, where she served as a congressional staffer in the US House of Representatives. Her responsibilities included managing legislative correspondence, constituent communications, and media relations. After her time in D.C., she brought her expertise to Justin Boot Company, where she successfully transitioned several marketing, communications, and public relations efforts in-house. Laken's expertise, combined with her sense of humor, makes her a trusted, innovative, and effective leader.
47. Jennifer McCarthy
Director of Simulation & Clinical Associate Professor, Seton Hall University
Jennifer McCarthy serves as the Director of Simulation and Clinical Associate Professor for the School of Health and Medical Sciences at Seton Hall University where she designs, delivers, and debriefs simulation experiences for six graduate healthcare programs. She has integrated simulated activities through each of the curricula and has developed a standardized data collection process to measure effective communication and clinical decision-making. The experiences increase in complexity as students move through their respective programs. She also leads interprofessional experiences where multiple programs care for the same patient and practice effective communication strategies.
Jennifer has over 30 years of clinical experience as a hospital-based paramedic in New Jersey where she has developed her practice of patient-centered care. Jennifer is the President and founding member of 579 Solutions, LLC. 579 Solutions is a consulting company dedicated to enhancing positive change using innovative strategies. Jennifer has designed, developed, and established many simulation centers in New Jersey and has a keen ability to design simulation spaces for enhanced inter-professional education (IPE). Jennifer holds many positions with the Society for Simulation in Healthcare. She volunteers her time as the VP of the NJ EMS Task Force.
Jennifer has earned the distinguished credential of Certified Healthcare Simulation Educator – Advanced which is bestowed upon less than 125 simulationists globally. Jennifer was the recipient of the Seton Hall President Student Success Award, named one of the Top 17 People to Watch in Healthcare, and has received the EMS Career Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the New Jersey Department of Health Office of Emergency Medical Services and the New Jersey EMS Council.
48. Dahlia Tett
Chief Wellness Officer, Northern Virginia Community College
Dr. Dahlia Henry-Tett is Northern Virginia Community College’s (NOVA) Chief Wellness Officer. In her position, Henry-Tett develops the vision, direction, and subsequent actualization of a comprehensive health and wellness experience for all employees that aligns with NOVA’s strategic imperative and those of the Virginia Community College System (VCCS).
Henry-Tett leverages over two decades of experience in the health and wellbeing industry to design and activate wellness programming for employees at one of the largest public institutions of higher learning in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. She forges relationships and works collaboratively with partners (internal and external) to design, redesign, market, and promote wellness initiatives for this busy multi-campus institution. Dahlia is an innovative college and campus community builder whose support and mentorship empower colleagues and students to navigate the increasingly complex demands of higher education. Dr. Henry-Tett has served in several leadership positions inside and outside of NOVA.
Dr. Henry-Tett holds a BS in physical education from Manhattan College in Riverdale, NY, a master’s of science in physical education from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, and a doctorate and second master’s degree in education from the Health and Behavioral Studies Department at Teachers College, Columbia University. This award-winning academic is also a Certified Health Education Specialist through the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. (NCHEC) and a Certified Mental Health First Aid Trainer.
49. Max Lu
Senior Director, InGenius Prep
Max Zitao Lu is the Senior Director at InGenius Prep, a global college consulting firm where she is responsible for corporate partnership development, junior director management, and business growth. She founded the International American Classical Music Festival in 2015. Since its establishment, Max has successfully orchestrated hundreds of classical music concert series, and masterclasses by bringing talented musicians and professors from North America and Europe to tour throughout China. In 2016, Max also founded the Hartford International Classical Music Academy, a summer music institute providing pre-college students from Asia with authentic conservatory experiences in the U.S., opening doors to unparalleled educational opportunities.
Prior to joining InGenius Prep, Max was the development director and later the managing director of WeMusic, an e-learning platform building bridges in music education from the West to the East. She oversaw program design, and business operations, as well as establishing long-term B2B partnerships globally, including Steinway & Sons, Music Teacher National Association, Westminster Choir College, Ohio University, GIA Publishing (US), University of Oxford (UK), Liszt Academy of Music, Kodaly Institute (Hungary), Royal Conservatory of Music (Canada), Tsinghua University, and the China Cultural Administration Association.
Max actively contributes to the arts and education community by serving as a Board Member at The Same Stream Choir, and an Advisor for the Pegasus Orchestra. Ms. Lu earned her Master’s Degree and Graduate Professional Diploma in piano performance from The Hartt School. She holds a BA degree in musicology and education from the Central China Normal University. She is currently in pursuit of a master’s degree in education entrepreneurship at the University of Pennsylvania. Zitao’s favorite quote is “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up” by Pablo Picasso. This, alongside education equity, will continue to be her professional goal and lifelong passion.
50. Krista Campbell
Director of Corporate & Foundation Relations, Hamilton College
Krista Campbell is passionate about advancing the mission of non-profit organizations that make the world a better place. An energetic leader, excellent communicator, and collegial collaborator, Krista is an accomplished writer and sound businesswoman who balances solid work experience with strong academic credentials. She started her career in marketing management in the Philadelphia region for The Rouse Company, a publicly held community and shopping mall developer. She redirected her endeavors to the non-profit industry and never looked back. She has been executive director of the Dairy Barn Arts Center, Delaware County Cultural Arts Center, and Cincinnati Artists’ Group Effort (C.A.G.E.), and in higher education fundraising at Carnegie Mellon University and currently Hamilton College, where she is director of corporate and foundation relations.
Krista holds a Master of Arts Management from the H. John Heinz III College of Information Systems and Management at Carnegie Mellon University, and a BA in psychology from Wittenberg University.
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