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2018 Top 25 Women in Higher Education

Honoring 25 women in the academy
who are making a difference.
Compiled by Walter Hudson


Julie Amon

Julie Amon

Vice President for Student Development Services
Tarrant County College

Dr. Julie Amon has been a long-time champion of student success and academic excellence. Prior to her arrival earlier this month at Tarrant County College, Amon was vice president of academic affairs at Paul Quinn College (PQC) — the historically Black college in Dallas, Texas. She has also served as vice chancellor for undergraduate education and student success at Rutgers University–Camden. During her five-year tenure at Rutgers University–Camden, Amon was praised for jumpstarting several on-campus initiatives, including the creation of an eLearning Conference and a Digital Teaching Fellows initiative.

Kakali Bhattacharya

Kakali Bhattacharya

Professor, Adult Learning and Leadership
Kansas State University

Dr. Kakali Bhattacharya received an honor this spring that demonstrated her hard work and commitment to sound scholarship. She was promoted to full-professor at Kansas State University. Bhattacharya took to social media to share the good news. With research interests focusing on the social foundation of higher education in the U.S., gender, race, and ethnic studies in education, Bhattacharya emerged as a rising star several years ago. She started her teaching career at the University of Memphis, before landing a position at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi. In 2013, she began work at Kansas State University. Having earned a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Georgia, she now teaches qualitative and research-focused courses.

Colette Burnette

Colette Pierce Burnette

Huston-Tillotson University

Since 2015, Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette has served as the sixth president and chief executive officer of Huston-Tillotson University, one of seven historically Black colleges and universities located in the state of Texas. A seasoned college administrator, Pierce Burnette has held numerous administrative posts in higher education, including serving as interim president at Pierce College in Puyallup, Washington, and vice president for administration and chief financial officer at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. A native of Cleveland, Pierce Burnette is an advocate for civic engagement and serves on the board of directors of Girls Scouts of Central Texas, Leadership Austin, and the Greater Austin Area African American Chamber of Commerce. Pierce Burnette is the first female president of the merged Huston-Tillotson University and only the second female president in the institution’s 140-year history. Pierce Burnette earned an Ed.D. in higher education administration from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

Katrina Caldwell

Katrina Caldwell

Vice Chancellor, Diversity and Community Engagement
University of Mississippi

Having served in diversity and equity positions at Northern Illinois University, DePaul University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, Dr. Katrina Caldwell became the first vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement at the University of Mississippi last year. In this role, the Memphis native is responsible for the overall leadership and coordination of the university’s ongoing efforts to create and supervise a diverse, inclusive and welcoming environment for all members of the campus community. Caldwell is the recipient of numerous accolades, including the Diversity/MBA Magazine’s Top 100 under 50 Emerging and Executive Leaders Award, which she received in 2011. She has also received the White House Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. As a kid growing up in nearby Memphis, Caldwell recounts that she was told that she could not apply to Ole Miss because of its troubled history with race and diversity. But she said that her mother encouraged her to apply for her current job, with the belief that she could help push the public university — founded in 1848 — forward.

Holly Clark

Holly Jones Clark

Director, Auxiliary Services
Kentucky State University

Holly Jones Clark is the director of Auxiliary Services at Kentucky State University. Prior to joining KSU, she was director of membership sales & marketing for UK Clubs at the University of Kentucky, where she headed corporate, alumni and individual membership enhancement, increased the community profile and mentored interns. At UK, she also managed the day-to-day operations of the official representative body for the staff for nearly a decade as office coordinator of the Staff Senate. A fourth-generation college graduate, Clark attended Spelman College on academic scholarship, and she sang in the Glee Club there. Later, she enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving as a legal specialist at Fort Bliss, Texas. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business management and ethics with high honors from Asbury College. She is vice chair of Lafayette High School Choir’s board.

Jeanette Davidson

Jeanette R. Davidson

Professor, African & African American Studies
University of Oklahoma

Dr. Jeanette R. Davidson is a professor of African & African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma. She has taught at the university for 20 years and was director of African & African Studies for 15 years, until 2017. Davidson has published extensively in the areas of Black studies, race and competency in social work practice and education. Currently, she is writing a book, Black Lives in Scotland: Telling Our Stories, and is working on the second edition of a textbook, African American Studies. Davidson is a member of the board of directors of the National Council for Black Studies (NCBS) and is a member of the Executive Board of the Southwest Center for Human Relations in Education, home of the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE). She is a faculty member of the Annual Summer School on Black Europe, Center of Study and Investigation for Global Dialogues and a fellow of the Molefi Kete Institute. Prior to teaching at the University of Oklahoma, she taught at Columbia University School of Social Work. Born and raised in Scotland, Davidson earned a bachelor’s degree, with honors, in English literature from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow and an MSSW and Ph.D. in social work from the University of Texas at Arlington.

Donna Ford

Donna Y. Ford

Professor, Education and Human Development
Vanderbilt University

When it comes to topics like underachievement and closing achievement and opportunity gaps by race and income, Dr. Donna Y. Ford is one of the nation’s most recognized scholars. Her research focuses on equity issues in testing and assessment, multicultural education and urban education. A proud native of Cleveland, Ohio, Ford is known for mentoring legions of younger scholars who have gone on to become university professors. At Vanderbilt, Ford holds the Cornelius Vanderbilt Endowed Chair. She is the former 2013 Harvie Branscomb Distinguished Professor and former Betts Chair of Education & Human Development. She currently holds a joint appointment in the Department of Special Education and Department of Teaching and Learning. Ford has written over 200 articles and book chapters and has authored or co-edited more than a dozen books. Her curriculum vitae is more than 100 pages long. She is the co-founder of the Scholar Identity Institute (SII) for Black Males. She created the Ford Female Achievement Model of Excellence (FAME) and is a two-time board member of the National Association for Gifted Children.

Angela Franklin

Angela L. Franklin

Des Moines University

Dr. Angela L. Walker Franklin is the president of Des Moines University. A licensed clinical psychologist, Walker became president of the university in 2011. Prior to her appointment, she worked for more than 25 years in higher education, serving in various administrative posts, including vice president and provost at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, where she oversaw academic and administrative departments. She also held a professorship in Meharry’s department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. A native of McCormick, South Carolina, Franklin is a former American Council on Education Fellow and a past participant of the Millennium Leadership Institute, which is sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Since becoming the 15th president of Des Moines University, Franklin has published the university history entitled Now is the Time, Des Moines is the Place, which traces the more than 100-year history of training health care professionals. In 2014, Franklin published her memoir An Unconventional Journey … An Unlikely Choice, which chronicles her journey to the college presidency and lessons learned in leadership.

Tiffany Gill

Tiffany M. Gill

Associate Professor, Department of History
and Black American Studies
University of Delaware

Dr. Tiffany M. Gill is an associate professor in the Department of Black American Studies and the Department of History at the University of Delaware. She earned a doctorate in American history at Rutgers University in 2003. Her research and teaching interests include African American history, Women’s history, the history of Black entrepreneurship, fashion and beauty studies, and travel and migration throughout the African diaspora. She is the author of Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry (University of Illinois Press, 2010), which was awarded the 2010 Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Prize by the Association of Black Women Historians. In addition, she has served as a subject editor for African American National Biography and has had her work published and reprinted in several journals and edited volumes. Before joining the faculty of the University of Delaware, Gill taught at the University of Texas at Austin and was a recipient of the 2010 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award for excellence in undergraduate education. Earlier this month, she was named the Inaugural Cochran Scholar at UD. The Cochran Scholar title is for an outstanding faculty member on an accelerated path toward academic distinction.

Mary Howard Hamilton

Mary Howard-Hamilton

Chair, Department of Educational Leadership
Indiana State University

Dr. Mary F. Howard-Hamilton is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at Indiana State University, where she also serves as chair of the department. Howard-Hamilton previously served as a higher education administrator for 15 years, working at five institutions, where her responsibilities included orientation, developmental education, judicial affairs, multicultural affairs, commuter life and residence life. She taught courses in student affairs, higher education and counseling at the University of Florida, and she also taught at Indiana University in Bloomington, where she was also Associate Dean for Graduate Studies in the School of Education. Her areas of expertise  are multicultural issues in higher education, student development theories, feminist theory and therapy and consultation. She has published over 75 articles and book chapters and co-authored or co-edited five books.

Loree Jones

Loree D. Jones

Chief of Staff
Rutgers University

Loree D. Jones has served in top leadership positions in nonprofits, higher education and government, including as managing director, or chief operating officer, of the City of Philadelphia, and as executive director of the African Studies Association, an organization of scholars and professionals with an interest in Africa, hosted by Rutgers University. She is currently chief of staff for the chancellor of Rutgers University–Camden. She serves on the boards of Project HOME, Health Partners Plans, First Philadelphia Foundation, and the Sunday Breakfast Club, and is a former board member of a wide range of civic organizations, including the Committee of Seventy, the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board, the Philadelphia Planning Commission, and the African American Museum of Philadelphia. She is an alumna — and serving for the second time as co-president — of Operation Understanding, a cross-cultural program founded in Philadelphia more than 30 years ago to build bridges of understanding between the African-American and Jewish communities. Jones holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Spelman College, where she graduated magna cum laude, and a master’s degree in history from Princeton University. She studied in Dakar, Senegal, while in college and later conducted graduate research in Senegal at Cheikh Anta Diop Université in Dakar, where she worked in French and Wolof.

Keisha Khan Perry

Keisha-Khan Perry

Associate Professor, Africana Studies
Brown University

Dr. Keisha-Khan Y. Perry is an associate professor of Africana Studies and specializes in the critical study of race, gender and politics in the Americas with a particular focus on Black women’s activism, urban geography and questions of citizenship, feminist theories, intellectual history and disciplinary formations, and the interrelationship between scholarship, pedagogy and political engagement. She has conducted extensive research in Mexico, Jamaica, Belize, Brazil, Argentina and the United States. Perry recently completed Black Women Against the Land Grab: The Fight for Racial Justice in Brazil, which is an ethnographic study of Black women’s activism in Brazilian cities. The book examines their participation and leadership in neighborhood associations and how and in what ways their interpretations of racial and gender identities intersect with urban spaces. She is currently writing Anthropology for Liberation: Research, Writing and Teaching for Social Justice, while working on two other research projects. She is engaged in a study that documents and analyzes the historical paradox of citizenship and Black land ownership and loss in Brazil, Jamaica and the United States. She is also working on a multi-lingual and transnational exploration of Black women’s political work in Latin America by critically examining how Black women mobilize political movements across borders and how they understand themselves as agents in creating a diasporic community.

Bleuzette Marshall

Bleuzette Marshall

Vice President, Equity and Inclusion
University of Cincinnati

In 2014, Dr. Bleuzette Marshall was named chief diversity officer (CDO) at the University of Cincinnati, and in June 2016, her title was changed to vice president for equity & inclusion. A University of Cincinnati alumna, Marshall has worked at UC and the UC Foundation for nearly 21 years, starting in Ethnic Programs and Services and then at the African American Cultural and Resource Center and most recently in development at the UC Foundation. Since 2007, she has assisted the chief diversity officer and the President’s Diversity Council. As a respected member of the UC administration, she has gained an awareness of UC culture that will be essential in moving our university forward as it continues to implement the Diversity Plan and build on the accomplishments of the university’s first CDO, Mitchel D. Livingston, who retired at the end of 2012. Marshall holds three degrees from UC, including a bachelor’s degree in psychology and an M.Ed. and a Ph.D. in educational studies.

Cheryl Matias

Dr. Cheryl E. Matias

Associate Professor, School of Education
& Human Development
University of Colorado, Denver

Dr. Cheryl E. Matias is an associate professor in the School of Education & Human Development (SEHD) at the University of Colorado, Denver. She is also an affiliate faculty at the Social Science master’s program and the Freshmen Year Seminar Program at the University of Colorado, Denver. She is the faculty founder of Research Advocacy in Critical Education (R.A.C.E), a collaborative think tank that brings together local community activists, educators, students and community members in the pursuit of racial and social justice in education.

Dania Matos

Dania Matos

Deputy Chief Diversity Officer
College of William & Mary

Dania Matos arrived at William & Mary College last year as the inaugural deputy chief diversity officer. A 2003 graduate of Brown University and a 2009 graduate of the Catholic University School of Law, Matos works with the chief diversity officer to advance William & Mary’s diversity and inclusion efforts, including the creation of diversity action plans for academic and administrative units within the university. Before coming to William & Mary, Matos was the executive director of Latinas Leading Tomorrow and also worked for the Office of the Federal Public Defender (Eastern District of Virginia) and Beveridge & Diamond, P.C.

Stacy Patton

Stacey Patton

Assistant Professor, School of Global Journalism &
Morgan State University

A veteran journalist and trained historian, Dr. Stacey Patton is an award-winning author, child advocate and an assistant professor of multimedia journalism at Morgan State University in Baltimore. Patton’s first book That Mean Old Yesterday: A Memoir was followed by Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America. She is currently working on her third book Strung Up: The Lynching of Black Children and Teenagers in America, 1880-1968. Patton attended Johns Hopkins University and New York University and earned a Ph.D. in African American history from Rutgers University. Known for her provocative essays, Patton has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, The Root, The Chronicle of Higher Education and Dame. In 2015, she was awarded the Vernon Jarrett Medal for her national commentary and reporting on race.

Joy Ann Reid

Joy-Ann Reid

Political Analyst, MSNBC & Adjunct Professor
Syracuse University

In addition to hosting a two-hour show every Saturday and Sunday on MSNBC, Joy-Ann Reid is an adjunct professor at the New York City campus of Syracuse University, where she teaches a course called “Race, Gender and Media.” Reid is the author of Fracture: Barack Obama, the Clintons and the Racial Divide and writes a column for The Daily Beast. Reid graduated from Harvard University in 2001 and in 2008 was a press aide during the final stretch of President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

Christine Riordan

Christine M. Riordan

Adelphi University

Dr. Christine M. Riordan is the first woman to serve as president of Adelphi University, the private institution located on Long Island. An internationally recognized expert in leadership development, team building and diversity and inclusion, Riordan is recognized for her groundbreaking initiatives to personalize and transform the higher education experience. Under Riordan’s leadership, Adelphi has developed and launched several new academic programs, substantially expanded the services of the university’s Center for Career and Professional Development, and opened the 100,000-square-foot Nexus Building, home of Adelphi’s innovative and top-ranked nursing and public health program and a host of personalized student support services. The university also established a highly regarded Office of Diversity and Inclusion and initiated a Diversity Certificate training program for faculty and staff and is providing increasingly personalized educational supports for students of all abilities. Prior to joining Adelphi, Riordan served as provost of the University of Kentucky and as dean of the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. Riordan has published more than 60 academic and business press articles.

Yves Salomon Fernandez

Yves Salomon-Fernandez

Cumberland County College

A product of public higher education and an immigrant to the United States, Dr. Yves Salomon-Fernandez credits her teachers, undergraduate faculty and staff for preparing her to give back as a college president. Salomon-Fernandez knows first-hand how education can transform the lives of first-generation students and also the importance of maintaining higher education as a legacy for families. Since taking the helm of Cumberland County College in 2016, she has worked to ensure that the Hispanic-serving institution in New Jersey remains a vehicle for achieving and maintaining the American dream through the collective impact of community-based organizations, businesses, higher education partners and the people of the region. Salomon-Fernandez earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston, a master’s degree from the London School of Economics, and a Ph.D. from Boston College. In addition to English, she is also fluent in French, Haitian Creole and Spanish. Her international experience includes working as a consultant for the Bermuda Ministry of Education and the United Nations in Mexico. She spent a decade serving as adjunct faculty, teaching a range of undergraduate and graduate courses in statistics, research methods, assessment and evaluation, and leadership.

Karen Stout

Karen A. Stout

President & CEO
Achieving the Dream

Dr. Karen A. Stout became president and CEO of Achieving the Dream, Inc. (ATD) in 2015, following a more than 14-year tenure as president of Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania. Under her leadership, ATD’s network is growing and innovating with new efforts around scaling advising redesign (iPASS), developing zero textbook degrees using open education resources, designing non-cognitive wrap around support systems (Working Student Success Network), and placing teaching and learning at the center of institutional change efforts. A frequent speaker and writer, Stout focuses on strategies for enhancing student success and completion, accelerating and scaling innovation, and on launching a new era of community college fundraising. She holds a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Delaware, a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Baltimore, and a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Delaware.

Debra Szybinski

Debra Szybinski

Executive Director
Faculty Resource Network, New York University

Dr. Debra M. Szybinski is executive director of the Faculty Resource Network, a consortium based at New York University that has been widely acclaimed for its unique and successful approach to providing professional development opportunities for faculty members at its domestic and international partner institutions, the majority of which are minority-serving. She is also executive director of the Office of Faculty Resources and the Center for the Advancement of Teaching at New York University. Szybinski previously served as executive administrator of the Renaissance Society of America and as managing editor of Renaissance Quarterly. She serves on the advisory committee of the United Negro College Fund Institute for Capacity Building. Szybinski earned a Ph.D. in Renaissance literature from Columbia University.

Maria Valentin-Welch

Maria Valentin Welch
Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer
Frontier Nursing University

Dr. Maria Valentin-Welch is Frontier Nursing University’s chief diversity and
inclusion officer. Valentin-Welch holds the title of Assistant Professor at FNU, where she has worked since 2013. She has been teaching in academic settings since 1997. Valentin-Welch has over 30 years of public health, clinical and teaching experience and has worked with vulnerable populations such as pregnant homeless women and uninsured, underprivileged and undocumented women from various cultures. She was the State Maternal Health Consultant for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services from 2008-2013. Valentin-Welch believes nursing is public health and that advanced nurses such as midwives and nurse practitioners can provide care not only in clinical settings but also in public health settings at the local, state and national level, where they can serve as catalysts for positive policy decision-making.

Maya Wiley

Maya Wiley

Senior Vice President for Social Justice
The New School

Maya Wiley is a nationally renowned expert on racial justice and equity. She has litigated, lobbied the U.S. Congress, and developed programs to transform structural racism in the U.S. and in South Africa. Wiley is currently the Senior Vice President for Social Justice at the New School and the Henry Cohen Professor of Urban Policy and Management at The New School’s Milano School of International Affairs, Management & Urban Policy, as well as the Chair of the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) — the independent oversight agency for the city’s Police Department. Prior to her roles with The New School and the CCRB, Wiley served as Counsel to the Mayor of the City of New York from 2014 to 2016. As Mayor Bill de Blasio’s chief legal advisor and a member of his Senior Cabinet, Wiley was placed at the helm of the mayor’s commitment to expanding affordable broadband access across New York City, advancing civil and human rights and gender equity, and increasing the effectiveness of the city’s support for minority/women owned business enterprises. During her tenure, she also served as the mayor’s liaison to the mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary. Wiley holds a J.D. from Columbia University School of Law and a B.A. in psychology from Dartmouth College.

Tonjua Williams

Tonjua Williams

St. Petersburg College

Dr. Tonjua Williams is the seventh president of St. Petersburg College. Williams has held various positions throughout her 30 plus years of experience in higher education. Enhancing student success and the quality of their experience is one of her most treasured goals. Williams is recognized nationally as an expert in student development and executing plans that transform departments and institutions. Williams holds a Ph.D. in higher education administration from Barry University, with a specialization in educational leadership. She has participated in several leadership programs: State of Florida Chancellor’s Leadership Program, Leadership St. Petersburg, University of Florida’s Executive Leadership Program, and the American Association of Community College’s Thomas Lakin Leadership Program (for those aspiring to be college presidents). Williams was recently selected as one of 40 leaders in the inaugural class of the Aspen Presidential Fellowship, a yearlong program designed to prepare leaders aspiring to be community college presidents.

Karla Zelaya

Karla V. Zelaya

Assistant Professor, English
University of North Alabama

Dr. Karla V. Zelaya is a rising star in the academy. An assistant professor in the
Department of English at University of North Alabama, her specialty is African-American literature. Prior to her arrival at UNA, Zelaya was a full-time lecturer in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. An expert on 18th and 19th century African-American literature and culture as well as Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association in Nicaragua, Zelaya earned a Ph.D. in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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