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February 8, 2013


Saunders-White Named Chancellor of North Carolina Central University


CHAPEL HILL, NC – Debra Saunders-White, deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs in the U.S. Department of Education, has been elected chancellor of North Carolina Central University by the Board of Governors of the 17-campus University of North Carolina.  UNC President Tom Ross placed Saunders-White’s name in nomination today (February 8) during a regular meeting of the board.  Saunders-White, 57, will assume her new duties June 1, succeeding Charles L. Becton, who has served as interim chancellor since the retirement of Charlie Nelms last August.

In recommending Saunders-White to the Board of Governors, Ross said: “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.  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.”

“She is no stranger to North Carolina or this University—having served for five years as a vice chancellor and interim associate provost at UNC Wilmington—so we can consider this a homecoming of sorts,” Ross added.  “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.  We are delighted to bring her back to North Carolina.”

Since joining the Department of Education in May 2011, Saunders-White has been responsible for administering federal programs that increase access to postsecondary education for low-income, first-generation college students and students with disabilities.  As deputy assistant secretary, she serves as the assistant secretary’s chief advisor on higher education programs and has oversight for more than 60 programs that strengthen the capacity of minority-serving institutions and help recruit and prepare disadvantaged students for successful college completion.  This is the largest grant-making function within the Department of Education.

A native of Hampton, Va., Saunders-White attended the University of Virginia as a DuPont Scholar, graduating in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in history.  She later earned a master’s of business administration (1993) from the College of William and Mary and a doctorate in higher education administration (2004) from George Washington University.   She also has participated in executive leadership programs sponsored by the American Council on Education, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and Hampton University.

Prior to entering higher education administration, Saunders-White spent 15 years in the corporate sector.  She joined IBM in in 1979 as a systems engineer and soon transitioned to marketing, where she assumed increasing levels of managerial responsibility for IBM’s higher education, finance, and public-sector marketing.  By the time she left the company in 1994, she had earned numerous awards for customer engagement and other accomplishments.

From 1994 to 1998, Saunders-White taught mathematics at St. George’s School in New Port, RI.  During her tenure there, she developed a course that used technology to engage students who “hated” math and developed a unit in which teams of students invested in the New York Stock Exchange.

In 1999, Saunders-White joined Hampton University as assistant provost for technology, tasked with designing and building the university’s first information-technology organization.  Under her leadership, Hampton became the first HBCU in the nation to join the Internet 2 community and was named one of America’s “most wired universities” by Forbes Magazine and the Princeton Review.  In 2005, she was promoted to the newly created post of vice president for technology and chief information officer.

Saunders-White left Hampton the following year to join the University of North Carolina Wilmington as vice chancellor for information technology systems.  As a member of the chancellor’s executive leadership team, she was responsible for the strategic direction and operation of all IT resources on the campus.  From 2007-to 2008, she also served concurrently as UNCW’s interim associate provost in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion and as chief diversity officer.

At UNCW, Saunders-White was credited with improving emergency communications for campus safety preparedness; introducing new cost-effective classroom technologies; garnering national recognition for UNCW’s innovative use of mobile services; and co-developing the UNCW Learning Commons, a technology-supported library space for student learning and collaboration.   In addition, she implemented a mentoring program to support at-risk teenagers in the Wilmington Housing Authority; collaborated with the UNCW Department of Sociology to provide reading and computer literacy training for Housing Authority residents; and engaged black male faculty in the creation of SEAM (Seahawks Empowering African-American Men) to provide mentoring and help improve retention and graduation rates.  In the spring of 2011, she was tapped by the White House to serve as deputy assistant secretary and reported to Washington to assume her current post.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan applauded her selection to lead NCCU.   "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,” he said.  “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 more young people have the chance to go to college. I am personally grateful for her leadership and am thrilled that as chancellor at North Carolina Central University, she will continue to help our nation achieve President Obama's goal of again leading the world in college graduates."

Active in civic and professional organizations, Saunders-White has held adjunct faculty appointments in the Hampton University Business School and UNCW’s Cameron School of Business.  She has been named a “cyber star” by Black Issues in Higher Education and has published articles and whitepapers on the role of technology in learning.  While at UNCW, she was elected by her peers across the UNC system to serve as vice chair and then chair-elect of the UNC Chief Information Officers Council. 

Saunders-White is a Silver Star in the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and a member of the Links, Inc.  She is the proud mother of two children:  Elizabeth Paige, a senior and member of the track and field team at Temple University; and Cecil III, a second-year student at the University of Virginia.


North Carolina Central University:

Founded in 1909 and chartered as the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua, North Carolina Central University was acquired by the state in 1923 and became the nation’s first state-supported liberal arts institution for African Americans.  Maintaining a strong liberal arts tradition, NCCU is now a comprehensive university offering baccalaureate and master’s level programs, as well as the first-professional degree in law.  With both a biomanufacturing and a biomedical research institute, NCCU is emerging as a leader in the study of health disparities.  A constituent institution of the University of North Carolina since 1972, NCCU today enrolls more than 8,100 students.


The University of North Carolina

The oldest public university in the nation, the University of North Carolina enrolls more than 220,000 students and encompasses all 16 of North Carolina’s public institutions that grant baccalaureate degrees, as well as the NC School of Science and Mathematics, the nation’s first public residential high school for gifted students.  UNC campuses support a broad array of distinguished liberal-arts programs, two medical schools and one teaching hospital, two law schools, a veterinary school, a school of pharmacy, 11 nursing programs, 15 schools of education, three schools of engineering, and a specialized school for performing artists.  The UNC Center for Public Television, with its 11-station statewide broadcast network, is also under the University umbrella.




NCCU CONTACT:  Ayana D. Hernandez, Director of Public Relations, 919-530-7266 or

Friday, February 8, 2013

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