|Chancellor Debra Saunders-White hold the University Mace after taking the oath of office|
Dr. Debra Saunders-White was formally installed as the 11th chancellor of North Carolina Central University today during ceremonies at McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium on campus.
Saunders-White, who was appointed to the post by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors in early 2013, came to NCCU from the U.S. Department of Education after working in higher education administration at Hampton University and the University of North Carolina Wilmington, as well as in corporate marketing for IBM.
“I see NCCU as the gateway to opportunity, a place where our students can catch hold of a vision and have the life of their dreams,” the chancellor said in her inaugural speech.
“Times of change and challenge often spawn unimaginable creativity and innovation. We have to stay relevant, foster new relationships and offer more opportunities that allow our students and the university community to be leaders in the academy and the evolving global marketplace.”
Presiding over the ceremonies was Thomas W. Ross, president of the University of North Carolina system, which includes NCCU and 16 other campuses.
“NCCU has enormous potential under Dr. Saunders-White,” Ross said. “There is no doubt in my mind that she is the right person to lead North Carolina Central University today and in the years ahead.”
Dr. Johnson O. Akinleye, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, was a colleague of Saunders-White at UNC Wilmington before coming to NCCU earlier this year.
“She is scholarly, yet innovative. Respectful of history, while also keeping her eyes on the horizon,” Akinleye said in his tribute to the new chancellor. “While we know the bar set by Chancellor Saunders-White for academic excellence is high, she is someone who will work hard right alongside us to ensure that the path to achieving our goals is as smooth as possible.”
Hampton University President Dr. William R. Harvey praised Saunders-White for displaying “determination, focus, vision, intellect and untiring energy” when she served as director of vice president for technology and in other posts on the Virginia campus.
“Her aptitude for high-level contribution and future success were readily apparent,” Harvey said.
Other speakers included Durham Mayor William B. “Bill” Bell, Durham County Commission Chairman Dr. Michael Page, UNC Board of Governor’s Chairman Peter D. Hans, Dr. Dwight P. Perry, chairman of NCCU’s Board of Trustees, and the Rev. Raymond J. Donaldson, pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Durham.
Saunders-White grew up in Hampton, Va., and is a first-generation college graduate. Her mother, Irene Saunders, three brothers and her two children, Elizabeth Paige and Cecil III, were on hand for the celebration, as well as several aunts and uncles from as far away as Iowa.
Ralph Saunders, a high school principal in Hampton, said his sister brought home the best report cards in the family and demonstrated what their parents taught: “That we could be and do anything.”
“We are extremely proud of you,” Saunders added.
In her speech, Saunders-White acknowledged some of the challenges facing higher education, such as funding for new programs and the need to raise student retention and graduation rates.
She also pointed out that NCCU is well positioned to improve the economic outlook for students who have traditionally had fewer opportunities and access to higher education.
“Because of the support of the state, our alumni and friends, NCCU is one of the most affordable and accessible institutions for low income families in the University of North Carolina system, and it is one of the most affordable institutions in its peer group in the United States,” she added.
Saunders-White spoke of the important role historically black colleges and universities play in reaching out to underserved students. Although only 9 percent of African-American students attend HBCU’s, they are responsible for producing 18 percent of all engineering degrees, 21 percent of business and management degrees and 31 percent of mathematics degrees earned by African-Americans.