Debra Saunders-White has experience as an IBM systems engineer, a high school math teacher and as a technology administrator at Hampton University and UNC-Wilmington. All of those skills will be called upon as she becomes chancellor of N.C. Central University in Durham. Central has undergone several administrative changes in recent years, but has strong community and alumni support. Those who have been aware of Saunders-White are enthusiastic about her getting the job.
Shell also be making history as the first woman appointed to permanently fill the position.
Chancellors have a tough row to hoe in terms of administrative structure. Saunders-White will be working for a board of trustees, but she also will work as part of a university system. That has been a challenge for some leaders, but her experience in a large corporate organization should help.
And then there is her current job, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. Anyone who can navigate a federal bureaucracy surely will have an advantage in the University of North Carolina system.
For Central, the technological changes in education such as online courses require a leader on the cutting edge of those things, and Saunders-White would seem to be a good candidate to fit that bill. The university also retains its legacy as a historically black institution at a time when those schools and all others are aiming to become more diverse.
Under retiring Chancellor Charlie Nelms, NCCU made strides in raising academic standards and trying to improve graduation rates. That admirable trend needs to continue. Nelms also built the intangible school spirit and pride and ties with alumni that any institution needs and that all leaders should strive to address.
As chancellor, Saunders-White also will have a free hand to develop her own initiatives for students and to address issues with courses of study and campus life and the relationship of the institution with the Durham community. The appointment of a new chancellor is a time of invigoration and excitement. It is a good time and a positive time for NCCU and certainly for Debra Saunders-White.