NCCU’s new start

June 4, 2013 

Debra Saunders-White, the new chancellor of N.C. Central University in Durham, made connections in several ways with students on Monday, her first day on the job.

In the chancellor’s case, connections is a significant way to put it. She is a former systems engineer for IBM, a technology administrator for Hampton University and UNC-Wilmington and most recently the deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

Saunders-White knows, therefore, the up-to-date ways in which students communicate with professors and with one another. Technology knowledge is a vital asset in university administrators these days, given the ever-expanding field of online studies and the various forms of social media students use for research. In her role on this campus, Saunders-White will be looked to for guidance as to how students can use social media. She’ll also have to determine how it should not be used.

A new leader’s first day is always part inspiration. It’s about giving students and faculty members hope, about raising their expectations, about setting priorities and offering a hint at leadership style. On that score, Saunders-White did not disappoint.

At a student union gathering, she set her aims: achieving better graduation rates, working with the community of Durham, expanding students’ study horizons beyond the borders of the state and, for that matter, the nation. “We will ensure,” she said, “that no dream gets deferred.”

Toward that end, she wants more students graduating on time and indicated she’ll be monitoring progress.

“I want them to leave NCCU understanding that this place really made a difference in their lives,” she said. “You can’t do this job if you don’t love being around the students and seeing their bright eyes.” Let’s hope, also, that the new chancellor enjoys her position to the point she stays a while and brings stability to the campus.

Student reaction to Saunders-White was positive, with one student noting that the new chancellor is the first woman to hold the job on a permanent basis. “It just shows,” the student said, “how much this campus has grown.”

Saunders-White appears well-qualified to maintain that growth.

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