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WV’s Burwell new president of American University

By LORI KERSEY

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a West Virginia native, will be the next president of American University, the school announced Thursday.

West Virginia native Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a West Virginia native, will be the next president of American University.
(Submitted photo)

Burwell, who grew up in Hinton and was the 2016 Gazette-Mail West Virginian of the Year, will be the Washington, D.C.-based school’s 15th president, succeeding Neil Kerwin, according to a news release from the school. She starts June 1. 

“Secretary Burwell’s success at HHS reflects three key abilities that will make her an excellent president for our university,” Kiho Kim, a professor of environmental science at AU and a member of the presidential search committee, said in the release. “She fosters research and scholarship, and turns them into action. She embraces and leverages the strengths of a large, diverse institution to advance its goals, and she is able to convey complex ideas to a wide range of audiences, from members of Congress to the public, in pushing for evidence-based actions and outcomes.”

Burwell is the first woman to hold the school’s highest leadership position, according to the release. 

“My family and I are honored and excited to become a part of this vibrant AU community,” Burwell said in the release. “American University’s distinctive mix of academic strengths, its influential scholars, engaged students, successful alumni and extraordinary location are great assets.”

Before being appointed DHHS secretary, Burwell was the director of the federal Office of Management and Budget. She worked a decade for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, first as chief operating officer and then as president of the foundation’s Global Development Program. She left that position to become president of the Wal-Mart Foundation in 2012. Prior to that, she served as one of President Bill Clinton’s two deputy chiefs of staff.

The school’s news release calls Burwell a leader of “immense character and vision,” known for “rigor of thought” and focus and an inherent intellectual curiosity that she uses to address complex problems.

“These traits, combined with her experience and commitment to education and research, make her well-suited to lead AU at this moment in our history, as we build on the momentum and progress achieved in recent years,” said Jack Cassell, chairman of American University’s board of trustees.

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