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Dr. Nicole McDonald Appointed Senior Vice President of Transformation Initiatives

By: Johnson C. Smith University

 After an extensive national search, Johnson C. Smith University announces the appointment of Dr. Nicole McDonald as senior vice president for Transformation Initiatives (SVPTI). As SVPTI, she will lead and manage the development and execution of a comprehensive transformation agenda to support the University’s Gold(en) Blueprint strategic plan. McDonald comes to JCSU from University of Houston, where she served as assistant vice provost for Student Success Strategies. She begins her tenure at JCSU today.

McDonald is a strategic, visionary leader with 20 years of experience supporting student success in higher education. She also has expertise in organizational leadership, change management, infrastructure design and partnership development. For more than a decade, McDonald has led strategies to promote postsecondary access, transfer, and completion, and initiatives to address affordability, increase competency-based learning and pathways, and enhance partnerships to improve the postsecondary attainment of students of all backgrounds.

JCSU President Clarence D. Armbrister said McDonald’s expertise in change management and her commitment to higher education access make her the ideal administrator to lead transformation initiatives at JCSU. “Dr. McDonald is an accomplished leader in higher education, and I am delighted to welcome her as our senior vice president of Transformation Initiatives, which is a new position at the University,” Armbrister said. “Her passion for ensuring that all students not only have access to higher education but also succeed after matriculating is very valuable as JCSU seeks to increase economic mobility by providing a high quality, affordable education to students who have traditionally experienced social and economic barriers. Her proven success in implementing transformative, innovative programs will help us rapidly implement our strategic plan that will position JCSU for enrollment growth and success as the higher education landscape undergoes substantial change. I am confident Dr. McDonald’s leadership of our strategic plan will place JCSU among the ranks of the nation’s top 10 HBCUs.”

During her tenure at University of Houston, McDonald led operations for Houston Guided Pathways to Success (Houston GPS), a regional consortium of 13 public community colleges and universities in the Gulf-Coast-Houston metro area. Houston GPS works to improve outcomes for all students through the implementation, innovation, and scale of evidence-based practices. Over the past 15 months, she led 10 Houston GPS partner institutions in a regional equity initiative, with the technical assistance of a national equity organization, the USC Race and Equity Center; and with funding support from five philanthropic partners including Greater Texas Foundation, Houston Endowment, The Kresge Foundation, The Powell Foundation and Trellis Foundation.

As a transformational academic executive with extensive experience at the institution level and higher education system level, including community college, as well as state and national levels, McDonald is sought out nationally for her expertise. She is a co-author of the book Becoming a Student Ready College: A New Culture of Leadership for Student Success Second Edition (2022), and she has been published in numerous major journals in addition to speaking at national conferences.

Before joining University of Houston, McDonald served as a strategy officer at Lumina Foundation where she managed more than $15 million in grants focused on student success and learning pathways. Prior to joining Lumina, she served as system director for Transfer and Retention at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, and academic affairs associate at the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. She also held positions at Dillard University, Tennessee Higher Education Commission and began her higher education career in residence life at Emory University.

McDonald earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Wright State University, her Master of Education degree in higher education administration and her Doctor of Philosophy degree in leadership and policy studies from Vanderbilt University. She also completed an international comparative higher education program at the University of Cambridge in England.

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