White House taps Va. HBCU presidents for advisory board
VSU and NSU leaders among board appointees
The presidents of Virginia State University and Norfolk State University are on the list of intended appointees to the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the Biden administration announced on March 31.
Virginia State University President Makola M. Abdullah, Norfolk State University President Javaune Adams-Gaston and Janeen Uzzell, CEO of the Alexandria-based National Society of Black Engineers made the list from the commonwealth. Other board members from outside Virginia include Academy Award-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson, United Airlines President Brett Hart, TIAA President and CEO Thasunda Brown Duckett and NBA star Chris Paul of the Phoenix Suns.
The board will work to advance the HBCU Initiative, which President Jimmy Carter’s administration originally established to increase the participation of HBCUs in federally sponsored programs and reduce and eliminate barriers to participating in those programs. President Joe Biden signed an executive order in September 2021 reestablishing the initiative.
In February, Biden appointed Dietra Trent as executive director of the White House HBCU Initiative. Trent served as state secretary of education under former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and then as chief of staff to former state Secretary of Education Anne Holton, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine’s wife, when Holton served as George Mason University’s interim president.
Abdullah became Virginia State University’s 14th president in 2016. Before that, he served as provost and senior vice president at Bethune-Cookman University. He previously was the provost and vice president for academic affairs at Florida Memorial University, and prior to that, dean and director of 1890 land grant programs at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.
“This initiative gives me an opportunity, in my capacity as VSU president, to also work closely with the Executive Office of the U.S. President on key administration priorities related to advancing educational equity, excellence and economic opportunities for HBCUs,” Abdullah said in a statement. “I am proud to serve on this board which allows me to continue to advocate for the transformative work of HBCUs.”
Abdullah holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in civil engineering. He received his undergraduate degree from Howard University and his master’s and doctorate degrees from Northwestern University. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and a member of multiple boards and committees, including the Board of Trustees for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on College and the Council of Presidents for Virginia Institutions of Higher Education.
Adams-Gaston became the seventh president of NSU in June 2019. Since then, the school has secured more than $7 million in public and private partnerships with corporations including Apple Inc., Netflix Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Bank of America Corp. and Dominion Energy Inc.
“I am honored to serve on President Biden’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” Adams-Gaston said in a statement. “I appreciate the confidence the administration has in appointing me to serve on such a distinguished board. I look forward to collaborating with my fellow board members as we work to improve the outcomes for students who attend our historic institutions.”
Prior to becoming NSU’s president, Adams-Gaston served as senior vice president for student life at The Ohio State University. Before that, she had held several roles at the University of Maryland, including associate dean in academic affairs, assistant athletic director and graduate faculty member. She had a practice as a licensed psychologist for 25 years.
Uzzell is CEO of the Alexandria-based National Society of Black Engineers, a student-governed organization. She was previously the chief operating officer of Wikimedia Foundation Inc., which operates Wikipedia, where she helped launch the Wikimedia Knowledge Equity Fund to address racial inequities in free knowledge.
She previously held several roles in General Electric Co.’s health care technologies sector, including as head of women in technology. Uzzell also served as global director of external affairs and technology programs, director of health care programs at GE Africa and director of global health care programs.
Uzzell received her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and an MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. She has been recognized with a United Nations Global Leadership Award.