Dr. Anita Thomas named 11th president in 162-year history of North Central College
Mar 21, 2023
Anita Thomas, Ph.D., has been selected as the 11th president of North Central College. She will assume her official role at the College on July 1, 2023.
A mission-driven leader, researcher, educator, and psychologist, Dr. Thomas, 55, is a champion of liberal arts and sciences education, particularly as a foundation for inspiring curiosity and civic engagement among students. Over a career spanning more than 25 years in higher education, she has deep experience in shaping strategic vision and supporting the development of student intellectual life.
Thomas was unanimously elected by North Central College’s Board of Trustees following a months-long national search that engaged trustees, students, alumni, faculty, and staff. Her appointment is historic. Thomas is the first woman and the first person of color to lead North Central College in its 162-year history. In addition to leading the College, she will hold the faculty rank of professor of psychology in North Central’s College of Arts and Sciences.
“Dr. Thomas is an inspiring and proven leader whose values are aligned with North Central College’s mission to prepare students to become curious and engaged citizens and leaders in their communities,” said Board Chair Holly Humphrey, MD ’79. “She has a keen sense of the higher education landscape and is poised to draw upon her vast experience in academia, and as a national thought leader, to move this institution forward. On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I am thrilled to welcome Dr. Thomas to the North Central community.”
North Central’s mission resonates deeply with Thomas. “Having the opportunity to become part of this extraordinary institution is truly a great joy and honor,” she said. “North Central is preparing our next generation of leaders and—in partnership with faculty, students, staff, the board, alumni, and the Naperville community—I am honored, humbled and ready to lead the College in the next phase of its storied history.”
Since 2019, Thomas has served as the executive vice president and provost at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn., one of the largest private women’s universities in the country. In her role as chief academic officer, she provided strategic leadership for the university’s academic programs. Among her achievements, she spearheaded implementation of the institution’s academic master plan, including the planned launch of the Office of Intercultural Engagement and Social Justice to increase cultural fluency and global awareness. In addition to academic affairs, Thomas has been responsible for student affairs and career development.
As a higher education leader, Thomas is guided by a deep commitment to student growth and development. “Education has the ability to empower individuals to gain skills, enhance talents, and develop meaningful careers,” she said. “It also has the capacity to develop critical consciousness and global awareness, along with the understanding of systems of inequity and the need to create change.”
Prior to arriving at St. Catherine, Thomas was the founding dean of the College of Applied Behavioral Sciences at the University of Indianapolis, where she provided oversight for academic programs in psychology, social work, mental health counseling, and art therapy. Like North Central College, the University of Indianapolis is affiliated with the United Methodist Church (UMC).
Thomas served for 10 years at Loyola University Chicago, where she was a faculty member in the counseling psychology and school counseling department. She also became the graduate program director for counseling psychology and later associate dean for academic affairs and research in the School of Education. In 2010, she received the Outstanding Faculty Member of the Year Award from Loyola’s Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs. Prior to Loyola, Thomas was associate professor and department chair for counselor education at Northeastern Illinois University.
A native of Louisville, Ky., Thomas was raised in a family of educators who served in both K-12 and postsecondary educational settings and emphasized the power of education to change individuals, families and communities. She holds a doctorate degree in counseling psychology from Loyola University Chicago, specializing in family therapy and multicultural counseling. She earned a master’s degree in community counseling from Loyola. Her bachelor’s degree in education and social policy is from Northwestern University.
Thomas is known nationally for her scholarship and leadership on socialization in African American families, stereotypical roles of African American women and girls, and the development of critical consciousness and resilience in children, adolescents and families. At St. Catherine, she has been part of a mission to build an inclusive community of women to learn, lead and be empowered to work for social justice.
“A college campus is the best place to address diversity and equity issues, a place to ‘unify diversity,’” she said. “As educators and lifelong learners, we have an opportunity to encourage diverse voices and leadership that will enhance the campus and serve as a model for students as they advance beyond college, bringing about more diverse perspectives around the table.”
Thomas and her children, Benjamin and Bethany, 17-year-old twins, will move to Naperville in the summer of 2023. She and her family were introduced to the North Central College campus community at a special event on Tuesday, March 21, at the College’s Wentz Concert Hall. The event was livestreamed and is now available on the College’s YouTube channel.
Presidential Search Process
In June 2022, Dr. Troy D. Hammond announced his departure after serving 10 years at the helm of the College. Dr. Donna M. Carroll was appointed interim president in July 2022. In August, a Presidential Search Committee launched a national search for the College’s next president.
North Central Trustee Dr. Kathy Birkett, chair of the Presidential Search Committee, said: “This is an exciting moment in the College’s history. I am immensely proud of the students, faculty, staff, and trustee representatives who served on the College’s search committee and of the broader campus community for their high level of engagement and professionalism throughout the process. Dr. Thomas has a strong and authentic connection to the College’s mission. She distinguished herself through her impressive record of leadership, commitment to the student experience, and as an advocate for faculty excellence.”
In addition to Dr. Birkett serving as chair, members of the North Central College Presidential Search Committee were: Andrea Beck ’97, trustee; Dr. Mara Berkland, professor of communication and coordinator of Middle Eastern and North African Studies; Erin Bishop ’93, trustee; Pauline Bogdan ’24, president of the student governing association; Dr. Jessica Brown, vice president for student affairs and athletics; Ashley Chubirka M’11, director of first year admission; Jon DeSouza ’98, trustee; Dr. David Gray, chair and professor of the department of accounting; Kris Hartner, trustee; InSun Ho ’81, trustee; Mike Hudson, vice president of operations; Ray Kinney H’10, trustee; Tracie Morris ’02, trustee; Lisa Pettaway ’94, M’00, director of leadership annual giving; Dr. Sara Scholtes, chair and professor of the department of physical therapy and founding director of the doctor of physical therapy program; Ali Setork, trustee; Dr. Jennifer Smith, chair and associate professor of the department of English and director of the writing center; and Lee Woolley ’85, trustee. Mike Naset, trustee, and James Godo ’93, vice president for communication and strategic initiatives and special assistant to the president, served as ex-officio members of the committee, and Kimberly Salzbrunn, executive assistant to the president and the board of trustees, supported the committee.
For more information or to read Thomas’ bio, visit our web page on the new president.
Kelly Murphy, Director of Communication and PR
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