Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of the State University of New York and immediate past Board Chair for CEOs for Cities, was called “Obama’s favorite college leader” in an article published last week. Chancellor Zimpher briefed the press corps, along with Press Secretary Jay Carney, after over 100 college leaders and other figures in education met with President and Michelle Obama to discuss solutions for low-income students. Chancellor Zimpher has been close to the Administration’s education efforts including involvement in financial aid overhaul proposals and an agreement to prevent sexual assault on college campuses. President Obama is wise to choose Chancellor Zimpher as an ally in the treacherous world of higher education. She is an innovator and strives not only for the betterment of higher education for students, but also to use higher education as a tool to improve communities.
Leading up to her current involvement at the national level, Chancellor Zimpher has led a fruitful career at various higher education institutions. In 1998, Chancellor Zimpher became the Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the first woman to do so. It was here that she began to present herself as a force for education and community betterment. While Chancellor at UWM, Chancellor Zimpher introduced a strategic plan, known as the Milwaukee Idea, which would tie the university to the economic health and strength of the greater Milwaukee area. This plan sought to strengthen both the city and the university and give the university an edge over nearby rival Marquette University.
After leaving UWM, Chancellor Zimpher became President of the University of Cincinnati, where she was, once again, the first woman to fill this position. She continued to build connections between higher education institutions and the communities they serve. While she was president, Chancellor Zimpher established the university’s Center for the City, designed to facilitate partnerships that encourage university and public expertise to work toward bettering the community; as well as chairing a neighborhood development group that involved five of the community’s largest employers. It was during her time at UC, Zimpher co-founded Strive, a birth-to-career collaborative that connects all levels of education with business, civic, and nonprofit organizations. Strive has since grown into a national network of innovative partnerships geared at holistically addressing challenges in education.
Now, as the Chancellor of SUNY—yet again, the first female in this role—Chancellor Zimpher has been striving to make SUNY an example of what a good university should be. Within her first year as chancellor, she launched The Power of SUNY, a strategic plan that aims to use the university to drive economic revitalization across the state of New York. Already this year, Chancellor Zimpher has been busy, introducing a comprehensive online learning platform that will initially offer eight degree programs and expanding the SUNY Works program that seeks to engage Fortune 500 CEOs from around the state. Chancellor Zimpher’s goal is to “ensure that every student in the state has the experience he or she needs to succeed in the world”. Given all the experience gained from her successful career thus far, that goal shouldn’t be that hard to reach. Chancellor Zimpher has learned and appreciates the importance of connections and partnerships when it comes to higher education.
Colleges and universities don’t exist in a vacuum, and Chancellor Zimpher recognizes this. She sees the potential higher education provides for students and for the nation. By engaging the community and creating partnerships with businesses, nonprofits, and civic institutions, schools—like SUNY—are creating amazing opportunities for their students. In return, the communities that serve them benefit. Chancellor Zimpher recognizes the good she can do for her students and their communities and even, as with SUNY, entire states.
Olivia Bailey is a CEOs for Cities City Success Fellow. Olivia is a senior at Cleveland State University, majoring in Urban Studies, with a focus in Urban and Regional Planning. She is a native of Northeast Ohio and has spent the last few years living in Cleveland. She has plans to pursue a graduate degree in either Planning or Historic Preservation after graduating and getting some more real world experience.