GW to Welcome New President
GW Welcomes New President
Ellen Granberg is an innovative, dynamic leader with decades of experience at research universities and as a sociology scholar.
// By Nick Erickson
Moments after Ellen Granberg formally introduced herself to the GW community, a student greeted the university’s soon-to-be leader with words never heard in the 200-plus-year history of the institution.
“Welcome, Madam President.”
Granberg, who begins her tenure as GW’s 19th president on July 1, addressed a capacity Jack Morton Auditorium crowd shortly after the Board of Trustees announced her presidential appointment based on her strong record of bolstering teaching and research excellence across disciplines, supporting a diverse and inclusive community of students, faculty and staff, and collaborating with all stakeholders to drive transformative change and increase institutional prominence.
She boasts plenty of experience running key initiatives and overseeing academic departments during her higher-education career that includes her most recent role of provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Rochester Institute of Technology as well as former faculty leadership positions at Clemson University. But she’s rooted in sociology and human interaction.
And Granberg spent plenty of time interacting with the community while on campus—including with a softball player who had just met Granberg and ran over to tell her teammates that “she makes me want to win for her.”
Perhaps that’s because her own nonlinear story is relatable. Entering higher education by way of an untraditional path, Granberg spent the first 11 years after earning an undergraduate degree from the University of California, Davis, working for the Fortune 500 telecommunications firm Pacific Bell. While there, she found leading large-scale system conversions an opportunity to understand leadership in the context of complex and high-risk environments. The job provided her valuable experience in decision-making, team building and communication, she said.
But as the child of a college professor and an attorney, life as an academic stayed in the back of her mind.
She left her home state of California and headed to Nashville, where she worked toward and eventually received an M.A. and a Ph.D. in sociology from Vanderbilt University, launching a career in higher education and specifically research focused on the sociology of self and identity and its influence on physical and mental health.
What attracted her to GW, she said, was its storied history of advancing its impact and prominence every day. She noted how the university, which was founded by an act of Congress more than two centuries ago, has grown from a faculty of three professors and a tutor to a thriving, Carnegie R1 research institution with high-quality academic programs and research across a wide array of disciplines.
But staying true to her background in sociology, she, along with her wife, Sonya Rankin, are especially excited to work with and meet the GW community.
“As we are quickly learning, this community is one of warm and welcoming people working together to have a positive impact on society and to create a more just and equitable university, nation and world,” Granberg said. “Your commitment to this work and your ambition to achieve preeminence as an institution together is inspiring.”
Left to right: President Ellen M. Granberg poses for a photo with students, with President Mark S. Wrighton, and speaks with a student
"At the dawn of the university’s third century, we knew that we needed a leader who would reinforce our commitment to academic excellence, enhance our academic reputation and help us achieve our aspirations for preeminence."
Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights, J.D. '82
The board, informed by the work of the Presidential Search Committee, Faculty Consultative Committee and the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, was drawn to Granberg’s collaboration skills and eagerness to listen to and partner with the GW community to advance shared aspirations.
“At the dawn of the university’s third century, we knew that we needed a leader who would reinforce our commitment to academic excellence, enhance our academic reputation and help us achieve our aspirations for preeminence,” said Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights, J.D. ’82. “In Dr. Granberg, we have found that leader.”
Granberg succeeds President Mark S. Wrighton, who has served as GW president on an interim basis since Jan. 1, 2022. He said he looks forward to working with Granberg to ensure a smooth transition of the GW presidency.
“There is a phrase I’ve already heard a lot here—Raise High,” Granberg said. “It is a theme that permeates everything we do at GW. It exemplifies the idea that we strive for excellence not just for ourselves but also for one another—in other words, ambition within community. This is the ethos that characterizes who we are and where we are going, and I could not be more proud or more grateful to be joining you on this path.”
Granberg with Wrighton: William Atkins / Granberg with GW students: Lily Speredelozz