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President's bio

Michelle R. Howard-Vital, Ph.D. was appointed the 11th President of Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, America’s oldest institution of higher learning for African Americans, in 2007 (inaugural date - Friday, October 10, 2008).  Since that time, her visionary leadership, business acumen and sense of humor have reinvigorated Cheyney University, which just recently celebrated its 176th anniversary.  New capital construction projects under Dr. Howard-Vital’s direction include a new $22 million LEED-certified Science Center and Planetarium, a $44 million LEED-certified 400-bed state-of-the-art residence hall, renovations of historic buildings on campus, and the expansion of the campus into Center City Philadelphia, just to name a few.  Dr. Howard-Vital has a student-centered approach and finds hope in the students’ eyes “irresistible.” She considers herself a “servant leader" and believes that it is an honor to help and mold the future of this growing university.

Through her solid knowledge of technology and social media, Dr. Howard-Vital has helped re-build the Cheyney University brand through the development of a monthly online blog, a monthly digital newsletter (Vital Communications), a Facebook page as well as the Cheyney University Magazine.  Her leadership has also led to the development of a University College model to improve retention and progression towards graduation; a growing Master of Public Administration degree program; a new safety and security plan for campus (new lighting, cameras, and security gates) as well as increasing alumni, corporation,foundation, state and federal giving. 

Dr. Howard-Vital was born and educated in Chicago, Illinois where she earned both her undergraduate degree in English Literature and her Master of Arts in Teaching degree in English Education from the University of Chicago, followed by a Ph.D. in Public Policy Analysis from the University of Illinois-Chicago.  She has more than three decades of experience in various roles in higher education, starting as an English instructor at Central YMCA Community College (Chicago, IL), where she once proclaimed, “I cannot believe they are paying me this much ($10,000 at that time) to have so much fun! 

Dr. Howard-Vital previously served as Interim Chancellor at Winston-Salem State University (Winston-Salem, NC); Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at The University of North Carolina, General Administration (Chapel Hill, NC); Vice Chancellor for Public Service and Continuing Studies  and Associate Provost at The University of North Carolina at Wilmington (Wilmington, NC); Associate Vice President for Academic Programs and Dean of the University College at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania (Edinboro, PA); Dean of Continuing Education and Non-Traditional Degree Programs at Chicago State University (Chicago, IL); and Dean of Continuing Education at Harold Washington College (Chicago, IL).

While at Edinboro University, Dr. Howard-Vital served as the co-chair of the Middle States Commission of Higher Education’s reaffirmation of accreditation.  Dr. Howard-Vital is currently leading Cheyney University through its reaffirmation of accreditation and site visit for 2014.

Dr. Howard-Vital has several published works, including but not limited to:  Entering School Leadership (1997, with M. Martinez), a chapter titled, “Women College Presidents:  The Hidden Workload Characteristics,” in Race, Women of Color and the State University System (2011) and an article titled, “Precollege Bridge Programs: Lessons Learned in Preparing Students to Pursue Study and Careers in the Health Sciences” in the Journal of Best Practices in Health Professions Diversity:  Research, Education and Practice (Fall 2007) .”  She is regularly invited to contribute book chapters, journal articles, white papers and book reviews.  She has served as the lead writer on The Turnaround of Cheyney University, a report submitted to the Pennsylvania Board of Governors chronicling the rebuilding of the university.

Dr. Howard-Vital has received numerous awards and recognitions for her service in higher education including, the 104 NAACP Most Influential Black Women in Philadelphia (2013); the Philadelphia Business Journal’s Women of Distinction Award (2012); the Philadelphia Tribune’s Influential African-American Leader Award (2007-2012); North Carolina Adult Education Association’s Service Award (2006); the Distinguished Alumni of the University of Chicago Award (2004); the Association for Black Women in Higher Education Award for Leadership (2002); Million Dollar Club Award for Grants – The University of North Carolina at Wilmington (2001); and in May 2000, she was awarded the University of Illinois at Chicago Distinguished Alumni Award, for contributions to education in the form of scholarship, teaching, service and administration.  She holds membership in the Links, Incorporated; the American Council of Education’s Commission on Women in Higher Education; the Chester (PA) Higher Education Council, and the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation.

In her free time, Dr. Howard-Vital is an avid runner who enjoys interior design, gardening, traveling, skating and reading.  She and her husband Geri have a daughter, Madelyn, currently in law school; a son, Gabriel Preister; and, a rescue dog named Neo.