On July 20, 2009, John Silvanus Wilson, Jr. was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as the executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). To accomplish the initiative’s mission of strengthening the capacity of 105 HBCUs, he leads his team to work with the White House, 32 federal agencies, and the private corporate and philanthropic sectors. Their challenge is to ensure that HBCUs are a significant force in helping the nation to reach the goal set by President Obama of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the year 2020.
Before working with the White House Initiative, Wilson was an associate professor of higher education in the Graduate School of Education at the George Washington University (GWU). He also served as the executive dean of GWU’s Virginia campus, and he helped to develop a strategic plan for the university. While at GWU, his primary research and teaching interests included transformative advancement and finance in higher education, the role of black colleges and universities, and identifying the most sensible paths aspiring institutions can take toward greater stability and prestige.
Wilson spent the first 16 years of his career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he ultimately served as director of foundation relations and assistant provost. He was a senior officer by the second of two capital campaigns, with goals of $700 million and $2 billion, respectively. As director, he more than doubled the productivity of the office he managed and reached a record annual revenue stream of over $50 million.
Wilson received a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College, a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard University, and both a master’s and a doctoral degree in administration, planning and social policy, also from Harvard University. While working at MIT, he served as a teaching fellow in Harvard University’s Afro-American Studies Department as well as in Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.
For 10 years, Wilson served as the president of the Greater Boston Morehouse College Alumni Association. In that role, he led an effort to raise over $.5 million toward scholarships and another $.5 million toward community outreach for his alumni chapter. Based in no small part on those achievements, he was awarded the coveted Benjamin Elijah Mays Leadership Award by his alma mater in 1998.
Wilson has recently served on the Board of Trustees of Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga.; as a consultant in the United Negro College Fund Institute for Capacity Building’s HBCU Institutional Advancement Program; and on the Kresge Foundation’s Black College Advisory Board. From 1996 through 2000, he served as chairman of the Alumni Council of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He has served on the boards of both the Samaritans and the Andover Newton Theological School.
He is married to Dr. Carol Espy-Wilson, an Engineering Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. John and Carol have twin, twenty-two-year old daughters, Ayana and Ashia, and a sixteen-year-old son, John Silvanus Wilson III (“Jay”).