Overseer Candidates’ Harvard Priorities

The 2023 nominees detail their experiences and view of Harvard’s challenges and prospects.

Photographic portraits of HAA nominating committee nominees for Harvard Board of Overseers: Top row, left to right: Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Jeffrey D. Dunn, Arturo Elizondo, Srishti Gupta Narasimhan Bottom row, left to right: Fiona Hill, Vanessa W. Liu, Robert L. Satcher Jr., Luis A. Ubiñas

Top row, left to right: Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Jeffrey D. Dunn, Arturo Elizondo, Srishti Gupta Narasimhan
Bottom row, left to right: Fiona Hill, Vanessa W. Liu, Robert L. Satcher Jr., Luis A. UbiñasPhotographs courtesy of HAA; photomontage by Harvard Magazine 

Given the important role members of Harvard’s Board of Overseers—one of the University’s two governing boards—play in assuring the institution’s academic quality and securing its future, Harvard Magazine asked each nominated candidate to answer these questions:

• What are the most important challenges facing the University—and what are its most significant opportunities?
• What is the Board of Overseers’ role in Harvard’s response to those challenges—and in its efforts to realize those opportunities? 
• How do your experiences and interests bear on the prior two questions?
• Why are you standing for election as an Overseer now?  

As a service to readers, their answers are presented here, unedited, with the candidates in alphabetical order. These candidates were nominated by the Harvard Alumni Association nominating committee (along with candidates for HAA elected director; the full slates for both sets of positions are available here). As of this date, no petitioners have qualified for the ballot; should a petition candidate (or candidates) qualify for the ballot, this post will be updated and extended to incorporate all people competing for election this spring.  Updated February 2, 2023, 10:55 A.M.: No candidates qualified for the ballot by petition this year.

There are eight nominees for Overseer, and an anticipated five vacancies. Overseers serve six-year terms.

Balloting is scheduled to begin March 31 and to conclude May 16. (Photographs of the candidates were provided by Harvard Alumni Association.)


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Sylvia Mathews Burwell
Photograph courtesy of HAA

Sylvia Mathews Burwell ’87, Washington, D.C., president of American University and former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

What are the most important challenges facing the University—and what are its most significant opportunities?

The challenges facing Harvard today are many. For brevity, I will focus on three. 

First, the speed of change. From atmospheric changes brought on by climate change to how technology is changing the world we live in, the world is changing at a breakneck pace. Harvard, and the higher education sector as a whole must be nimble and respond to those changes while meeting the needs of students and research in new ways. 

Second is the fact that knowledge, expertise, and facts are no longer sacrosanct. Harvard’s mission is focused on the “journey of intellectual transformation” and its campus is a place of multifaceted expertise and groundbreaking research. For 387 years, Harvard has set the standard for liberal arts and sciences education with fact and evidence at its core. Today, that core is being called into question. 

And third, the value proposition of the higher education sector is being redefined. As the longstanding leader of this sector, Harvard must listen to the concerns that are valid and be a part of redefining and reasserting higher education’s value, including contributing to redefining what that value looks like for students. 

Meeting these challenges head-on creates vast opportunities for Harvard. Already, Harvard is educating future leaders – seeding potential, changing lives, and transforming our world. I’m just one among generations of Harvard alumni who have been forever changed by my time in Cambridge. But Harvard’s impact is so much more than the aggregate of those individual lives. It is the research, the creativity, the community of scholars, staff and alumni that together create something greater.

Harvard will continue to educate and cultivate changemaking graduates, while leading in the production of knowledge, creativity and innovation, if it can meet the challenges of today. 

What is the Board of Overseers’ role in Harvard’s response to those challenges—and in its efforts to realize those opportunities? 

Since Harvard’s founding, the Board of Overseers has played a key role in the governance of the University. I believe that, today, the Board of Overseers can help Harvard confront challenges and take advantage of opportunities in several important ways. 

As a body, the Board is both generative and responsive. It is generative because it brings ideas and expertise to management to help develop strategies and tactics to move the University forward. It is responsive by acting as a sounding board and a partner in the work that management does. 

The Board also provides an important connection between the University and the world outside of Harvard Yard. Its diverse members offer ideas and viewpoints from different sectors, geographies, and experiences that allow Harvard to better recognize and deal with challenges, and identify and seize opportunities. 

Most importantly, the Board brings together a group of people who are committed to supporting and pushing the University to be its best self. 

How do your experiences and interests bear on the prior two questions? 

I have extensive experience running large, complex organizations that are mission-driven. I served in the federal government, most recently as Secretary of Health and Human Services and as Director of the Office of Management and Budget. During this service, I led teams of public servants committed to the idea of a government that works for the people – and I worked across the aisle to get things done in a polarized Washington. I keep a deep connection to my rural roots. Those roots, together with my faith and my Greek heritage, continue to guide me and would hopefully bring important perspectives to the Board of Overseers. 

My philanthropic experience at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walmart Foundation adds another dimension to my point of view and experiences that could contribute on the Board of Overseers. 

As AU president, I’ve helped the university develop and implement a five-year strategic plan, launched the university’s first fundraising campaign in 12 years, doubled our externally funded research, and led through the pandemic. I’m also an active participant in the higher education sector -- from the American Talent Initiative to the Patriot League, I’m involved with organizations that are part of the sector meeting today’s challenges and opportunities.  

There are tectonic shifts happening in higher education. Harvard needs people who can not only anticipate coming challenges, but can also find ways to turn those challenges into opportunities, all while continuing to “educate citizens and citizen-leaders for our society.” I would be honored to serve my alma mater in that capacity. 

Why are you standing for election as an Overseer now? 

I stand for election today because I believe there is a confluence between the challenges that Harvard faces and my expertise and experience and because I want to help Harvard continue to change live— in the ways it changed mine. 

When I left my hometown of Hinton, West Virginia (population: 3,000), in 1983, I remember crying in a restaurant and asking my mother when I could transfer and come closer to home.  Harvard was a long way from Hinton, and not just geographically. I was a scared, uncertain 18-year-old who was transformed by my Harvard experience. 

Critical thinking. Exposure to excellence. My lifelong love of learning was raised to another level. At times, I felt like a kid in the world’s greatest intellectual candy store. (Robert Coles reading list is still on my bookshelf, Professor Dowling’s explanation of fission and fusion still is with me).

I also gained an appreciation for all that I didn’t know, and had experiences that couldn’t have happened anywhere else. I remember having a front row seat for the civil discourse between then President Derek Bok and Secretary Bill Bennett as part of organizing the Harvard 350th celebration.  Organizing Dr. Ruth’s visit to and conversation with the Hasty Pudding Club is another example of the unique experiences Harvard offered. 

I want to create these opportunities for others. And help them build relationships that are life-changing and life-sustaining. So many of my best friends are from Harvard—from my classmates (Class of ’87!), to faculty and staff likeProfessor Emeritus Joe Nye, who is still a mentor 35 years after teaching me international relations (Joe’s original and deep thoughts impact how I think about the changing world order today) and Harvard College Dean Archie Epps, who was the reason I applied for a Rhodes Scholarship. 

I also want to help Harvard continue to create knowledge and scholarship that is changing the world on a global scale. Harvard has given me, and the world, so much. I hope to have the opportunity to give back as a member of the Board of Overseers. 


Jeffrey D. Dunn
Photograph courtesy of HAA

Jeffrey D. Dunn ’77, M.B.A. ’81, Boston, interim president and CEO of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and former executive chair, president, and CEO of Sesame Workshop

What are the most important challenges facing the University—and what are its most significant opportunities?

We are living in consequential times.

It’s easy to read quickly past that short sentence—but I urge you to stop and reflect upon it.  Consequential times put special demands and responsibilities on every organization and citizen.

Polls show that most young Americans now question the fairness of capitalism and the effectiveness of democracy, the twin pillars of U.S. exceptionalism and global stability for almost a century. This is largely due to globalization and computer-driven productivity that have upended many industries and the livelihood of large numbers of citizens. There has been an associated rise in income inequality, which has fueled populism and authoritarianism. Democracy and capitalism are now both vulnerable, and with the rapid advance of artificial intelligence (AI) and our algorithmic driven culture, the stakes grow even higher. We are going to experience profound change across all elements of society. 

Education will help to push forward this change—and education must help us to navigate through it. What the top universities do in terms of access, pedagogy, and curriculum deeply influences the educational feeder system below and the world around them. I believe that Harvard must address the systemic change that is coming and use its unique prominence to lead the education sector in discovering innovations worthy of these transformative times.

AI will also force future leaders in every industry and organization to recognize ever more complex moral questions, grapple with them, and successfully work through them for the betterment of humanity. Every school at Harvard will need to prepare its graduates for a much more demanding and complex future leadership role than today. Can democracy and capitalism survive together and continue to help to advance the globe’s peace and prosperity?  The analytic, reasoning, and ethical focus of a true liberal arts education has never been needed more. History is calling. 

Leadership in these consequential times is both Harvard’s greatest challenge and its greatest opportunity.

What is the Board of Overseers’ role in Harvard’s response to those challenges—and in its efforts to realize those opportunities? 

To meet the challenges of these consequential times, Harvard’s leadership must be both inwardly and outwardly focused. The Board has an important role to play in helping the university honor its legacy, remain relevant, and prepare for the future that comes with increasing speed. I see the role of the Board of Overseers as bringing perspective, appropriate leadership experience, a conscience, and a compass to the help the university’s leadership move forward “through change and through storm.” With their role on visiting committees, members of the Board can help to encourage new thinking in each of the different schools and alert the President and Provost to opportunities for cross-pollinating effective innovations.

In the immediate future, Harvard may have to find a way to preserve and extend a diverse student body and equitable admissions access without the benefit of affirmative action policies.  Drawing on the breadth of their experience in both commercial and educational institutions, Board members can be uniquely helpful in devising solutions to this crucial challenge. 

How do your experiences and interests bear on the prior two questions? 

I feel that I would bring both an insider’s and outsider’s perspective to this role, which is valuable. I am a graduate of the College and the Business School and have served as a Fellow at Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative and as the inaugural Executive in Residence at the Graduate School of Education.  My professional experience has been leading other complex mission-driven organizations through times of significant internal transition and systemic challenge, most recently as the leader of Sesame Workshop (the producers of television’s Sesame Street) and currently as the Interim President & CEO of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  I think that ‘challenge and change’ describe both my leadership experience and the situation now confronting Harvard and other universities. 

I firmly believe that the road to a productive, free, and just society cannot be achieved without providing everyone with the access to an effective education. This is my lived experience and why I took on the leadership of Sesame Workshop and Sesame Street when it was offered to me. Harvard was instrumental in the creation and success of Sesame Street back in 1969. Arguably, few things Harvard has helped to birth have had such a scope of impact.  Over 50+ years this television program has helped more than one hundred million children, the majority from low-income families, get ready for school and for life. And today it is tackling one of the world’s most grievous problems, the education of refugee children in the Middle East and Latin America. 

I bring a passion for the work we must do, a sense of responsibility for helping, and a sense of urgency based on experience that the window for evolving is not always a long one.

Why are you standing for election as an Overseer now?

In these charged times, Harvard’s leadership has never mattered more. Harvard itself will come under attack. What is right is not always easy and what is easy isn’t always right. These are times that call for courage. Few words have ever touched or influenced me as much as the inscription on Widener Library’s Dexter Gate: “Enter to Grow in Wisdom. Depart to Serve Better Thy Country and Thy Kind.” I saw these words almost every day during my undergraduate years and I took them very much to heart. I quote them often. They struck me as expressing the central purpose and core values of Harvard even more than its much shorter Veritas motto. They influenced my career choices. They inspired my leadership decisions. They helped me to navigate some of the difficult moral challenges that my leadership roles have required. They are why I volunteered at the Graduate School of Education to help mentor the next generation of educational leaders. They are why I offer my service to the Board of Overseers now. I both would like to—and think I can—help navigate these very challenging and consequential times. And Harvard’s success in doing so matters greatly to America, and yes, the entire world. 


Arturo Elizondo
Photograph courtesy of HAA

Arturo Elizondo ’14, San Francisco, co-founder and CEO of The EVERY Company (formerly Clara Foods)

What are the most important challenges facing the University—and what are its most significant opportunities?

The world is changing rapidly around us. Harvard’s greatest challenge and greatest opportunity is whether it will choose to lead or to follow. There are three areas that are already beginning to shape and define academic institutions and the world for decades to come and where Harvard can truly lead:

  • Climate change and the University’s role in combating it. Time is running out. Our world is burning around us. Floods are wreaking havoc on communities. We are already seeing climate refugees fleeing their homelands. There is tremendous opportunity to continue the work already being done by Harvard’s researchers, faculty, and alumni to lead the green revolution. The University’s vast reach and unparalleled talent across its 13 schools and institutes will be critical to finding solutions to the world’s most existential threat. 
  • Artificial intelligence and its potential to fundamentally transform if not upend education altogether. Some schools and institutions are already fighting it. I believe we must lead—play a role in shaping itWe must define and redefine what it means to be a student of the world and continue equipping students with the critical thinking toolkit and how to leverage all kinds of new technologies as tools—like we have already done in the past with calculators and the Internet. 
  • Ensuring students and faculty from all backgrounds thrive during their time at Harvard. Depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts can affect anyone—especially in high-stress environments like elite institutions can be. According to the CDC, over 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime. People and women of color, those from marginalized socioeconomic backgrounds, different cultures, first-gen students can be disproportionately impacted. We can work to ensure that all members of the Harvard community not only survive here, but truly thrive here.

What is the Board of Overseers’ role in Harvard’s response to those challenges—and in its efforts to realize those opportunities? 

I believe we serve to do three things: (1) to listen, (2) to support, and (3) to share.

  • To listen to those in the trenches: the students, the faculty, and administration.
  • To support the highest aspirations of our new President Claudine Gay and the rest of the Harvard Corporation, the faculty, and administration and help make their biggest dreams possible in the service of the students, the Harvard community, and ultimately the world.
  • To share our outsider perspectives, our diversity of experiences, and out of the box thinking with University leadership to help take Harvard to the next level.

How do your experiences and interests bear on the prior two questions? 

I live our climate crisis day in and day out. I quit everything to dedicate my life to the fight against climate change, to help end animal suffering, and to leverage the most advanced synthetic biology techniques out there to transform our food system. 

I built a synthetic biology company from scratch in Silicon Valley to create the world’s first egg made without using a chicken. Throughout my entire career, I’ve been tasked with challenging convention, scouting for new disruptive technologies, and thinking outside the box in every way to build a better future. We spent eight years in deep R&D to make possible what many considered a pipe dream. 

And I’ve personally experienced the human toll it takes to go through the rollercoaster that is building something from nothing. I’ve had to learn to work with the stress, anxiety, and depression that building a company often entails.

I want these learnings to help advance the cause of the University and the well-being of the humans that make up the Harvard community – especially our students and faculty. 

Why are you standing for election as an Overseer now?

I lost a friend to suicide at Harvard. And I want to ensure that story does not repeat itself. Friends have shared how deeply it affected their mental health. It’s easy to feel “less than” when surrounded by so many other incredible humans. I want to help make this community a place where everyone can thrive.

Harvard also changed my life in immeasurably positive ways. I never thought I would be a founder. I never thought that as a Government concentrator I’d end up leading a biotechnology company working on climate change and global food security. Harvard helped me believe that I could actually change the world, and I’ve spent my entire professional career challenging the status quo. I am an out-of-the-box thinker, committed to using every resource available to tackle our world’s biggest problems—and the University is in an incredible position to continue caring for its members as well as changing the world. I used to walk through the Dexter Gate every morning, noting its message: “Depart to serve better thy country and thy kind.” Harvard is an incredible institution with so much talent that can be a powerful force for good, and a massive catalyst for change. I want to help unleash that potential.


Srishti Gupta Narasimhan
Photograph courtesy HAA

Srishti Gupta Narasimhan ’97, A.M. ’97, M.D. ’03, M.P.P. ’03, Basel, Switzerland, formerly of McKinsey & Co., a board director of Idorsia Pharmaceuticals and the Norrsken Foundation

What are the most important challenges facing the University—and what are its most significant opportunities?

Since 1636, Harvard has consistently navigated an increasingly complex world to serve its dual mission to educate citizens and citizen-leaders and to encourage and support research into the questions that matter. In the coming years, the University will need to adapt as societal expectations of higher education shift and technological advances radically reshape knowledge generation and its application.  

How can Harvard best educate future citizens and citizen-leaders?  

First, in light of the challenge to race-conscious admissions, the University must continue to ensure a diverse student body. There is also a responsibility to ensure all degree programs are financially accessible, thus enabling students from all socioeconomic backgrounds to pursue high-impact, service-oriented careers unencumbered by debt. Second, Harvard will need to empower students, regardless of their disciplines, to speak the “languages” of different domains and responsibly lean into disruptions like generative AI. Lastly, and importantly, world events underscore the need for graduates to have a global orientation, embrace inclusion in all its forms, understand geopolitical and societal forces, and share an urgent sense of responsibility for our planet. Now more than ever, the University needs to prepare graduates to embark from campus ready for a global, interconnected world.   

How can the University continue to support the generation of knowledge that matters for the world?   

The boundaries demarcating academic disciplines are blurring. This presents a challenge but also an opportunity across Harvard’s Schools and Departments. Against an accelerating pace of change, success will require new models of collaboration within and beyond the University. Harvard has already embarked on a transformation, and the ambitious campus expansion in Allston has enormous potential to promote interdisciplinary progress within the University’s ecosystem. Equally important is enabling the University to partner more effectively with established industry players, emerging entrepreneurs, and other institutions to be a leader in translating discoveries into impact. The list of issues demanding progress is daunting—climate science and policy, computational technology, social resilience, global governance, and artificial intelligence, to name a few. Lastly, the University should continue to attract and retain world-class faculty and foster an environment that inspires their creativity, collaboration, and curiosity.

What is the Board of Overseers’ role in Harvard’s response to those challenges—and in its efforts to realize those opportunities? 

While these are complex, multifactorial challenges, there is no more powerful way for Harvard to help heal a divided country and global society than providing students with a transformational education. The Board of Overseers’ role is a source of partnership as the College and Schools of the University innovate to find durable solutions to these challenges. One recent example is the (re)design of digitally enabled virtual educational programs at the Graduate School of Education and Harvard Medical School, which extend learning communities beyond the physical campus, meet critical needs in this moment, and provide cutting-edge practice to students around the world. 

Harvard’s Schools and Departments are assessed for quality and externally benchmarked through the visitation process, which is directed by the Board of Overseers. This is the primary way the University assures it remains true as an unparalleled place of learning and creation of enduring knowledge in service of addressing the most challenging issues facing society. In this process, the Board should ask constructive and considered questions, share diverse perspectives, and be a source of expertise and connection to a variety of disciplines—especially those outside the University.  

In the coming year, the Board of Overseers will also play an important role in supporting the leadership transition of the next University President, Claudine Gay, and serve as a sounding board for the new leadership’s strategic priorities and initiatives. It is an historic period for Harvard to lead as an educator and role model.

How do your experiences and interests bear on the prior two questions? 

When describing my experiences, three things come to mind: global perspectives, interdisciplinary training and thinking, and a focus on people.  

Living abroad for more than a decade has had a profound impact on my perspectives. I have a richer, nuanced, and multifaceted view of issues such as migration, education, and inclusion, which take on other meanings outside the United States. As a physician and public health consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to work in Switzerland, Peru, Tanzania, India, Botswana, and Indonesia with organizations like Partners In Health, the Gates Foundation, and the World Health Organization. This work enhanced my appreciation of the cultural, structural, and social components of complex problems. For the last three years, as a member of the Harvard Global Advisory Council, I joined other global leaders in sharing this international perspective as we advise the University on its priorities and initiatives. 

My training in science, medicine, and international development as well as my 18-year career with McKinsey have underscored how fundamental interdisciplinary thinking and world-class resources are in solving challenges that disproportionately affect the least well-off. On my non-profit boards, I bring analytical and strategic thinking in service of organizations supporting education and health in refugee, forcibly displaced, and other marginalized populations. As a biotech board member, I see cutting-edge innovation and commercialization of novel therapeutics through the lens of broad access and unmet medical need.

People are the heart of innovation and progress. At McKinsey, I designed talent programs that strove to develop global, inclusive, and curious thinking in their consultants. Through this experience, I saw how professional institutions must evolve together with universities to prepare talent to be future-ready. And at Norrsken, advising a social venture capital ecosystem with hubs in Rwanda, Sweden, and Spain, I appreciate the leadership skills entrepreneurs need to tackle systemic challenges related to climate change, energy availability, financial inclusion, and health. 

I have had the privilege of working with truly remarkable people and organizations, and I hope to bring their collective wisdom, insights, and experience to bear in service of the University.

Why are you standing for election as an Overseer now?

I was speechless when I was contacted about my nomination to the slate for the Board of Overseers election. As the daughter of immigrants, it was difficult to imagine attending Harvard College, let alone its graduate and professional schools, serving later as an alumni interviewer, or being invited to serve on its advisory councils. I am humbled and deeply moved to be considered for this leadership role and am grateful to the Nominating Committee and University leadership for their support and confidence.  

I am dedicating my next chapter to board service, focusing on a handful of organizations whose missions resonate with my values and beliefs. Board service is one of the most challenging roles of my career. This trust-based relationship requires adopting a beginner’s mindset to blend curiosity with humility and listening with heart and mind to steward and advise. I see my role as one of asking purposeful questions, making connections, thinking ahead, and unlocking resources for the organizations I support. 

As I look back on my time as a student and in my career, as well as forward on the impact I hope to have, I am so grateful for the breadth of educational experiences I had across the University, mentorship from extraordinary individuals like Roberto Kolter, Paul Farmer, and Jim Yong Kim, connection to a community of alumni and students who have become friends and colleagues, and meeting my husband Vas.  It is both my personal experience and unwavering belief that a Harvard education can steer trajectories, shape leaders, and ignite innovation. 

I would fully give my time and energy, experience and perspective, and heart and soul to serve Harvard, a community that has changed my life in indescribable ways.  


Fiona Hill
Photograph courtesy of HAA

Fiona Hill, A.M. ’91, Ph.D. ’98, Bethesda, Maryland, former National Security Council senior director for European and Russian Affairs, currently chancellor of Durham University (U.K.) and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution

What are the most important challenges facing the University—and what are its most significant opportunities?

Harvard clearly faces important and ongoing challenges in attracting and recruiting students and faculty, growing the endowment and ensuring financial sustainability, and keeping pace with technological innovation. But, from my perspective, there is a fundamental, over-arching issue that the University must grapple with. Harvard is at the center of a high stakes national debate over the purpose and value of higher education. In the current period of rapid demographic, economic and social change, popular grievances rooted in inequality, and constraints on social mobility, have fractured America’s politics and weakened our democracy. The U.S. is beset by low societal cohesion, the erosion of trust in our political and national institutions, and geographic polarization between hubs of innovation, and places that have been “left behind.”

For individuals, educational attainment predicts their life prospects, and economic and social circumstances. Over the last two decades, the gap between Americans with a two- or four-year college degree and those without has widened dramatically. Those with a college degree are far more likely to be employed than their counterparts with a high school diploma, and their median annual earnings are more than 80 percent higher. Similarly, the U.S. cities and regions that have prospered (including Cambridge and Boston) are those with a concentration of educational opportunity—public and private universities, community colleges, vocational and training programs, and other networks that foster new skills acquisition and life-long learning. Companies and new industrial sectors flourish in these education-rich environments, taking advantage of a knowledgeable and well-trained workforce, and benefitting from the innovative practices created by colleges and universities. Institutions of higher education generate jobs and revenues; their graduates earn higher salaries and pay more taxes at the community and national level.

After the devastation of World War II, expanding education—through initiatives like the GI Bill for wartime veterans—was seen as a means of rebuilding the country, restoring civic engagement, promoting public service, and revitalizing democracy in the United States. Education in all its forms remains vital to America’s current and future success as a country and to individual American’s success. Yet attending university and having a college degree has become one of the country’s sharpest political and partisan dividing lines. In a 2022 poll by the New America think tank, majorities of both Republicans and Democrats saw the individual benefits of a college education, but only 37 percent of Republicans thought universities had a positive impact on society and the country versus 73 percent of Democrats. More than 60 percent of Americans do not have a bachelor’s degree, and many college-age Americans consider a university education out of reach financially as well as socially and culturally. Rising tuition costs, debates about college admission standards, and disputes over the content of college curricula and the contours of free speech have become political flashpoints. 

As a result of these and other factors, the spotlight is on Harvard at the highest levels. By June of this year, for example, Harvard (along with other universities and colleges) will most likely be subject to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the question of whether race can be considered a factor in fostering educational diversity. Increasing access to a high-quality education for students from previously under-represented groups is becoming more challenging. Nonetheless, Harvard’s resources, as well as its domestic and global reputation for excellence and leadership, put the university in a unique position. Harvard, perhaps more than any other institution, has the opportunity to challenge negative perceptions of higher education by driving changes in admissions approaches and procedures, and removing some of the persistent obstacles to education for disadvantaged students from all kinds of backgrounds. 

What is the Board of Overseers’ role in Harvard’s response to those challenges—and in its efforts to realize those opportunities? 

The Board is a resource for the university leadership, faculty, staff, and students and a partner in strengthening the connections and networks that maximize Harvard’s potential and the value it creates. Overseers offer independent perspectives and assessments and provide constructive criticism. They frame and raise questions on critical issues, formulate strategic advice for dealing with core challenges, and function as a bridge to external ideas that can help spur innovation, and improve processes. The Board plays a key role in enhancing dialogue and communication. 

How do your experiences and interests bear on the prior two questions?

I have a deep understanding of the importance and value of education as well as the kind of inequalities that institutions like Harvard try to address in selecting their student body. My personal experience is one of social, economic, and geographic mobility precisely because of education. Financial aid in both the United Kingdom and at Harvard, as well as government efforts to expand college admissions to under-privileged students, were instrumental in my success. 

I grew up in a marginal “left behind” area in the North East of England, with high poverty and unemployment rates, and low levels of educational attainment. I was the first person in my immediate family to go to university. My father left school at 14 to work in the regional coal mines. Once they closed, he became a porter in the local hospital. My mother was a nurse, the first woman in her immediate family line to work outside the home. She was one of the initial cohort of midwives trained in the UK National Health Service after WWII. My family had no means to fund my studies, but thanks to educational reforms in the United Kingdom in the 1960s and 1970s, my undergraduate program at St. Andrews University in Scotland was paid for by my local education authority (through a mechanism similar to Pell grants in the United States).  I came to Harvard for graduate school on a Frank Knox scholarship in 1989. Harvard gave me the opportunity to study alongside people who did not look, sound, or think like me and came from every conceivable background and geography. My time at Harvard was enriching, thought provoking, and literally transformative. 

In 2020-2021 during the pandemic lockdown, I wrote a book reflecting on everything I had learned from my Harvard education as well as from two stints in government and two decades of research at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.: There is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21stCentury. The book is a “memoir of ideas” reflecting on the importance of education as a means of addressing America’s “opportunity crisis” and its evident political effects. I realized as I was writing this book, how coming to Harvard in 1989—as the result of a chance conversation in Moscow (where I was an exchange student in 1987-1988)—had set me on a completely unexpected and even improbable life path. As I put it in the book, Harvard led me from the “Coal House” to the White House, advising three consecutive American Presidents on Russia, Vladimir Putin, and other critical national security issues. 

Harvard gave me the knowledge to tackle those issues in my professional career and the skills and tools to shape public policy. My broader experiences at Harvard also offered me a deeper understanding of the trends, mechanisms, and assistance that had shaped my own life. As a result, I have continually sought out ad hoc personal engagements and more formal roles where I could help others access the same kinds of opportunities Harvard gave me. After I completed my master’s degree, I became a resident tutor at Cabot House and deeply engaged in student mentoring, including assisting students in finding scholarships to fund their own research and graduate studies. In addition to completing my Ph.D., I worked at the Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center with Professor Graham Allison as a research associate for pioneering work on the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and as the director of numerous Harvard-based technical assistance projects. 

I have since served on several non-profit boards of trustees related to education and development, including the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and the Eurasia Foundation in Washington, D.C.; as well as President of the St. Andrews University American Foundation to help fund and facilitate American students of limited means to study at St. Andrews. For the past several years, I have been actively involved with the Harvard Graduate School Alumni Association as well as donating to student hardship funds; and in November 2022, I was selected as the Chancellor of Durham University in my home area in the United Kingdom. The U.S. and the U.K. are both “educational superpowers,” with long-track records of promoting the expansion of education and encouraging transatlantic innovation and collaboration. If I am elected as an Overseer, I hope to find additional ways to foster further synergies and learn from the different experiences and systems.

Why are you standing for election as an Overseer now?

I am running for Overseer now because I recognize that we have reached an inflection point where providing a transformative experience to promising students from every quarter could not be more important, and where Harvard’s role could not be more vital. In addition to promoting an enduring base of knowledge and advancing new ideas, one of the most important dimensions of the University’s mission is the education of diverse, enlightened, and effective leaders for all segments of society and all levels of government at home and abroad. 

Harvard has an unparalleled record of training public leaders including eight U.S. Presidents, countless members of Congress, and public officials in federal, state, and local government. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts now has its first woman and first gay Governor as well as its first woman and first Asian-American Mayor of Boston and both are Harvard alumnae. Beyond Massachusetts, Harvard graduates hold important positions of public trust in governments around the world; and four of the last fifteen Nobel Peace Prize Laureates hold Harvard degrees. Harvard graduates have been responsible for pioneering research and scientific breakthroughs that have cured disease and pushed the boundaries of knowledge in multiple fields, boosting societal capacity and improving our general well-being.

 A Harvard education prepares students for leadership and success, but much depends on the character of the student body. Harvard students must possess the intellectual capacity and academic ability to benefit from what is being offered in the lecture halls, seminar rooms, and tutorials. But to become a successful leader, particularly in the public sector, Harvard students also need to engage and empathize with people from diverse backgrounds. To meet this dual standard as well as continue to create an open marketplace of ideas, the University must recruit and admit academically able individuals from all conceivable backgrounds. Race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, geographic origin, and socio-economic circumstances are all factors for consideration along with academic record and scholarly potential.

Harvard’s Admissions Offices do an excellent job in casting wide nets and catching students in out of the way places. In 1989, that net and the Frank Knox Fellowship brought me to the United States. Harvard provided me with the competence and confidence to sit across the table from Vladimir Putin in Moscow and speak truth to power on matters of national security to U.S. Presidents. My years at Harvard taught me not only to know what was right, but also to do what was right. This compelled me, when called upon by Congress, to offer frank testimony in the Impeachment trial of one of those Presidents. 

My experience in the national security field also taught me that the United States’ future depends on the country’s ability to harness all its human capital. Good public policy depends on bringing people with diverse perspectives to the table to thrash issues out. Universities need to encourage critical thinking not just the mastery of facts. The current moment provides a stark example of the risks of group think and the perils of not speaking truth to power. The war and carnage in Ukraine are the result of Vladimir Putin’s personal preoccupations and ambitions and the failure of those around him to push back or offer alternative pathways.

As an Overseer I would want to help Harvard cast its nets even farther in terms of recruiting American students from across the country’s geographic, economic, and other divides, as well as international students, to the College and the University’s graduate schools. Harvard is both a national and a global institution. Further expanding the network of Harvard alumni around the world and especially those leaders in government who can build networks of international collaboration would be a worthy challenge. I am deeply committed to public service and to giving back to an institution that has given me so much. I would like to assist in leveling the playing field and help break down the barriers for others to access the same opportunity.


Vanessa W. Liu
Photograph courtesy of HAA

Vanessa W. Liu ’96, J.D. ’03, New York City, founder and CEO of Sugarwork and a past president of the Harvard Alumni Association

What are the most important challenges facing the University—and what are its most significant opportunities?

In a world riddled with polarization, uncertainty and turmoil, Harvard must continue its role as a pathbreaking leader in academia, and in preparing its students for the complex challenges that we face. We have been grappling with the health crisis the pandemic has created; our commitment to democracy is being challenged in the US, the Americas, and the world; many of us and our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and families are suffering  racial injustice and increasing instances of racially-motivated hate; we are in a climate crisis that hasn’t even reached its crescendo; the global economy has been challenged with rising tensions and a war. Alongside these most pressing societal problems, there is less trust and deep questioning of higher education institutions. And finally, Harvard often finds itself on the defensive - from the Supreme Court, to the court of public opinion. These are unprecedented times, and Harvard’s role is a critical one—to bring its extraordinary and cutting-edge teaching, research, and convening power to be a leader in addressing these challenges across the board. 

Harvard must continue to be bold. The work ahead for Harvard is not just to benefit the University, but for the world. It needs to be a catalyst for the world we want to see. Key priorities for Harvard include: 

On campus:

  • Remaining true to our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and showcasing how including people from a wide range of backgrounds can enable everyone to thrive. As an alumni interviewer for Harvard College for over 15 years, one of my annual activities is to go to public high schools in New York City with large underrepresented populations, to share how I—a child of modest Chinese immigrants who grew up near Manhattan’s Chinatown—was able to attend Harvard due to the generosity of our financial aid program. These outreach programs enable the University to find gems of students and provide them access to the life-changing opportunity of attending Harvard. In light of a potential change to the law by the Supreme Court, it is an even more crucial priority for Harvard to think about how to keep the doors open for very deserving individuals.
  • Combating hatred and polarization with tools to foster effective, productive and respectful dialogue across ideological divides - which is critical in our pursuit of Veritas. We need to continue to teach how to have substantive conversations with people we might not agree with or learn from a perspective that is entirely novel, so that we can find solutions together. We must ensure that students are confronted with ideas that challenge them intellectually and inspire them to take action.

Across campus:

  • Harnessing the power of technology and innovation, responsibly. Even though I’ve been a technology executive and entrepreneur for over 25 years, I am in awe of the increasing pace of advancement around us. The eye-popping breakthroughs in generative artificial intelligence of the last months is the latest example. Just as important as the technology is answering the ethical questions around how to apply it, such as how to manage automation and the adverse effects on jobs. 
  • Continuing to advance research and teaching through interdisciplinary approaches (like the Salata Institute for climate and sustainability), as collective knowledge and collaboration is the key to solving our greatest challenges. I experienced the power of One Harvard as an undergraduate concentrator in psychology, with a behavioral neuroscience track—which was a precursor to the Mind, Brain and Behavior interfaculty initiative. I leveraged the breadth and depth of Harvard to pursue my passion for understanding the complexities of the brain, conducting Alzheimer’s research at Massachusetts General Hospital while taking classes at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Kennedy School as well as FAS.

Beyond campus:

  • Transcending Harvard to engage, convene and work beyond our walls with individuals, businesses, governments, non-profits, and other higher education institutions to drive meaningful change in areas such as climate, public health, and economic inequality. Harvard is uniquely positioned to lead and extend its knowledge, its resources, and its incredible faculty, students and alumni in finding solutions to our biggest problems - but it also needs to be humble and work alongside others who can further raise the bar for Harvard.

Embracing these priorities will allow Harvard to continue to flourish, and also maintain its legacy of impact for the world.

What is the Board of Overseers’ role in Harvard’s response to those challenges—and in its efforts to realize those opportunities? 

The Board of Overseers maintains the unique responsibility to serve the University’s long-term interests by providing oversight through over 50 visiting committees across the Schools and departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. It serves as a vital bridge between Harvard and the wider world. Its role is to ask the tough questions to ensure that Harvard as an academic institution is living up to its standards of excellence, such as: Are we doing enough to take advantage of advances in technology? How are different parts of the University coming together to tackle the biggest problems facing our society? How is Harvard doing compared to its peers? Moreover, the Board of Overseers provides University leadership with advice and counsel on its strategic plans and priorities. What’s incredibly different about our Board of Overseers compared to that of other institutions is that it is (aside from the President and Treasurer) entirely elected by alumni, and consists of people with different backgrounds and expertise. Thus, I believe that the Board of Overseers plays a crucial role not only in bringing different perspectives to bear but also being the broader alumni voice to help direct the University. 

How do your experiences and interests bear on the prior two questions? 

The red thread in my 25-year career has been using technology and innovation as a force for change and impact. As a consultant with McKinsey for a decade, I enabled the digital transformations of global and Fortune 500 companies in Europe and the U.S. I applied that expertise to the startup world, first as a founder of two startups and then when I led SAP’s early stage venture arm for North America. I recruited and accelerated 87 enterprise tech startups, 80% of which were founded by women and minority founders to systematically change venture innovation at a large scale. Today, I am back to being a tech founder again as the CEO of Sugarwork, this time disrupting the future of work with a lens on older adults and longevity. With my technology background and focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, I hope to be able to apply my insights in these areas as a thought partner to Harvard, just as I do for the boards of Appen (an artificial intelligence data company), and Goodman Group (a global industrial real estate company). 

On the personal side, I am a product of cross-disciplinary interests and borders, which could be helpful in Harvard’s interdisciplinary work across schools and with a global perspective. I’m a dual U.S. and Dutch citizen, born and raised in New York City to immigrants from Hong Kong, and lived abroad for 12 years in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. I was an aspiring astronaut studying behavioral neuroscience until my senior year at Harvard, when I turned to law and conflict resolution as a Fulbright Scholar researching the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and then studied at Harvard Law School before eventually finding my calling in technology. 

Finally, for the last 9 years, I have been a member of the Harvard Alumni Association Board of Directors, first joining as an Elected Director in 2014, and then serving as President from 2021-2022. I have seen up close the power of our 400,000-strong alumni community to come together to embrace differences, celebrate collective commonality, and take action in the most pressing issues facing us as a society. I would love to apply all I’ve learned from working with our extraordinary alumni to help steer the University’s academic priorities.

Why are you standing for election as an Overseer now? 

love Harvard. I cannot think of a better way to make a meaningful, scalable difference than serving Harvard and becoming a part of the team that focuses on making sure the University continues its legacy of excellence and extraordinary impact on its students, its community, and the world. My life trajectory was profoundly changed by Harvard. It’s where I met my life partner, Harold Brunink LL.M. ‘04. It’s where I cultivated my passion for innovation. The deep friendships I’ve made span multiple generations, from the class of 1962 to the class of 2024. It would be an immense privilege and honor to help Harvard be the best that it could be, just as it has done for me. 


Robert L. Satcher 
Photograph courtesy of HAA

Robert L. Satcher Jr., M.D. ’94, Houston, a former NASA astronaut, now associate professor of orthopedic oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

What are the most important challenges facing the University—and what are its most significant opportunities?

Challenges facing Harvard are those facing our nation and world, as well as those specific to institutions of higher education. In my commencement address to the 2020 graduates of Harvard Medical School, I shared how the pandemic heightened our awareness of societal problems, including unequal access to healthcare, racial injustice, climate change, economic inequality, and the erosion of tolerance in civil discourse, amongst others. These challenges also present an important opportunity for constructive change. Harvard University must continue as a global leader in higher education by remaining true to its charter as a place of learning. Of concern, recent critical challenges to higher education (such as the Supreme Court case concerning affirmative action) center around access:  specifically, preserving opportunities for higher education of underrepresented minorities in ways that are inclusive of the plurality of our society. In the face of these current challenges, we can take inspiration from lessons of fairness and inclusivity recently exemplified by NASA’s commitment to land the first person of color and woman on the moon with its upcoming Artemis mission. This is a demonstration of commitment with meaningful, dedicated action.  The ongoing commitment to inclusion advances the mission of Harvard, and as such, must be preserved.  

Another significant challenge lies in technology and innovation. Harvard and all academic institutions are leaders and contributors for the ecosystem that drives the technical innovation in the disciplines of life sciences and physical sciences, and where there is convergence, such as with AI (artificial intelligence) that probes the boundaries of what it means to be conscious/intelligent/alive. As a physician-scientist, I appreciate the crucial role that Harvard and other academic institutions play in studying and developing these disciplines away from the profit motive, giving the best chance for ethical and robust solutions.     

Finally, climate change threatens our future in ways that we are only beginning to fully understand. The leadership of Harvard in this global debate is important, as we are at a critical crossroads in identifying policy recommendations and scientific and engineering solutions for the purpose of mitigating negative impacts.   

In the current challenging times, the work at Harvard needs to: provide a model for civil discourse; promote discovery and innovation; educate the best minds and develop leaders; and engage in important issues of our time for the benefit of others. The Board will be a vital tool for leadership to create new strategies to achieve the University vision.  

What is the Board of Overseers’ role in Harvard’s response to those challenges—and in its efforts to realize those opportunities? 

Many issues are worthy of urgent attention, and collectively, Harvard continues to play an undeniably important and, at times extraordinary and impactful role in current affairs, with the opportunity to make a positive impact across the globe. The Board of Overseers is integral to Harvard’s success in crafting responses to ongoing challenges that are consistent with it’s mission to educate the citizens and citizen leaders for our society through the transformative power of liberal arts and sciences education. Understanding the trust given to the Board of Overseers in achieving this objective is essential, as its critical responsibility includes advising University leadership on how to carry out Harvard’s mission. As such, there is a level of integrity, critical thinking, and transactional transparency that are indispensable for success and meaningful influence. The Board must be actively engaged with the Harvard community, including students, faculty, staff, visiting committees, and alumni. In anticipation, I would like to see the board continue to focus on the issues of healthcare, racial injustice, and climate change; especially because of ongoing crises worldwide. In addition, Harvard's inclusion in the Supreme Court case considering Affirmative Action in college admissions; the recently announced resignations in key leadership positions (Dean of Public Health, and Divinity Schools); and the recent selection of a new President, bring renewed attention to the critical advisory role of board participation and involvement. These issues present an opportunity for shaping a collective future for the university that is both promising and fulfilling of its vision. If selected, I hope to contribute my expertise, and to work together towards a vision for the institution that remains devoted to excellence in teaching, learning, and research, and to developing leaders who make a difference globally

How do your experiences and interests bear on the prior two questions? 

I would characterize myself as both a listener and a quick study, motivated by the desire to learn. I value humility, tolerance, excellence, integrity, teamwork, courage, a willingness to explore, and dedication to things ‘bigger than oneself’ (including scientific discovery, in addition to other causes). As one of my mentors once emphasized, big problems require inputs from many minds in order to arrive at the best solutions. Through my clinical practice; to participation in translational cancer research; to efforts aimed at improving access to specialized healthcare for underserved and under-resourced populations; to serving as board chair at Voorhees University, a historically black college and university (HBCU); to serving on research and educational boards (i.e. Whitehead Institute, Teach for America); to space exploration--I have benefited from the experience of working collaboratively to tackle large scientific and societal problems, and thereby, believe in the power and benefits of the team approach.

I have lived and travelled extensively (born in Hampton, VA), and I have had the good fortune of being educated and serving on the faculty of leading prestigious institutions throughout the nation (MIT, Harvard, UCSF, Northwestern University, and MD Anderson Cancer Center). My educational background, in addition to a medical doctorate from Harvard (Health Sciences and Technology), includes a doctorate in chemical engineering, and an ongoing a career as a physician and physician-scientist (surgical oncology). My engagement in translational biomedical and engineering research is important for understanding the current trends in research, technology, and innovation. I have participated in health care delivery to under-resourced communities in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Gabon, and Burkina Faso and consequently feel fortunate to have the benefit of a broad worldview rooted in experience. My tenure as an astronaut was also motivated by my commitment to scientific discovery, and provided unparalleled leadership training, critical thinking, innovation, and a team-based approach, as well as the privilege and pioneering opportunity to participate in exploring our solar system as another step advancing the peaceful exploration of deep space. As a mission specialist astronaut aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, I performed two spacewalks needed for completion of the International Space Station. Moreover, viewing Earth from orbit shaped my view of climate change, leading to a more focused, urgent, and personal understanding of the importance of sound stewardship in managing our home planet. In my view, climate change is one of the most important issues for Harvard, as it has always been a global institution which impacts the international community.  

Finally, as part of my commitment to Harvard, I served as a freshman proctor at Pennypacker Hall on Crimson Yard, which afforded a first-hand involvement in undergraduate student life, as well as the privilege of advising students in their first years at Harvard. I have also served on a visiting committee for Harvard Medical School, and thus gained understanding of the critical role of the Board of Overseers in this process. From this collective experience of education, research, clinical care, exploration, and participation in the Harvard community, I believe that I can contribute effectively as a member of the Board of Overseers, as it directs the visitation process for external assessment of Harvard’s schools and departments, and provides counsel to University leadership on priorities, plans, and strategic initiatives.   

Why are you standing for election as an Overseer now? 

I have been fortunate in having an unusually diverse career combining academia, space exploration as an Astronaut, and healthcare, providing a unique perspective which I believe is relevant to the important challenges of our times. This experience provided insight, training, and leadership in cancer care, translational research, public health, engineering, technology, climate change, and earth sciences—issues that are critical to a shared future prosperity. Accordingly, I feel prepared to contribute, and I hope to be a part of Harvard’s enduring mission. Throughout my career and participation on numerous boards, promoting DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) and cultivating leadership have been driving principles and commitments. I have witnessed the adverse impacts that result from racism in healthcare and academia, and am committed to advancing the mission of fostering access to the transformative power of higher education for the benefit of all. I am excited about Harvard’s vision of developing leaders, faculty, staff, and students from racial, ethnic, and culturally diverse backgrounds. And the complementary comittment to stewardship that guides our community through critical changes addressing previous shortfalls. All of these transitions highlight a need for constructive thought and oversight, a responsibility that is essential for advancing Harvard’s mission. As such, I remain committed to constructive engagement and team work, in which I hope to to contribute through board participation.   


Luis A. Ubiñas
Photograph courtesy of HAA

Luis A. Ubiñas ’85, M.B.A. ’89, Weston, Vermont, former president of the Ford Foundation, current chair of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation

What are the most important challenges facing the University—and what are its most significant opportunities?

Harvard has always played a central role in how society responds to the challenges it faces. Its students, alumni, faculty members and administrators have helped shape our society and our world in small and large ways throughout the University’s history. From the United Nations to the Senate, from museums to stages, from corporations to hospitals, the presence of the University is felt. Harvard has and must continue to invest in bringing its research, its leadership capacity, and its convening power to the crises that the world is facing. It is that leadership across sectors and across the globe that has made Harvard the unique institution it has been throughout its history.

We live in a time of unique challenges. Democracy has come under pressure in the U.S. and globally. Covid 19 has stretched our health systems and our economies. We watch the war in Ukraine in real time. Any one of these challenges would define a decade. We have faced them all over the last three years. Harvard must continue to engage in these challenges.

Of course, the challenges and opportunities that Harvard faces are not just external. Internally, Harvard needs a period of sustained leadership: In the near-century between 1909 and 2001, the University had five presidents; in the 22 years since 2001, Harvard has had the same number of leaders, five. Every administration brings with it aspirations for how it will leave the University a better place, but achieving aspirations requires time. We have a new President at the University, a woman of Afro-Caribbean descent, a leader whom we must stand behind. We can focus on specific initiatives, and we have many underway—the Allston campus, the House renovations, the faculty expansion and the many others that have been announced over the last two decades. But the thing we must do is support our new president, so that she can have the time needed to bring our aspirations for the University, those extant and those to come, to fruition. 

What is the Board of Overseers’ role in Harvard’s response to those challenges—and in its efforts to realize those opportunities? 

The University defines the role of the Board of Overseers quite clearly: “Helping the president and other senior officers of the University to fulfill their executive responsibility for the leadership and management of the institution” by“contributing to reasoned deliberations, exercising careful and independent judgment, offering thoughtful, broad-based, and candid comments, asking probing questions, respecting the views of others, and maintaining the collegial character of the Board’s discussions.”

I am often asked what it takes to be a successful board member. I give the same guidance every time: humility, careful listening, and collegiality. Humility because it is the President and her staff who lead, while the board’s role is to help, to advise, to support. Careful listening because being a good adviser requires understanding the situation, and understanding can come only from listening to what people have to say and careful questioning when more information is needed. Collegiality because board membership is a team effort, the best outcomes are derived from the group pulling together.

I live that advice. I am the newest board member of ATT and the Chair of the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation: In one, the person doing the most learning; in the other, the person doing the mentoring of new members. Yet, all those roles, senior or junior, require the same level of humility, listening and collegiality.

How do your experiences and interests bear on the prior two questions? 

My experience with the University is deep and recent. I was an undergraduate (’85) and attended the Business School (’89), my wife was also an undergraduate (’83) and attended the Graduate School of Education (’92), my sons are recent graduates from the College (’17 and ’19). Over the years, I have spoken at the College, the Law School, the Kennedy School, and the Business School. I served on the selection committee for my 25th reunion Chief Marshal and as a mentor to first generation students at the beginning of that program. The issues and opportunities the University faces across its schools and generations are tangible to me.

More broadly, Harvard is an institution whose constituencies go far beyond those of the typical university. Harvard plays a broad role externally across the non-profit sector, government and business. The University helps shape the culture we live in through its professors and administrators, through its graduates and students.  A former Dean of the Law School serves on the Supreme Court, countless former students, myself included, serve as non-profit leaders, and more CEOs across the globe have graduated from Harvard than any other institution.

My experience crosses all of those sectors.  I served as president of the Ford Foundation in the non-profit sector. In government, I served on the U.S. Trade Commission and at the Export-Import Bank. Early in my career, I was a senior partner at McKinsey, working at the intersection of media and technology. As Harvard looks to the future and its role in the nation and world, I would like to make use of those experiences in service to the University.

Why are you standing for election as an Overseer now?

Harvard made an enormous investment in me, a first-generation student whose parents did not graduate from high school. I was able to attend only because the University gave me a full scholarship and work study. Cambridge was the first place I lived where English was the primary language spoken. I remember well debating whether or not I could withdraw $5 from the ATM at Cambridge Trust. The admissions discussion of my candidacy must have started with “How did this guy even get here?”  

My future was shaped by what I learned and experienced in Cambridge: Studies inform even today decisions I make, life-long friendships have guided me through countless challenges, I met my wife at Harvard and Harvard educated my sons.  That I might return Harvard’s investment in me, repay the debt of gratitude I feel, through service to the University would be an honor.

Read more articles by John S. Rosenberg

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