Helene Gayle era begins at Spelman College

Dr. Helene Gayle, former CARE USA chief executive officer, is Spelman College's new president. Photo contributed.

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Dr. Helene Gayle, former CARE USA chief executive officer, is Spelman College's new president. Photo contributed.

Former CARE USA chief is new president at storied Atlanta HBCU

Helene Gayle, the global public health expert and former chief executive of CARE USA, officially started her tenure as Spelman College’s 11th president on Friday.

In a three-minute video released to the Spelman community, Gayle, who helped guide the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine outreach efforts, said she “fully expects Spelman to maintain its momentum and excellence” as one of the premier colleges in America.

She succeeds Spelman’s former president, Mary Schmidt Campbell, who retired in June after seven years at the helm of the 141-year-old private Black college for women, located near downtown Atlanta.

In Campbell’s closing message to the college, she predicted that “Dr. Gayle will find new pathways to take Spelman even higher.”

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Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell speaks during Spelman College 2016 Investiture Ceremony at Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta on Saturday, April 9, 2016. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell speaks during Spelman College 2016 Investiture Ceremony at Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta on Saturday, April 9, 2016.  HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

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Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell speaks during Spelman College 2016 Investiture Ceremony at Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta on Saturday, April 9, 2016. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Spelman is widely considered one of the nation’s best women’s colleges and annually ranks as the best Black college in America. Its six-year graduation rate is 77%, the highest of any HBCU.

“Like the other HBCUs, Spelman is at an inflection point,” said Gayle, a trained pediatrician. “There is a growing recognition about the value of our institution at a time when the cost of higher education is prohibitive and diverse learning modules are on the rise. As such it is increasingly difficult to meet the current needs, while also securing Spelman’s long-term viability. I believe I am up for the challenge.”

Gayle, 66, arrives at Spelman from the Chicago Community Trust, one of the nation’s oldest and largest community foundations. As president and CEO, she grew the Trust’s assets from roughly $2.8 billion to $4.7 billion and adopted a strategic plan aimed at closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap.

She has deep Atlanta roots through her prior work at CARE USA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She is also a director on Coca-Cola’s board

Gayle said her primary goal at Spelman is to make it more affordable for students. According to federal data, more than 80% of Spelman students — many of whom come from low-income families — have to take out federal loans to fund their educations.

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People arrived outside Atlanta's Spelman campus Tuesday morning, Feb. 1, 2022 after two historically Black colleges in Georgia received bomb threats Tuesday morning, a disturbing trend that many HBCUs across the country have been threatened with in recent weeks. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

People arrived outside Atlanta's Spelman campus Tuesday morning, Feb. 1, 2022 after two historically Black colleges in Georgia received bomb threats Tuesday morning, a disturbing trend that many HBCUs across the country have been threatened with in recent weeks. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
People arrived outside Atlanta's Spelman campus Tuesday morning, Feb. 1, 2022 after two historically Black colleges in Georgia received bomb threats Tuesday morning, a disturbing trend that many HBCUs across the country have been threatened with in recent weeks. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Gayle said she also wants to grow the college’s online program for adult learners and enhance Spelman’s recent efforts to provide more courses and resources for students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“When I received word on April 25th, I felt so honored and humbled,” Gayle said. “These feelings quickly evolved to a focus on the weighty responsibility of carrying on the legacy of visionary leadership of this remarkable campus. Spelman is a national treasure and a national resource.”


Who is Dr. Helene Gayle?

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Dr. Helene Gayle shown in May 2013 with local children in Nairobi, Kenya. Forbes magazine listed Dr. Gayle as the 78th most powerful woman in the world in 2014. (Photo: Handout)

Credit: HANDOUT

Dr. Helene Gayle shown in May 2013 with local children in Nairobi, Kenya. Forbes magazine listed Dr. Gayle as the 78th most powerful woman in the world in 2014.  (Photo: Handout)

Credit: HANDOUT

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Dr. Helene Gayle shown in May 2013 with local children in Nairobi, Kenya. Forbes magazine listed Dr. Gayle as the 78th most powerful woman in the world in 2014. (Photo: Handout)

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

Age: 66

Most recent position: Chicago Community Trust president and chief executive officer

Past experience: Worked at the CDC from 1984 to 2001, specializing in HIV/AIDS prevention. Director of HIV, TB and Reproductive Health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from 2001 to 2006. CARE USA CEO from 2006 to 2015. CEO of the McKinsey Social Initiative from 2015 to 2017.

Education: Bachelor’s degree from Barnard College. Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. Medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania.