Granddaughter of Greek Immigrants First Female President of American University in Washington DC


The American University Board of Trustees announced that Sylvia Mathews Burwell will take the helm as American University’s 15th president beginning on June 1, 2017.

Burwell comes to AU after serving as the 22nd Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a role she held from 2014 through the end of President Obama’s second term.

Prior to that Cabinet appointment, Burwell was Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), also a Cabinet position. She emerged as the top candidate in a very competitive national search.

An accomplished senior government official and global foundation executive, Burwell is a leader of immense character and vision, known for her rigor of thought and laser-like focus on mission. A Rhodes Scholar, she possesses an inherent intellectual curiosity that she has applied to push the boundaries of knowledge in order to address complex problems.

These traits, combined with her experience and commitment to education and research, make her well suited to lead American University, according to a statement from the board of trustees.

Burwell has managed large and complex organizations across the public and private sector. Her career reflects strategic thought leadership at the highest levels of U.S. government, and global executive leadership at two of the world’s largest and most well-known non-profit and corporate foundations.

Prior to her roles in the Obama Administration, she was President of the Walmart Foundation, where she led efforts to fight hunger in America, empower women around the world and improve local communities. Previously, she served for a decade at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as Chief Operating Officer and as founding President of the Global Development Program, where she helped advance solutions to some of the world’s most pressing global public health issues.

“My family and I are honored and excited to become a part of this vibrant AU community,” said Burwell. “American University’s distinctive mix of academic strengths, its influential scholars, engaged students, successful alumni and extraordinary location are great assets. AU’s trajectory over the last decade enables us to leverage our strengths and think in bold, ambitious ways.”

Burwell also held leadership roles in the Clinton Administration, including as Deputy Chief of Staff to the President and Chief of Staff to the U.S. Secretary of Treasury. Burwell has served on the boards of the Council on Foreign Relations, MetLife, and the University of Washington Medical Center, among other organizations.

The first woman appointed as president in AU’s history, Burwell earned an A.B. in Government from Harvard University, and a BA in Philosophy, Policy and Economics from the University of Oxford.

Both sets of Burwell’s paternal and maternal grandparents were immigrants from Greece.


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