Nancy Zimpher
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Dr. Nancy Zimpher

The State University of New York


In June 2009 Nancy L. Zimpher became the 12th Chancellor of the State University of New York. With nearly 463,000 students and 64 colleges and universities, SUNY is the nation’s largest comprehensive system of higher education. 

Chancellor Zimpher leads a diverse set of initiatives at SUNY in several key areas, including research and innovation, energy, health care, global affairs, and the education pipeline. She has been a vocal advocate for groundbreaking legislative reforms that ensure SUNY can provide broad access to higher education in an environment of declining state support, while maximizing its impact as an engine of economic revitalization in communities across the state.

Dr. Zimpher is active in numerous state and national education organizations, and is a leader in the areas of teacher preparation, urban education, and university-community engagement. She currently serves as chair of the Board of Governors of the New York Academy of Sciences and of CEOs for Cities. Beginning in 2014, she will assume the chair of the National Association of System Heads. From 2005 to 2011 she led the national Coalition of Urban Serving Universities. As co-founder of StriveTogether, Zimpher has been instrumental in creating a national network of innovative systemic partnerships that holistically address challenges across the education pipeline.

Prior to coming to SUNY, Dr. Zimpher served as president of the University of Cincinnati, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and executive dean of the Professional Colleges and dean of the College of Education at The Ohio State University. She has authored or co-authored numerous books, monographs, and academic journal articles on teacher education, urban education, academic leadership, and school/university partnerships.

Chancellor Zimpher holds a bachelor’s degree in English Education and Speech, a master’s degree in English Literature, and a Ph.D. in Teacher Education and Higher Education Administration, all from The Ohio State University.  


Could you begin by describing some of the projects and activities SUNY is involved with that are working to promote inclusive and diverse environments on campus? 

SUNY’s commitment to diversity is evident as it is one of the core values in our Strategic Plan.  There are two offices in particular at the system level that are committed to this topic. These offices work in collaboration with their campus counterparts among all 64 campuses.

Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion:

  • The Graduate Diversity Fellowship Program is a SUNY-wide initiative that offers fellowships to students who have been admitted to graduate or professional study. This program is intended to assist in the recruitment, enrollment and retention of students in doctoral and master’s level programs who can demonstrate that they contribute to the diversity of the student body, especially those who can show that they have overcome a disadvantage or other impediment to success in higher education.
  • The Empire State Diversity Honors Scholarship Program is a state-wide undergraduate scholarship program for students from a broad range of background who will contribute to the diversity of the student body in their campus or academic program. Eligible students must be enrolled in a degree program and have demonstrated high academic achievement characteristic of an honors program.
  • The Native American Initiative is part of a consortium of post-secondary institutions in the North Country and western part of New York State which have come together to provide programs that address the specific educational needs of Native American students.
  • The Doctoral Diversity Fellowships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics is awarded to academically exceptional students who have been admitted to SUNY’s doctoral degree granting institutions and will commence their graduate studies in STEM fields.
  • ODEI has sought to replicate Purchase College's "Baccalaureate and Beyond Community College Mentoring Program" for seamless transfer throughout the SUNY System. Called the SUNY Replication Project, it is headed up by the founder of the Purchase Program, Dr. Joseph Skrivanek.

Office of Global Affairs (SUNY Global):

  • The International Recruitment initiative aims to create a greater international diversity on our campuses, many of which have very limited international student populations and some that may have large international student population but from one or a limited number of countries.
  • The Diversity in Education Abroad initiative is intended to foster diversity and equity in global student mobility achieved through advocacy, professional development, partnership building, student advising resources, and providing a platform for professionals to network, discuss and debate issues of diversity, equity and underrepresentation in international education.  This initiative has expanded to engage professionals working with international students and scholars as well.


What role does diversity play in international education?


Diversity plays an important role in international education as international education plays an important role in diversity.  How these concepts align varies from campus to campus and community to community.  At SUNY we are constantly looking to create opportunities for collaboration in these areas.


Diversifying the students who participate in international education has been discussed in the field for many years. How would you grade the progress that has been made in this area? 

In general, we believe that participation in education abroad activities is not sufficiently diverse or inclusive – not economically, not ethnically and that having international students on campus is not enough to have a diverse integrated student population.

I'm not sure I would want to assign a grade. We probably slightly above average for progress to date and doing well in the area of putting in place systems to help SUNY’s commitment to diversity going forward. 

What is wonderful to see is that opportunities for conversations about diversity in a variety of settings are becoming more readily available.  Hopefully these conversations will promote the development of resources for professionals and students to facilitate the expansion of diversity on our campuses and in our communities.


What role do you think diversity will play in international education over the next 5 years? 

As international education efforts continue to grow and international student enrollment increase, the need to address the intersection between diversity and inclusion will become a much higher priority on campuses.  We live in an increasingly global society and to prepare our students to be competent and succeed in this diverse environment we must expand access to opportunities for international exposure among all students. 


What do you see as the biggest challenges to increasing inclusion, access, and diversity in international education?


The biggest challenge is demystifying the perception and stereotypes associated with international education whether it is US students studying abroad or international students studying on our campuses.

On the study abroad side, one of the challenges is cost.  It is the general belief that study abroad is very expensive while the truth is that cost is not prohibitive.  We have a large range of opportunities that can meet almost any student’s needs.  Financial aid and scholarships are also available to make these programs accessible.  Our challenge is to include other offices on campuses like financial aid, diversity and EOP so that their constituents can see the importance and feasibility of an international experience. 

On the international students and scholars side, one of the challenges is campus-wide engagement and integration.  The questions are how to change the conversation from multicultural level to an intercultural level and how to increase our ability to understand and communicate effectively with students and scholars of diverse backgrounds.


Many institutions have “Diversity Initiatives” and “Internationalization Initiatives”.  Do you see synergies between these two initiatives? 

Absolutely and to support and strengthen those initiatives within SUNY, the Office of Global Affairs and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion developed a partnership with Diversity Abroad in January 2011.  Through this partnership, all SUNY campuses are members of the Diversity Network that creates opportunities for professional development. In collaboration with our partners, we have organized study abroad workshops and an International Student and Scholar Services symposium, and participated in the first Diversity Abroad Conference to raise awareness among SUNY professionals and other professionals in the field of the importance of providing all students with greater access to educational opportunities on campus and abroad.  These events also aim to create best practices, resources for student advising and advocacy to better prepare graduates from all backgrounds to succeed in an increasingly global society.  We also created a Global Reinvestment Fund to provide scholarships for study abroad for students with financial need and from under-served groups to make it easier for them to take advantage of these programs.


How do you feel the quality of international education programs are affected by having participants from diverse academic, economic, ethnic and social backgrounds?


Diversity of experience and outlook always enriches education.  International students bring a natural aspect of diversity but it’s essential that they are engaged on our campus for the impact to reach all levels.  It is also essential that our domestic student profiles diversify in relation to study abroad participation.  These types of opportunities are essential to building a globally competent generation.  Diversity and international education enrich not only the individual experience but the collective one.