You are here: American University President Announcements September 28, 2021

AU Memo Letterhead

Dear AU Community,

Our Changemakers strategy is built on three pillars—scholarship, learning, and community. Advancing these priorities both individually and in conjunction requires vision and collaboration, and the leadership and implementation teams across the university have done a tremendous job moving this work forward. Throughout the strategic implementation process, and particularly during the new challenges of COVID-19, we also identified areas where we can continue to improve, which is part of our strategy’s focus on How AU Works. This includes ensuring we have the right structures and leaders in place to further our teaching, research, and service missions; advance student thriving; and support our workforce.  

Today, I am pleased to announce important new opportunities within our leadership team and updates to some key operational areas that will improve our ability to advance our critical strategic work, further our mission, and serve our community:

  • Peter Starr will become our permanent provost.
  • AU will now have a vice president for undergraduate enrollment to advance this strategic priority at the leadership level. Fanta Aw will assume this role and continue to serve as vice president for campus life and inclusive excellence.
  • The University Conference and Guest Services team will move from Campus Life to the Office of the Chief Financial Officer.
  • The People and External Affairs division is now formalized under Seth Grossman’s continued leadership.
  • Sarah Baldassaro will join us as chief of staff on November 1.


Since his appointment as acting provost in June 2020, Peter has effectively led our academic affairs enterprise through the pandemic and this fall’s return to the classroom. In addition to ensuring our high-quality learning experience thrived, Peter advanced additional key priorities such as expanding our research enterprise and realigning our lifelong learning programs for more efficiency and student engagement. Moving forward, Peter will expand his focus on scholarship and research, including growing faculty hiring and securing greater external support for our research activities and the learning endeavors that drive our mission. The continuity of Peter’s leadership will be critical to supporting our faculty and providing incredible learning opportunities for our students and for new lifelong learners. I want to thank the many stakeholders who shared their feedback during this summer’s engagement process. These perspectives provided critical input into our decision to appoint Peter as the permanent provost and helped identify areas of focus for the Office of the Provost in the coming years.


Enrollment is an area of core strength at American University, and it is foundational to our unique student experience. As we focus intently on student thriving, we want to ensure that our efforts support students throughout their time at AU and build a strong sense of community at every step of their journey. Parents and students continue to raise the bar for what defines thriving from the application process through graduation, and we are prioritizing enrollment work throughout the university to meet the needs of our community (and future Eagles). As part of that work, we are elevating undergraduate enrollment to the cabinet level to further our already strong efforts. This approach will support our strategy, our students and families, and our ability to deliver on our mission.

To advance this priority workstream, Fanta Aw will assume the vice president for undergraduate enrollment position, and her new title is vice president for undergraduate enrollment, campus life, and inclusive excellence. The Office of Enrollment retains its current form and will continue to be led by Sharon Alston and her team. Graduate enrollment remains under the direction of Wendy Boland, dean of graduate and professional studies, in the Academic Affairs division.

Conference Services

The University Conference and Guest Services group works closely with our facilities and auxiliary services teams on many aspects of bringing external gatherings to campus, which introduces new audiences (including prospective students) to AU and generates critical revenue. Under the supervision of our incoming CFO Bronté Burleigh-Jones, the conference services team will be well-positioned to continue leveraging our world-class facilities, hosting groups from across the country and around the world, and enhancing their work with partners across the CFO division.

People and External Affairs

Under the “How AU Works” strategic imperative, we have focused on supporting our workforce, improving the experience for faculty and staff, and enhancing our engagement with our immediate neighbors and the broader Washington, DC community. The new People and External Affairs division will continue to expand our work in these priority areas. The division contains Human Resources, the Office of Equity and Title IX, Community and Government Affairs, WAMU, and the Strategic Plan. Seth has done a tremendous job steering these critical functions over the past year while simultaneously serving as chief of staff. Under Seth’s leadership, we have achieved successful approval of our 2021 Campus Plan by the DC Zoning Commission, designed and implemented our new hybrid work environment, and enhanced WAMU’s operations and local news coverage and hired a new general manager for the station. As these functions enter important new phases, Seth will dedicate his time to the ongoing excellence and continued improvement of these services for our staff, faculty, students, and the broader DC community.

Chief of Staff

With Seth’s focus on our workforce, external engagement, and the strategic plan, we are bringing on a new chief of staff to work closely with me and the leadership team on university priorities. Sarah will join the President’s Office to support critical strategic and operational areas, including engagement with the AU community, advancing the Change Can’t Wait comprehensive campaign, and other cross-cutting initiatives. A longtime leader in higher education, Sarah comes to us from George Washington University, where she spent the past twelve years, most recently as interim vice president for communications and marketing. She previously served in the White House and the US Senate. Sarah will join AU on November 1 and will be a member of the cabinet and president’s council.

These new, updated, and enhanced roles and portfolios reflect the depth and breadth of expertise we have at AU and will contribute to our success now and into the future. I want to thank Peter, Fanta, and Seth for their ongoing leadership and dedication to AU. I want to thank the Office of Enrollment and the University Conference and Guest Services teams for their professionalism and commitment to our students and our mission. Finally, please join me in welcoming Sarah to the AU community.

Be safe and be well.