Virginia Tech’s Advancement Division has added Charleon Jeffries to its senior leadership team in the newly created position of assistant vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Jeffries, who starts on Nov. 1, previously served as director of diversity, equity, and inclusion for Penn State University’s Division of Development and Alumni Relations. In her new role, she will report directly to Vice President for Advancement Charlie Phlegar and work with him and other senior leaders to drive change, leverage national industry connections, and lift the profile of diversity, equity, and inclusion within advancement at Virginia Tech and beyond.

Jeffries will oversee an overarching strategic plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion within the Advancement Division and serve as a liaison with the university’s Office of Inclusion and Diversity. Both the level and scope of her position are rare within higher education advancement, an area that encompasses fundraising, alumni engagement, and university relations.

“We rarely see positions at that level focused specifically on diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Angelique Grant, a consultant on issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and philanthropy who co-authored a book on the topic published in 2020 by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, widely known as CASE. “I applaud Virginia Tech’s passion and dedication to make that commitment.”

Glenn Best is director of major gifts at the University of Toronto, where Jeffries has spoken about issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in advancement.

“As a leading expert in the area of equity, diversity, and inclusion, Charleon has been at the forefront of developing and implementing best practices within the advancement profession,” Best said. “Her leadership in this important area will make her a great asset to the team at Virginia Tech.”

Phlegar acknowledged that having an assistant vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion on his senior leadership team was unusual, but said he considered it essential and believed other universities would follow suit.

“At the end of the day, we focus on engaging alumni, communicating our brand, and bringing resources to the university through advancement,” Phlegar said. “And that is being done in an alumni community that is radically more different than in the past. With the wave of growth Virginia Tech has experienced since the late 1970s, and the volume and diversity of our alumni, it’s absolutely crucial that we get this right.”

Jeffries agreed, saying that she was attracted to the position by Virginia Tech’s public commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion from leaders at the highest level, including not only Phlegar but university President Tim Sands.

“Any school with an alumni base as big as a Penn State or a Virginia Tech will have people with all sorts of views on all sorts of issues, including ones of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Jeffries said. “Finding a way to engage with all of our stakeholders and remain connected, while still staying true to our institutional commitments to creating a more inclusive environment is both complicated and crucial. Seeing President Sands’ commitment and the bold steps that Virginia Tech is taking really makes it exciting to join the team. Charlie’s vision for what our advancement work will accomplish, and adding this position to his senior leadership team, also demonstrates tremendous support.”

At the university level, Sands has set a goal increase the proportion of underrepresented, first-generation, or lower-income students to 40 percent by 2022. Within the Advancement Division, inclusion and diversity is one of six overarching priorities of Boundless Impact: The Campaign for Virginia Tech, a $1.5-billion fundraising initiative running through 2027.

Jeffries earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Penn State. She worked in positions of progressive responsibility at her alma mater starting in 2002. These included positions within the school’s Office of Multicultural Programs, where she advanced to become coordinator of Multicultural Programs for the College of Education; the Office of Affirmative Action, where she was the lead diversity educator for Penn State’s more than 30,000 faculty and staff; and the Division of Development and Alumni Relations, which she joined in 2018 as director of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Beginning in 2017, Jeffries served as an adjunct instructor in the College of Education for a graduate-level course on diversity and inclusion in higher education. She is a founding member of the Penn State Women’s Philanthropic Advisory Board.

“Philanthropy provides an opportunity to create positive change,” Jeffries said. “When you have both your internal and your external supporters working together, that’s what really makes it possible to achieve systemic change.”

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