Boston University names Dr. Melissa Gilliam as next school president in historic appointment

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Gillam, who will come to Boston from The Ohio State University, will be the university’s first female and first Black president.

Dr. Melissa Gilliam
Dr. Melissa L. Gilliam, the executive vice president and provost of The Ohio State University, will be Boston University’s next president. Suzanne Kreiter / The Boston Globe

Boston University announced Wednesday that Dr. Melissa Gilliam, currently a top official at The Ohio State University, will serve as its next leader, becoming the first female and first Black president in the school’s history.

Gilliam, who will be the university’s 11th president, will assume the role on July 1, 2024. She was selected from a field of 400 candidates from around the world vetted during a yearlong search, according to the university. She currently serves as the executive vice president and provost at Ohio State, but is no stranger to the Boston area or Boston University itself. 

According to BU Today, Gilliam graduated from Harvard Medical School and for one of her summer projects worked with researchers at the BU School of Public Health in Ecuador on a project focused on the health of elderly people. 

“From the very beginning, I was able to form that connection to Boston University,” Gilliam told the publication. “And I always knew it as a place that was going places that other institutions weren’t.”

Gilliam, who is also a professor of obstetrics and gynecology and of pediatrics, has focused in her scholarship and research on creating interventions to promote adolescent health and wellbeing, according to BU. 

The physician and academic leader follows in her parent’s footsteps as a trailblazer and innovator. Her mother,  Dorothy Butler Gilliam, was the first Black woman reporter hired by The Washington Post and her father, Sam Gilliam, was an acclaimed abstract painter, according to BU. The 58-year-old said in a statement to the university that she was raised with a “very strong humanitarian focus” and the impact “one could have in the world.”

The 58-year-old, who was born and raised in Washington, D.C., said in a video she was drawn to BU for its commitment to being accessible for all people. 

“We’re at a time when we are going to face some of the toughest problems and toughest challenges, whether that has to do with climate change and sustainability or increasing polarization, but I think a place like Boston that has always chosen to be deeply engaged in the world, this is a university that can be at the forefront of all of these grand challenges” she said.