Fall 2017 Commencement Speaker

Emily M. Dickens, J.D.
Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Chief Relationship Officer
Thurgood Marshall College Fund

As the senior vice president, general counsel, and chief relationship officer at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), Emily M. Dickens, J.D., contributes to TMCF’s overall mission and works with the organization’s 47-members schools to provide leadership and strategic direction in four major areas: board of director relations, policy and advocacy, member-school administration relations, and legal affairs.

TMCF is the nation’s largest organization exclusively representing the black college community. TMCF member-schools include publicly-supported historically black colleges and universities and predominantly black institutions which enroll nearly 80% of all students attending black colleges and universities. Through scholarships, capacity building and research initiatives, innovative programs, and strategic partnerships, TMCF is a vital resource for institutions and students involved in PK-12 and higher education. The organization is also a resource for top employers seeking top talent for competitive internships and careers. To date the organization has awarded more than $250 million in such assistance to its students and member-schools. TMCF distributes 98% of its awards exclusively to HBCUs, which is more than any other organization that supports the black college community.

A native of Queens, New York, Dickens is a first-generation college graduate who has spent most of her career advocating for access to higher education. While working her way through law school in the evenings, Dickens worked for two executives at Duke University by day: the vice president for institutional equity and the university architect.  These experiences helped develop her interest in the intersection of higher education, government, and community development.  Following law school, Dickens served as a staffer in the mayor’s office in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where she honed her skills in local and state government relations, economic development, and partnership development.

Dickens joined the University of North Carolina system after her tenure in the mayor’s office.  She initially served as the director of government and community affairs at the system’s second-oldest campus, Fayetteville State University (FSU). Her successful tenure included securing over $7M in federal funding, realigning sponsorships to meet the strategic needs of the campus, appointment as executive director of the FSU Development Corporation, and leadership of the expansion of the campus’ major external affairs initiative, the Chancellor’s Speaker Series. Dickens also began her career in board service while in Fayetteville. She represented the university on three boards; the Fayetteville/Cumberland Chamber of Commerce (Secretary of the Board), the North Carolina Partnership for Defense Innovation, and the Cumberland Community Action Program (Executive Committee).

In 2012, Dickens returned to the city of Chapel Hill as assistant vice president for federal relations for the University of North Carolina system. Her duties included working with all sixteen of the system’s campuses on federal legislative and regulatory issues with specific emphasis on athletics, immigration reform, reauthorization of the higher education act, international education programs and minority serving institutions. In addition, Dickens took on a number of stretch projects that utilized her state relations experience to assist the five historically black campuses in the university system. One successful outcome was an over $300K direct allocation in the state budget to support an HBCU corporate internship program, which continues to this day.

The attorney moved to Washington, DC to assume the role of vice president for public policy and executive director for the Center for Public Trusteeship and Governance at the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities.  There, she worked with the nation’s board leaders and executives on federal and state higher education issues critical to their institutions’ success.  While she was executive director, the center almost doubled its revenue from the prior year with close to half a million dollars in funding from statewide programming and consultancies. Under her leadership, the team also increased the number of publications on issues related to governance of public institutions of higher education.

Dickens is actively engaged in board service. She sits on the board of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated Educational Advancement Foundation, is a member of the advisory board of the College of Arts and Sciences at North Carolina Central University, and serves as secretary of the board of the Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association.  She will celebrate 25 years of active membership in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated in 2018.

A graduate of North Carolina Central University and North Carolina Central University School of Law, Dickens was a recipient of its Dean’s Leadership Award.

She is married to her “college sweetheart,” Wallace H. Sellars, Jr. They reside in Arlington, Virginia and Durham, North Carolina.

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