Margaret McKenna, the former Lesley University president who built that institution from a small college to a thriving university, has been selected as the next president of Suffolk University. The Board of Trustees approved McKenna’s appointment as Suffolk University’s tenth president today.

Margaret McKennaMcKenna, an attorney, is a proven educational leader, change agent and fund-raiser. She comes to Suffolk University from the Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy at Brandeis University, where she is a visiting professor and acting director. She brings a network of colleagues from the worlds of business, law, government, health care and academia to a university that emphasizes experiential learning, mentoring and internships.

“The Board of Trustees is very pleased to welcome Margaret McKenna to Suffolk University,” said Suffolk University Board Chair Andrew C. Meyer, Jr. “Her experience, innovative ideas and bold approach to addressing the challenges facing all of higher education make her the ideal leader for our University.”

“I have long been interested in Suffolk because its mission from the beginning has been access, and it continues to provide an education that is student centered and individually tailored,” said McKenna, who has been focused on social justice throughout her career and sees higher education as its instrument. “Moreover, there are very few urban universities in this country like Suffolk, with applied liberal arts, a business school and a law school. Suffolk is the model of a small urban university that uses the city as its classroom. And while Suffolk takes from the city, it gives more than it takes in terms of public policy, research and participation.”

McKenna will be the first woman to lead the university—which offers programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels in its College of Arts & Sciences, Sawyer Business School and Law School—since its founding in 1906.

During McKenna’s 22 years as president at Lesley, the college grew from 2,000 to more than 10,000 students, from a college to a university and from a small regional college to a nationally recognized leader in teacher education.

She has served as vice president of Radcliffe College and as a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. She also has coached a number of new college presidents over the years.

“Margaret McKenna has had her finger on the pulse of higher education for decades and is full of exciting ideas for leveraging Suffolk’s strengths to meet the needs of students who seek pragmatic learning that leads to a career path,” said Suffolk Trustee Mark E. Sullivan, who chaired the Presidential Search Committee. “We are fortunate to have her on board and look forward to her leadership as the University continues its ascendency.”

As president of the Walmart Foundation from 2007 to 2011, she created a strategy that emphasized hunger relief, education and the economic empowerment of women.

McKenna began her career as a civil rights attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. She has served as deputy counsel in the White House and as undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education, and she led the education transition team for President Clinton.

She is the vice chair of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Board and sits on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. She has served on five corporate boards and dozens of non-profit boards and is the recipient of 10 honorary degrees.

McKenna joins Suffolk as it prepares to open a new $62 million academic building with four floors each of science and general classrooms and as the University welcomes new deans in its College and Law School. She will succeed Norman R. Smith, who has served as interim president since September.

McKenna earned a BA from Emmanuel College and a JD from Southern Methodist University.