Stacy Goodwin Lightfoot, an experienced professional with a history of working in education reform, has been appointed the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s first vice chancellor for diversity and engagement. She will join UTC effective July 1.
Ms. Lightfoot comes to UTC after spending the last 12 years with the Public Education Foundation (PEF), most recently as the organization’s executive vice president.
“Stacy Lightfoot rose to the top of a strong, competitive candidate pool in a national search and is the right choice for this cabinet-level position,” UTC Chancellor Steven Angle said.
“She will provide leadership in diversity and engagement work, including equity-driven initiatives, compliance and accountability for diversity and inclusion elements of our strategic plan. I expect her to challenge and inspire us to continue transforming our student-focused campus culture and dramatically expand engagement with our community. She will ensure our actions mirror our words.”
In announcing the selection, Chancellor Angle pointed to Ms. Lightfoot’s track record of innovation and support and her ability to leverage resources and partnerships in fostering meaningful and inclusive experiences that lead to student success. She recently concluded her third year as chair of the Chancellor’s Multicultural Advisory Council.
“Stacy brings a wealth of experience, insight and relational resources to our campus,” Mr. Angle said. “As a career-long advocate for students, she has an intimate knowledge of our student pipeline. As a nonprofit executive, she has operated in cabinet-level roles and designed, grown and led high-performing teams. The connections she has already established within the region will continue to strengthen our University’s relationship with the city and the local community.”
A native of Chattanooga, Ms. Lightfoot began working at PEF—a nonprofit organization that provides training, research and resources to teachers, principals and schools in Hamilton County and surrounding areas—as a lead college advisor in 2009. Prior to being named executive vice president, she oversaw college access and success programs.
“I value relationships, and that is what diversity and engagement work is about,” Ms. Lightfoot said. “I care about each and every individual that crosses my path and what makes them special and different. Building relationships and trust are critical in the DEI space. I have been able to connect to a variety of networks and individuals enhancing my knowledge around systems change work and what it takes to change or create a system so that everyone who is a part of that system is elevated in some way, especially minoritized groups. That is what my life’s work has been.
“I am not only thinking about what this appointment means for me, but also what it means for the University, for the city of Chattanooga and for young women of color: To be the first woman of color in a cabinet-level position. It is life-changing for me. UTC is poised and ready to foster a more inclusive environment and build a more inclusive campus so that all students, faculty and staff members can excel and achieve by being in a space that honors and celebrates their differences.”
Ms. Lightfoot’s recent initiatives at PEF include being an integral member of the collaborative partnership team that co-wrote the proposal to obtain $2.89 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and spearheading the creation of STEP-UP Chattanooga—an internship program that supports 1,300 students.
In May 2015, she was invited to testify before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on what low-income and first-generation students need to know to make informed decisions about college. She returned to Washington, D.C., in 2017 to speak to congressional staff about simplifying the federal financial form.
Ms. Lightfoot’s professional career has included stints at Girls Inc. and College Access Center, serving as an adjunct instructor at UTC, mentoring many of the region’s college-bound students and collaborating with diversity and inclusion experts across the state.
“There is a science and an art to successfully implementing diversity work,” Ms. Lightfoot said. “For example, there is necessary data to collect and understand that guides the development of the diversity, equity and inclusion goals of the University. This includes setting metrics and establishing the proper accountability and evaluative structures. It is impossible to do this work without forming strategic partnerships with campus leaders and the greater Chattanooga community to help advance DEI.
“Engagement is often an understated component in the DEI space. It involves understanding people’s differences to create the type of opportunities for students, faculty, staff and administration to feel that sense of belonging. Engagement is achieved when DEI is advanced and truly understood. The use of that knowledge is the only way we can build bridges.”
Ms. Lightfoot received a bachelor’s degree in communication from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, and a master’s in international service from the University of Roehampton in London, England. Her international experiences also include studying abroad at Temple University’s Rome, Italy, campus and at the University of Technology in Kingston, Jamaica.
Ms. Lightfoot is a graduate of Leadership Tennessee, Leadership Chattanooga and Harvard University’s Young American Leaders Program. Her career honors include winning the National Association for College Admission Counseling Excellence in Education Award, the Southern Association for College Admission Counseling Myron G. Burney Award for Inclusion and Access, and the Girls Inc. UnBought and UnBossed Award. She also has been named a Woman of Distinction of Greater Chattanooga. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and the National College Attainment Network.
The search committee was led by Valerie Rutledge, dean of the UTC College of Health, Education and Professional Studies.
Tim Kelly, mayor, City of Chattanooga said, “Stacy Lightfoot is passionate about education and has long been a strong advocate for closing opportunity gaps in our schools, as well as connecting students with employment opportunities through the STEP-UP program at the Public Education Foundation. She has been a steadfast partner with institutes of higher learning in her pursuit of better outcomes for all students, and her new role at UTC is a natural fit for her skills, expertise and commitment to quality education.”
Bryan Johnson, superintendent, Hamilton County Schools, said, “I commend Chancellor Angle and the leadership at UTC for placing a focus on diversity and engagement. They are also to be commended for identifying someone with the gifts that Stacy possesses. Stacy is an incredibly talented leader that has partnered closely with the school district over many years through her work at PEF. She has spearheaded many efforts and has always displayed a passion for assisting many first-generation college-bound students with matriculation through post-secondary. This passion and her successes will translate exceptionally within the higher ed community. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with her as she transitions to this new role at UTC.”
Rebecca Ashford, president, Chattanooga State Community College, said, “UTC’s commitment to diversity and equity is evident in the creation of this new position at the university, and Ms. Lightfoot is the ideal person to fill this important role. Her collaborative leadership style and her passion for equity in education will serve the university and the community well. I look forward to furthering Chattanooga State’s partnerships with UTC by collaborating with Ms. Lightfoot.”
Dan Challener, president, Public Education Foundation, said, “For 12 years, Stacy has led Public Education Foundation’s work to increase the number of Hamilton County public school students who go to and graduate from college. The programs Stacy directed were especially effective in supporting economically disadvantaged and historically marginalized students. Consequently, hundreds of students who might never have gone to college earned a degree that changed their lives, thanks to Stacy’s extraordinary vision, skill and passion.”
Ronald Harris, vice president of diversity and inclusion, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, said,
“Stacy is a passionate advocate for young people in our community, and her work has helped expand opportunities for so many. In our work together on the Chancellor’s Multicultural Advisory Council, she has proven that her commitment to ensuring all people are valued and respected makes her a valuable addition to the UTC community.”
Yancy Freeman, UTC Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, said, “Stacy Lightfoot and I have been colleagues for several years in an effort to increase the numbers of Hamilton County school students choosing to enroll in post-secondary education. She has pursued this goal with passion and enthusiasm. I look forward to our continued partnership in her new role at UTC to foster a welcoming and inclusive campus environment for students, faculty and staff.”
Jerold Hale, UTC Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, said, “I believe Vice Chancellor Lightfoot will help advance the diversity of our faculty and student body. Our focus is on improving the retention and recruitment of outstanding faculty members and she will be a great asset in achieving this goal. Vice Chancellor Lightfoot is a highly respected and results-oriented leader in the community. I am looking forward to working with her.”