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Chancellor Biography

at her desk


Kelli R. Brown, Ph.D., is the 12th Chancellor of Western Carolina University, a regional comprehensive university that serves nearly 12,000 students with a wide range of bachelor’s degrees across the spectrum of arts and sciences disciplines and professional programs in business, education, health care, and engineering; more than 30 master’s degree and certificate programs; and five professional doctoral programs. She became the University’s first permanent woman chancellor when she took office in July 2019.

Since her arrival, Chancellor Brown has highlighted several priorities: an institutional emphasis on quality and excellence; a commitment to access, affordability, inclusive excellence and student success; and a focus on the University’s role as an engine of economic development for its communities. Under Chancellor Brown’s leadership, WCU has continued to capitalize on the opportunity to be a thought leader regarding how regionally engaged universities can be student focused, with a high level of teaching innovation and a large connection with the surrounding region. Business North Carolina magazine has seen the impact Chancellor Brown has on the university and region and has included her on their Power List of the state’s most influential leaders three separate times.

Throughout her time at Western, Chancellor Brown has spearheaded several major capital projects on campus. In 2021, the state-of-the art, Apodaca Science Building, was completed to replace the university’s 1970-era Natural Science Building. The following year in 2022, “The Rocks”, a collection of three freshman residence halls were opened with an emphasis on building student community. Later that year, WCU completed its new energy production facility, replacing the campus’ century-old steam plant. Additionally, she has overseen the implementation of the highly successful NC Promise tuition reduction program and the innovative Catamount Commitment financial aid program. Each program has had a tangible impact on the reduction of student debt.

speaking outside


Chancellor Brown serves on numerous boards including Harris Regional Hospital/Swain Community Hospital, NC Arboretum, Givens Estates, Circles of Jackson County (ending the cycle of poverty), ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge President’s Council (nonpartisan mission is student registration and turnout), and North Carolina Campus Compact— a collaborative network of colleges and universities committed to educating students for civic and social responsibility, partnering with communities for positive change, and strengthening democracy.

Before coming to WCU, Chancellor Brown served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Georgia College & State University. In July 2016, she was appointed interim president of Valdosta State University, a regional comprehensive university in southern Georgia. She served in that capacity until a permanent president took office in January 2017. In addition to her leadership at Georgia College, she has taught undergraduate and graduate students and has served in academic leadership roles at the University of Florida, University of South Florida, Illinois State University, and Western Illinois University.

Chancellor Brown earned her doctorate in education from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale; a master’s and baccalaureate degree in public health from the University of Toledo; and an associate in applied sciences degree in dental hygiene from Michael J. Owens Technical College in Toledo, Ohio.

Chancellor Brown is originally from the Midwest, and she and her husband of 35 years, Dennis, live in Cullowhee.

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