WASHINGTON – After an extensive national search, Lydia Sermons has been named Vice President and Chief Communications Officer at Howard University. In this role, Sermons will report to President Ben Vinson III, Ph.D. and oversee the Office of University Communications, which includes marketing, strategic communications, web design strategy, and editorial storytelling, including Howard Magazine and The Dig.
An award-winning strategic communications executive with more than 25 years of experience leading executive and organizational communications, Sermons will join the University after spending nearly two years as vice president of strategic communications and marketing at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. She begins her new role on February 12.
Sermons’ impressive background includes roles with the White House, federal agencies, U.S. Congress, local government, nonprofits, corporate communications firms, and higher education. Having spent time working in Washington, D.C. and possessing a firm understanding of HBCUs, Sermons will be a true asset to Howard University, said President Vinson.
"I am very excited to welcome Lydia Sermons to the Howard University community,” President Vinson said. “She brings a vast amount of experience and knowledge to our institution, and I am certain that, under her leadership, our Office of University Communications will absolutely deliver on innovatively telling the Howard University story in ways that truly help people understand the tremendous impact we have on communities here and abroad."
During her time at Spelman College, she restructured the communications team, elevating the function from an office to a division within the college. Under her leadership, she relaunched the monthly campus magazine and achieved significant increases in brand exposure through social, digital, and traditional media, including NPR, ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS Newshour, ESPN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Forbes, Associated Press, HBCU Times, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to return to Washington, D.C., to serve as Howard University’s vice president and chief communications officer,” Sermons said. “Howard University’s profound local and global impact is evident through excellence in academics and a commitment to truth and service that has produced influential leaders and contributed to advancements in all sectors of our society.
“I look forward to joining with President Vinson, his administration, faculty, staff, students, and the entire Howard University community to further amplify the voices and shape the narratives that will continue to elevate this historic university to new heights of relevance, impact, and service at home and around the world,” Sermons added.
Prior to her time at Spelman College, Sermons served as vice president of strategic positioning and alignment at PAI, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that advocates for the rights of women and girls abroad. There, she led the development of organizational strategy and executive communications. She has also served as chief communications strategist for former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, managing the city’s crisis communications responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice demonstrations.
During President Bill Clinton’s administration, Sermons led White House press for “One America in the 21st Century: The President’s Initiative on Race.” As a senior communications advisor during the Obama administration, she managed national healthcare and health equity communications, national observances and events, crisis communications, and social media for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health, and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), Office of Regulatory Affairs. As executive director of the National Park Foundation’s African American Experience Fund, she served as a technical advisor to the Obama administration, led historic preservation and storytelling for African American heritage sites, and helped induct new heritage sites into the national park system, including the Colonel Charles Young Home in Ohio and the Harriet Tubman National Historic Trail in Maryland (Eastern Shore).
Earlier in her career, Sermons led a large-scale brand transformation campaign for the American Psychiatric Association; devised an advocacy campaign for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, Inc. that led to Congressional hearings and changes in financial consumer protection policies; and led communications efforts around higher education, national defense, agriculture, and urban cities issues as a congressional press secretary, where she also co-authored a congressional resolution to commemorate June as Black Music Month. Sermons began her career in television production in Philadelphia, and New Haven, Connecticut for CBS, and ABC TV stations.
Possessing a servant's heart, Sermons is very engaged with her community and has dedicated much of her time serving in leadership with organizations such as the parent-teacher-student associations for Westlake High School in Atlanta and Glenn Dale Elementary School in Glenn Dale, Maryland. She has also been a Girl Scout parent volunteer, member of the board of directors for the Mary Elizabeth House, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that provides housing, education, and employment assistance to teen mothers in foster care; and the board of directors for The Scholarship Academy in Atlanta, which offers scholarships to college-bound students in marginalized communities.
Sermons earned a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Temple University, a Master of Arts in broadcast journalism and public affairs from American University, and a certificate in corporate community relations from Boston College. She is a native of Lowndes County, Georgia, and the mother of three children.
About Howard University
Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university comprising 14 schools and colleges. Students pursue more than 140 programs of study leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. The University operates with a commitment to Excellence in Truth and Service and has produced three Schwarzman Scholars, four Marshall Scholars, four Rhodes Scholars, 12 Truman Scholars, 25 Pickering Fellows and more than 165 Fulbright recipients. Howard also produces more on-campus African American Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, visit www.howard.edu.