Britt Rios-Ellis named executive vice president of Academic Affairs and provost

After nine months of searching, Oakland University welcomed Dr. Britt Rios-Ellis as the new executive vice president of Academic Affairs and provost beginning Jan. 4, 2021. 

The announcement came from President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz — who made the decision based on recommendations from the search committee — on Monday, Oct. 12 at the Board of Trustees meeting. Current Interim Provost Michelle Piskulich will be returning to her position as senior associate provost.

“Her vision is to elevate our academic programs, and she has a passion for serving underrepresented minority communities,” Pescovitz said. “Her commitment is for teaching, learning and research, and she is determined that Oakland University will significantly impact the lives of our region, and she hopes that we will contribute mightily to our local economy, which is so consistent with everything that we have said about making Oakland University the university of choice.”

The Portland native was the founding dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Services at California State University, Monterey Bay where she worked to foster programs that benefited both students and the surrounding community, the creation of a homeless shelter and outreach program called Community Health Engagement (CHE). 

OU’s commitment to the strategic goal of community engagement, particularly through programs like the OU-Pontiac Initiative, was one factor that drew Rios-Ellis to the university and aligns with her background.

“Universities, particularly right now, need to really serve the contextual needs of community,” Rios-Ellis said. “When we look at the social determinants of health and well being, and we know that education is at the forefront of those, we need to understand that as educators we can really transform not only the lives of individual students but the lives of their families as well.”

An ethnographer by trade, Rios-Ellis began her path looking to go into politics, which led her to public health and ultimately to higher education. She dedicated her time to an intersectional understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion with research into the HIV/AIDS epidemic among the Latinx community, as well as the creation of LGBTQIA+ curriculum at her previous institution.

The mother of three will be moving from California to Michigan with her husband, Enrique, who will be joining the faculty in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance. Her son, a sophomore, is also applying to attend OU in the winter semester. 

In terms of leadership, Rios-Ellis hopes to listen and foster relationships with colleagues and students to reach collaborative goals. 

“I very much see myself as a servant leader in definition and someone who is a power-with versus power-over type of leader,” she said. “I think one of the reasons why I have been successful in leadership is that I tend to surround myself with folks who know a lot more than I do about certain things and then try to facilitate the environment wherein they can have the resources they need to move things along.”

When it comes to students, Rios-Ellis hopes to be as involved as possible. Rios-Ellis is “humbled, honored and excited” to take on this role and become a part of the OU community.

“People are saying to me, ‘aren’t you afraid of the cold?’ and I said, ‘Oh no, Oakland is already so warm and welcoming,’ and that’s because of the environment,” Rios-Ellis said.