Sylvia Matthews Burwell is the fifteenth president of American University (AU) in Washington, DC, and the first woman to serve in the role. Since coming to AU in 2017, she has focused on building a university centered on scholarship, learning, and community.
Under her leadership, AU became the first carbon-neutral university in the United States and established the first anti-racist research and policy center in the nation. Building on AU’s long history of engagement and service, Burwell launched the Changemakers for a Changing World strategic plan and the Change Can’t Wait comprehensive campaign, which will create transformative educational opportunities for students, advance research with impact, and build stronger communities locally, nationally, and globally. During Burwell’s tenure, AU entered the nation’s most innovative universities list and accelerated its standing as a place where scholars and students come to impact the world.
Burwell previously served as the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where she led a department that included the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and all of Medicare. She oversaw the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act and led the department’s responses to the Ebola and Zika outbreaks. As the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a role for which the U.S. Senate confirmed her 96–0, she worked with Congress to negotiate a two-year budget deal following the 2013 government shutdown.
Prior to her service in the Barack Obama administration, Burwell was the president of the Walmart Foundation, where she focused on its global women’s economic empowerment initiatives. Before joining the Walmart Foundation, she was president and creator of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program and the foundation’s first chief operating officer. Under her leadership, she created the foundation’s advocacy work, and during her tenure the foundation’s grant-making grew by 40 percent to $1.5 billion per year.
During the Bill Clinton administration, Burwell served as deputy director of the OMB, deputy chief of staff to the president, chief of staff to the secretary of the treasury, and staff director of the National Economic Council.
Burwell serves on the boards of the American Council on Education and GuideWell. She received undergraduate degrees from Harvard University and Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar.