2024 Undergraduate Commencement
May 11, 2024  |  9:30 a.m.
Daniel "Chappie" James Arena

Speaker: Dietra Y. Trent, Ph.D.
Executive Director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs

Photo of Dr. Dietra Y. Trent

Dietra Y. Trent was recently appointed by President Biden to serve as the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity through Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In this capacity, she works closely with the Executive Office of the President and the Secretary of Education to implement a government-wide approach to break down systemic barriers to HBCUs participation in federally sponsored programs. In partnership with HBCU leaders and advocacy groups, Dr. Trent and her team work to promote key priorities related to advancing educational and economic opportunity for HBCUs across the federal government.   

Dr. Trent has twenty-five years of higher education and public policy experience.  Most recently, she served as Interim Vice President for Compliance, Diversity and Ethics at George Mason University. She first joined the University in August 2019 as Interim Chief of Staff to then Interim President, Anne Holton. 

In July 2016, Governor Terry McAuliffe appointed her Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Previously, she served as Deputy Secretary of Education, a position she also held during the Administration of then-Governor Tim Kaine.      

As Secretary of Education, Dr. Trent’s primary responsibility was to promote the Governor’s agenda to eradicate the Achievement Gap, promote great teaching and learning, and help strengthen educational pathways to the new Virginia Economy. As Secretary, she provided guidance to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) and The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), as well as Virginia’s 16 public colleges and universities, 23 community colleges and five higher education and research centers, and seven state-funded arts/cultural institutions.

Prior to joining the McAuliffe Administration, Dr. Trent served as Deputy State Director for Senator Mark Warner. Having served in former Governor’s Tim Kaine and Mark Warner’s offices, as well as the Office of Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, she has a wealth of federal, state, and higher education experience. 

During her time in Governor Warner’s office, Dr. Trent’s proudest moment was establishing and obtaining state funding for the Minority Political Leadership Institute (MPLI), housed at Virginia Commonwealth University. MPLI is a six-week intensive program designed to promote leadership for aspiring individuals interested in running for elected office or assuming leadership roles in minority communities. 

A native of Halifax County, Virginia, Dr. Trent earned a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Criminal Justice from Hampton University, and completed her master’s and doctoral degrees in Public Administration and Policy from Virginia Commonwealth University.    


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