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Appointment of Vice President and Chief of Staff

Melissa Farmer Richards head shot
Melissa Farmer Richards

Dear Emerson community members,

As this very busy semester at Emerson College nears completion, I am pleased to announce a new leadership appointment that will play an essential role in helping us achieve our goals.

After a competitive national search and outstanding support from the executive search firm Lindauer, I’m thrilled to share that Emerson’s next Vice President and Chief of Staff will be Melissa Farmer Richards, MPA, APR. She will join us on January 16, 2024, from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, where she served as the Vice President for Communications and Marketing for the last four years. She has extensive experience in higher education leadership, issues management, and a deep interest in strategic planning, and I’m incredibly pleased that she will join our leadership team.

Melissa has more than 30 years of experience across technology, consulting, and higher education industries in organizations of all sizes, from VC-funded software start-ups to large international services corporations, and from small private colleges to a large public university. She was a founding board member of a children’s museum in Virginia and the ASXL Rare Research Endowment Foundation, and has served a director on a variety of nonprofit boards, including TAUNY (Traditional Arts in Upstate New York), Girl Scouts Virginia Skyline Council, Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Counselors to Higher Education and the Central New York Chapter, College Communicators Association of Virginia and D.C., and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) District III. She co-founded TEDxVirginiaTech and TEDxStLawrenceU, and led committees to produce five major events.

Before her term at Hamilton College, Melissa held similar leadership positions at Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, Virginia, and St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. Her portfolio also includes successfully leading the critical functions of admission and financial aid, communications for fundraising and multi-year advancement campaigns, crisis communications, and collaboration on projects involving institutional research and assessment, accreditation, rankings, multi-year budget modeling, and strategic planning. She also taught a course on the Ethics of Advocacy at Syracuse University this past semester. Throughout her corporate and higher education career, she has worked with boards of directors and venture capitalists in industry, as well as boards of trustees in higher education, and has experience staffing board committees. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Rhetoric and Communication Studies at the University of Virginia and a Master of Public Administration at Virginia Tech. She holds the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR).

I’d also like to extend a special thank you to former Vice President and Chief of Staff Anne Shaughnessy for her support and leadership during my early months as president and for her continued counsel this fall as an advisor. I am grateful for her dedicated service to Emerson for many years.

I am confident that Melissa will be an outstanding addition to our college’s leadership team as our new Vice President and Chief of Staff and significantly enhance our ability to achieve our strategic goals.

Please join me in welcoming Melissa to Boston and the Emerson community.


Jay M. Bernhardt

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