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California educator to be next Oakland University provost

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Oakland University's next provost will be a California-based administrative, academic and education leader who work has been focused on public health and issues in the Latinx community. 

Britt Rios-Ellis

Britt Rios-Ellis will serve as executive vice president for academic affairs and provost beginning Jan. 4, following approval on Monday by the OU Board of Trustees.

Rios-Ellis is the founding dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Services at California State University, Monterey Bay. There, she has led numerous initiatives including the establishment of the nursing and social work departments. She also co-founded the master of science physician assistant program, the first program of its kind in the California State University system.

She also has forged partnerships with local hospitals, clinics, health networks and community-based organizations to increase the college’s impact on community health and support regional workforce needs, OU officials said. She also spearheaded the college’s Diversity Celebration Series to highlight contributions of diverse national leaders for Hispanic Heritage Month, World AIDS Day, African American History Month and National Minority Health Month.

 "Among Dr. Rios-Ellis’ impressive qualities are her compelling vision for further elevating the academics of our university, passion for serving underrepresented minority communities, commitment to research, and determination for OU to significantly enhance the lives of students, faculty, staff and the broader region," said OU President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz.

Rios-Ellis, who has spent more than 25 years in California, said she is looking forward to serving at OU, which has impressed her on many levels, especially through the Oakland University Pontiac Initiative, a partnership between the university and the city to provide learning experiences for students while advancing the urban community.

 "The Pontiac initiative has the university tied to community, and made sure we are not just churning out students,” Rios-Ellis said. “We are also making sure they are understanding community engagement ... Universities make a difference by engaging community and being involved." 

She has done similar work, such as the establishment of the Center for Community Health Engagement/Centro to work in the homeless community of Chinatown in Salinas, California, to facilitate access to housing, health care and human services.

Her appointment comes after a national search that identified more than 500 prospects from public and private universities. She will take over for former OU Provost James Lentini, who began serving in July as the president of Molloy College on Long Island in New York.

Throughout her career, Rios-Ellis has served in many roles including the co-chair of the National Latino AIDS Action Network, co-chair of the National Institutes of Health Office of AIDS Research Hispanic Advisory Group and co-chair of the Sexual Health Workgroup of the Centers for Disease Control Health Resource Services Administration Advisory Council.

She was named Woman of the Year by the National Hispanic Business Women’s Association.

She is fluent in Spanish and describes herself as "binational, bilingual and biculutural and honors that intersectionality." She plans to move to Metro Detroit with her husband, Enrique Rios-Ellis, a Cal State Monterey Bay music professor who grew up in Mexico City, and son, who plans to apply to OU. Her two daughters plan to stay based in California since one is in college and the other is a budding actress who has graduated. 

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com