Wendy Sherman

Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman, former U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, has been named a professor at Harvard Kennedy School and appointed director of its Center for Public Leadership.

Photo by Joseph Leblanc

Campus & Community

Wendy Sherman appointed professor and director at HKS

4 min read

Will succeed David Gergen at Center for Public Leadership

Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman, former U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, will join Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) in January as professor of the practice of public leadership and the director of the School’s Center for Public Leadership, HKS Dean Douglas Elmendorf announced today.

As director of the Center for Public Leadership, Sherman will succeed David Gergen, its leader since its founding in 2000. She will teach courses and advise students about public service and leadership development. She will also continue her affiliation with the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, where she is currently a senior fellow.

“Ambassador Sherman has a stellar track record in the public sector and is known for her deep commitment to principled and effective public leadership. We are very fortunate that she has agreed to lead our Center for Public Leadership at this crucial time in U.S. and global history,” Elmendorf said.

“I also want to extend my profound gratitude to David Gergen for his exceptional leadership as director of the Center for Public Leadership for the past 18 years. His commitment to the future of public leadership — and to the crucial role that the Kennedy School can, and should, play in creating that future — have transformed the center and the Kennedy School in very important ways.”

Elmendorf noted that Gergen will continue to serve as professor of public service and as an active member of the Center for Public Leadership community.

Sherman was undersecretary of state for political affairs at the U.S. Department of State from 2011‒2015. In this global role, she oversaw the bureaus for Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, the Near East, South and Central Asia, the Western Hemisphere, and international organizations. She also led the U.S. negotiating team and was a central player in concluding the Iran nuclear agreement. In recognition of her diplomatic accomplishments, she was awarded the National Security Medal by President Barack Obama.

Earlier, she was the state of Maryland’s first director of child welfare, chief of staff to then-Congresswoman Barbara A. Mikulski and later campaign manager for Mikulski’s first successful Senate campaign, executive director of EMILY’s List, chairman of the board of Oxfam America, and an international business consultant.

She is currently senior counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group, a global business strategy firm that she helped found.

“Effective public leadership is essential for ensuring security, freedom, and prosperity for all people,” said Sherman. “The Kennedy School is a pre-eminent training ground for public leaders from the U.S. and around the world. I look forward to directing the Center for Public Leadership and to preparing our students to exercise leadership in a world that faces an array of social, political, and economic challenges.”

As director of the Center for Public Leadership, Sherman will set the center’s strategy, building relationships with public leaders, collaborating with faculty and staff across the Kennedy School, interacting with students, and managing the roughly 40-person team.

“From being the first director of child welfare for the State of Maryland to leading the U.S. team in negotiating the nuclear agreement with Iran, Wendy has been a highly distinguished, wide-ranging, and passionate public leader,” said Gergen. “Her appointment will help lift the Center for Public Leadership to a new level of impact by supporting our faculty and preparing a new generation of leaders. She will find a community here that is enthusiastic about working with her.”

Sherman attended Smith College and earned her B.A. cum laude from Boston University and master’s degree in social work from the University of Maryland. Her book “Not for the Faint of Heart: Lessons in Courage, Power, and Persistence” will be published by PublicAffairs on Sept. 4.