WPI Names Michelle Jones-Johnson Vice President for Talent Development and Chief Diversity Officer

Human resources strategist recruited into newly enhanced role.
June 02, 2016

Following a national search, Worcester Polytechnic Institute has named Michelle Jones-Johnson, MBA, MA, SPHR, Vice President for Talent Development and Chief Diversity Officer. In this new role, Jones-Johnson will be strategically focused on supporting employee and leadership recruitment, retention, and development, and on identifying opportunities for creating a more diverse and inclusive campus community. Jones-Johnson will join WPI July 1, 2016. 

"We are thrilled to have recruited a top human resources strategist like Michelle Jones-Johnson as our inaugural Vice President for Talent Development and Chief Diversity Officer," said WPI President Laurie Leshin. "At WPI we seek to address significant global challenges, and we strive to include and support all perspectives and all voices as we work together toward solutions. I believe it is important that our efforts to create a supportive, inclusive campus permeate all of our activities related to engaging and developing our people. I am truly excited to have Michelle join us in that work. Her breadth of knowledge and her track record of 20-plus years of success speaks to her professionalism, insight, and an ability to effect significant, lasting change for the benefit of individuals and organizations like WPI." 

"I am drawn to WPI's mission and its commitment to blend research, science, and technology to make an impact on the world that we can touch, see, and feel," said Jones-Johnson. "I see a university that strives to respect and celebrate diversity—in gender and gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age, physical ability, and other dimensions. This role creates a unique opportunity for WPI to leverage talent to make meaningful strides toward its strategic objectives, grounded in diverse thinking and fueled by innovation."

Jones-Johnson's position transforms the former role of Vice President for Human Resources to this newly created position that integrates oversight of WPI's Talent Acquisition and Development activities with the responsibilities of a Chief Diversity Officer. This position was developed following a strategic planning process recently completed at WPI, during which diversity and inclusion emerged as one of several themes underlying key initiatives critical to the university’s long-term growth and success.

The strategic plan, Elevate Impact, states, "Perhaps the single largest enabler of innovative thinking for WPI is creating an inclusive, diverse community that values differences in thought, cultural background, and perspective." The plan seeks to "ensure that WPI is a place that appreciates differences, beyond gender and ethnicity, to sustain an environment in which all members of the community are empowered to perform at their best." 

Like all universities with a particular focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), WPI often must compete aggressively to recruit and retain top talent—especially for candidates who are women or underrepresented minorities. To that end, the university has added a Diversity Advocate to every faculty search committee, providing additional focus and ensuring a balanced recruitment process. 

"WPI is dedicated to attracting and educating the top students of all backgrounds, and to do that, we must ensure those students have an opportunity to work with faculty, staff, and other role models they can more readily identify with, on a campus that is fully inclusive and wholly supportive," said Leshin.

Jones-Johnson joins WPI from Aetna, a Fortune 50 company and one of the nation's leading diversified health care benefits organizations. There, she served as Senior HR Business Partner and worked directly with the presidents of three distinct organizations within the company, comprising more than 1,200 employees and revenues of up to $8 billion. She oversaw all aspects of talent management, organizational assessment, performance and career management, and other areas to align human resources goals and tactics with business strategies and objectives.

Prior to her work at Aetna, Jones-Johnson was Director of Talent Management at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS), where she developed and implemented talent-acquisition strategies throughout the institution. She partnered with the UMMS Office of Diversity and Inclusion to develop and launch a10-week paid summer internship and mentoring program for underrepresented minority college students interested in academic health science administration.

Throughout her 23-year career, Jones-Johnson has held increasingly strategic positions in human resources in both public and private organizations in healthcare, higher education, legal, engineering, architecture, sales, and other industries. Her career has included roles with the Dayton (Ohio) Metropolitan Housing Authority; RWD Technologies, Inc.-Performance Solutions Group in Troy, Mich.; and Equifax-Direct Marketing Solutions in Southfield, Mich. She has also provided consulting and leadership coaching services to corporate, nonprofit, and educational institutions, and has taught courses in human resource management and the freshman experience as an adjunct faculty member at Becker College in Worcester.

Jones-Johnson received her bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Michigan, a master of business administration from the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, and a master of arts degree in organizational management from the University of Phoenix. She holds certifications as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and Certified Professional in Labor Relations (CPLR); she is a certified assessment facilitator through the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina and a Certified Leadership Coach. She maintains an active membership with the Society for Human Resource Management.

Jones-Johnson, who was born in the Midwest and now lives in Worcester with her husband and two children, is actively involved in the community, serving on the boards of several local organizations, including The Hanover Theatre and the Reliant Medical Foundation. She is a corporator of the Greater Worcester Community Foundation and was previously on the boards of the YWCA of Central Massachusetts; Girls, Inc.; and a number of other human service–focused organizations. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and The Boston Chapter of the Links, Inc., which is part of an international, not-for-profit organization composed of more than 12,000 professional women of color.