Kenyon Bonner Appointed Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer

November 6, 2023 By Marshall Eckblad, Marshall Eckblad,

The University of Virginia announced Monday that Kenyon Bonner, vice provost for student affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, has been appointed as vice president and chief student affairs officer. His first day will be Jan. 16.

Once Bonner assumes his new position at UVA, Dr. Chris Holstege, who has served as interim vice president and chief student affairs officer since Aug. 1, will return to his position as executive director of UVA Student Health. Cedric Rucker, interim senior associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, will remain in his role through the end of the academic year.

“I am delighted to welcome Kenyon Bonner to UVA. Kenyon brings a wealth of experience to the role, along with a deep knowledge about, and commitment to, student development,” University President Jim Ryan said. “He’s as kind and genuine as he is talented, and I’ve been impressed by his appreciation for what makes UVA special. I’m grateful to the search committee for their outstanding work in this successful search, and I’m eager for our community to meet Kenyon.”

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Bonner joins UVA after nearly two decades of service at Pitt, where he has an extensive track record of deep and meaningful work across all facets of student experience and residential life, including leading a modernization and restructuring of the university’s student services. 

In his incoming role, he will be responsible for an array of UVA programs that shape the daily lives of students, both on Grounds and off. These responsibilities include, but are by no means limited to, the Office of the Dean of Students, Judicial Affairs, the Department of Student Health and Wellness, the Office of African-American Affairs, Housing & Residence Life, and the University Career Center. 

The chief student affairs officer also partners with student leaders involved in the Honor Committee, the University Judiciary Committee, Student Council and hundreds of other student-led organizations. Key areas of work include orientation and transfer student programs; student safety; volunteering and service work; military student support; first-generation and low-income student support; multicultural student support; LGBTQ+ student support; and fraternity and sorority life. 

“My first assignment is to listen and learn,” Bonner said. “I bring a lot of perspective and experience, but I’m also very cognizant of moving into a new community and reserving my initial thoughts so I can first listen, learn and understand.”

For Bonner, the opportunity to lead UVA students is the reflection of an impressive career where the through line is a deep understanding of what shapes student success, from pre-admissions to life after graduation. He had an early introduction into the importance of student affairs at Washington and Jefferson College, where he was the first in his family to graduate with a degree and also found his way as a Division III basketball player and student leader.

From there, Bonner pursued two graduate degrees in education, Master of Education in rehabilitation counseling from Kent State University and a Doctor of Education in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania. His ongoing education, parallel to leading students, reflects a passion for curiosity that he expects to bring into his new job, starting with his first day.

He is especially excited to join UVA at a time when the University, which already has a reputation for a unique life on and around Grounds, is reinvesting more than ever in students. 

“The UVA student experience is already very special,” he said. “I’m looking forward to knowing more about the areas of strength, and of course areas where we have an opportunity to improve the way students experience UVA.” 

It's closer than you think. University of Virginia Northern Virginia
It's closer than you think. University of Virginia Northern Virginia

Bonner expresses a passion for student life that has been forged by Pitt’s experience – like many higher education institutions, including UVA – with chapters of both joy and the pain. During Bonner’s tenure, he has led projects including the Year of Discourse and Dialogue and the construction of a new health and wellness facility, set to open in spring 2025. In his nine years as head of Pitt’s student affairs, he has also led students through traumatic periods, including recurring campus threats, George Floyd’s murder and resulting protests, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“On behalf of the Board of Visitors, I am thrilled to welcome Kenyon Bonner to the University,” University Rector Robert Hardie said. “Providing students with the best possible experience during their time at UVA is among the most important things we do as an institution, and I am confident that Kenyon is the right person to take those efforts to the next level.”

The national search process for UVA’s next leader of student affairs uncovered Bonner’s passion for higher education settings that embrace opportunities for students to live where they learn, and learn where they live. Pitt has an extensive off-campus population – something that is also part of life at UVA – and Bonner and his team developed the university’s strategy to engage these students beyond their moments on campus. During the pandemic, when off-campus students were feeling especially isolated, Bonner walked around Oakland – a neighborhood in Pittsburgh where many students find housing – to greet and engage students while passing out masks. 

Margaret Grundy Noland, who serves as vice president and chief of staff for the president and led the search for UVA’s next student affairs chief, said Bonner’s candidacy stood out for multiple reasons. “Kenyon has the right combination of experience, character and heart to be a fantastic vice president and chief student affairs officer for UVA. He is no stranger to the current challenges and opportunities facing universities and our students, he is deeply committed to student success, and he has a wealth of personal and professional experiences that will serve him well in this critical role. I can’t wait to welcome him to the University community.” 

Bonner’s pathway into higher education is as inspiring as his career. As the son of a mother who earned an associate degree from a business college and father who had to drop out of college to care for a military veteran parent who had fallen ill, Bonner didn’t grow up with the notion he would one day attend college. But he was turned onto the idea when his dad reenrolled at Cleveland State University, and one day took his son to a class. Later, after developing an affinity for the television show “A Different World,” which is about a fictitious historically Black college, Bonner began to imagine himself in a higher education setting.

After a successful academic and athletic career at Washington and Jefferson, coaches and professors urged Bonner to pursue a graduate degree. At first pass, Bonner demurred. “I was a stubborn senior,” Bonner said. “And my mother told me, ‘What’s wrong with you? You need to do what these people are telling you to do.’” He attended Kent State University, and from there jumped head-first into residential life.

As Bonner begins his work at UVA, he and the entire UVA leadership team are grateful to Rucker for continuing in his role through the current academic year, which provides for a seamless transition. Rucker, who has more than 30 years in higher education, is a UVA alum who has been a part of the student affairs team on an interim basis since 2022.

“I’m looking forward to both tapping into his 30-plus years of experience, including his experience as a UVA graduate student,” Bonner said. “Having served as both vice provost and dean of students, I have great appreciation for the work he has been doing. He’s an incredible person, and one of the many people I look forward to learning from when I arrive on Grounds.”

Bonner and his wife, Sylvana, have four children: Ijhad, Grant, Jasmine and Chase.

Media Contact

Marshall Eckblad

Senior Director of Media Relations University Communications