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Dr. Francine McNairy-Nelson


As she looks back on her life, Fran McNairy-Nelson believes that she was blessed with many mentors, two of whom were her parents.  While her mother had no college education, she was gifted with great intellect and wisdom and would become the first African American woman President of the Pittsburgh Public School Board and eventually a member of the Board of Trustees at the University of Pittsburgh.  Fran believes that she gained her commitment to education from her mother’s passion and determination.


The first in her family to attend and graduate from college, Fran began her almost 40-year career in higher education at Clarion University of PA as a faculty member and psychological counselor.  After nine years in that position, and also earning the Ph.D. in Communication at the University of Pittsburgh, she was appointed Dean of Academic Support Services.  Six years later, she moved on to be appointed Associate Provost at West Chester University of PA.  After serving West Chester for 6 years, Fran was selected as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Millersville University of PA and served in that position for 9 ½  years.  For her, this was the mountain top – or so she thought until the President announced his retirement.


Fran was selected out of a pool of 75 candidates as the thirteenth President of Millersville.  She would become the first African American woman to head one of the 14  Pennsylvania State-owned universities, as well as private colleges in the state.  For 9 ½  years, she served as the CEO with oversight of a $130 million budget, 1000 employees, and 8400 undergraduate and graduate students.  Under her leadership, the University continued to be nationally ranked as one of the top regional, public universities by U.S. News and World Report.  Among the University’s accomplishments were the successful completion of a $88 million capital campaign and the purchase of a $42 million world-class performing arts center which would cement a formidable collaborative relationship between and with the University and Lancaster City, County, and region.  Fran retired from Millersville University in 2013.


Fran has been an active member of the Lancaster community serving on several boards at the local, state, and national levels.  Some of those organizations include the Lancaster County Community Foundation; the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry; the Lancaster Theological Seminary; Highmark, Inc., Central Region Advisory Board; the Pennsylvania State Board of Education; and the Board of Directors of the John Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education.


Fran has been the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions – two of which are most precious to her.  The first is the University of Pittsburgh Legacy Laureate Designation – the University’s highest alumni award.  The second is the designation of the Millersville University Library as the Francine G. McNairy Library and Learning Forum.  Fran and her husband, Herbert A. Nelson, live in Lititz, PA, and are both passionate about the Pittsburgh Steelers and playing golf.