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Westphal Announces NEA Chair Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson as 2023 Commencement Speaker

Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson

May 09, 2023

Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) will serve as the keynote speaker for the 2023 Commencement ceremony of Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design on Friday, June 16, 2023.

For more than 25 years, Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson’s work has focused on understanding and elevating arts, culture, and design as critical elements of healthy communities. Her work blends social science and arts- and humanities-based approaches to comprehensive community revitalization, systems change, the dynamics of race and ethnicity, and the roles of arts and culture in communities. After confirmation by the U.S. Senate in December 2021, Dr. Jackson became the 13th chair of the National Endowment for the Arts in January 2022. With this historic appointment, Dr. Jackson is the first African American and Mexican American woman to serve as chair of the NEA.

Dr. Jackson has a long career in strategic planning, policy research and evaluation with philanthropy, government, and nonprofit organizations. She has served as an advisor on philanthropic programs and investments at national, regional, and local foundations.

Dr. Jackson is currently on leave from Arizona State University, where she is a tenured Institute Professor in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. In that role, she has led the Studio for Creativity, Place and Equitable Communities and held an appointment in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions (2017-2022). For almost ten years, she also served as a senior advisor for Arts and Culture and Strategic Learning, Research and Evaluation at the Kresge Foundation.

For 18 years, Dr. Jackson worked at the Urban Institute, a Washington, DC-based national public policy research organization. While there, she was a senior research associate in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center and the founding director of the Urban Institute’s Culture, Creativity and Communities Program.

Dr. Jackson was appointed to the National Council on the Arts by President Barack Obama in 2012 where she served until becoming chair of the NEA. Dr. Jackson was co-chair of the County of Los Angeles Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative and, most recently, served on the advisory boards of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the Equity Center at the University of Virginia, the Strong, Prosperous and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC), and L.A. Commons, an arts intermediary organization focused on bridging communities through stories and creative practice. She served on the board of directors of the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County (The Music Center), the Association of Arts Administration Educators, and the Alliance for California Traditional Arts.

A graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with a doctorate in urban planning, Dr. Jackson holds a master of public administration degree from the University of Southern California. Dr. Jackson grew up in South Los Angeles and, as a child, spent summers in her mother’s hometown of Mexico City and visited her father’s home state of Ohio. Her love of the arts stems from her parents, who encouraged Dr. Jackson and her brother to learn about the richness of their cultures through the arts. She lived in Washington, DC for 20 years and currently resides in her native Los Angeles with her husband, David K. Riddick, and in Phoenix, Arizona. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

2023 Student Commencement Speakers

In addition to Dr. Jackson’s keynote remarks, two graduating Westphal students will address their classmates, families, and guests at Commencement 2023:

Undergraduate Speaker: Emma Wolynez (Film & Television ’23)

Emma Wolynez

Emma Wolynez is a senior in the Film & Television program at Drexel and has loved her time here. Thanks to her amazing professors and fantastic peers she has found her passion for editing, producing, and development. She got her co-op thanks to a Drexel alumni and is excited to graduate and be that alumni who pays it forward. She is honored and excited to be the commencement speaker at the Westphal Commencement Ceremony!

Graduate Speaker: Sasha Mendez (Urban Strategy ’23)

Sasha Mendez

Sasha is an emerging Urbanist and writer who can be found at the intersections of storytelling, humanist design, creative placemaking, and community wellness.  She approaches city and project planning with the principles of justice, quality of life, and care. While at Drexel University, Sasha served as a Nina Henderson Provost Scholar working on strategies for the Graduate College Diversity Exploration Project. 

About Commencement 2023

The Commencement ceremony for the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design will be held on Friday, June 16 at 12:30pm at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia. For more information about the College Commencement ceremony and other Drexel University Commencement activities, please visit