Aaron Williams, RTI executive, former Peace Corps director, selected as Gillings School’s commencement speaker

January 25, 2017

The UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health has announced the keynote speaker for the School’s spring 2017 commencement ceremony, scheduled for Saturday, May 13 at 1 p.m. in UNC’s Carmichael Arena.

Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams, MBA, executive vice president for government relations and corporate communications at RTI International, in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and past director of the U.S. Peace Corps, will present the commencement address.

Williams, whose areas of expertise include policy reform, organizational development, economic growth and international program management, has extensive experience in the strategic design and management of assistance programs in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

His long and distinguished career in public service and the private sector began with three years of service as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. He also served as a senior official at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where he reached the rank of career minister in the Senior Foreign Service.

He joined RTI in 2003 as vice president of international business development and held that position until 2009. From 2012 to 2015, he served as executive vice president of RTI’s International Development Group.

In 2009, he was appointed by President Barack Obama as director of the U.S. Peace Corps, serving in that role through 2012.

“I am delighted to give the commencement speech to the class of 2017 at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health,” Williams said. “It is an honor to celebrate with the graduates, guests, faculty and staff of this world-renowned academic institution, recognized for its excellence in education, research, and leadership in public health.”

Williams noted that he had worked with many graduates and faculty of the Gillings School throughout his career — at the U.S. Peace Corps, RTI International and USAID.

“I know first-hand the tremendous leadership they provide in addressing global health challenges in the 21st century,” he said. “I look forward to speaking to these future global leaders on commencement day — and in the years to come.”

“We are honored and excited that Mr. Williams will be our 2017 commencement speaker,” said Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, dean of the Gillings School. “I am confident that he will inform and inspire our graduating students and their guests.”

Rimer called Williams “the epitome of a global leader” and noted that he had held leadership roles with some of the most highly respected global organizations.

“So many of our students dream of the career Mr. Williams has had,” Rimer said. “They will treasure the opportunity to interact with and learn from him—as will our faculty and staff.”

Williams, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and board member of the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign, Seed Global Health and the Ron Brown Scholar Program, previously has served on the boards of CARE, the National Peace Corps Association and the Institute for Sustainable Communities. His awards include the USAID Distinguished Career Service Award and the Presidential Award for Distinguished Service. He served on the Obama-Biden transition team and, in 2015, was appointed by President Obama as the United States’ alternative representative to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) executive board.


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Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu