The longtime education leader will help the Program in its goal of assisting other colleges and universities in educating character in their own contexts.
Dr. Beth Purvis
Dr. Beth Purvis, the incoming Director of the Educating Character Initiative.

The Program for Leadership and Character at Wake Forest University is pleased to announce the hiring of Dr. Beth Purvis as the Director of our new Educating Character Initiative. Purvis, a longtime leader in education, will supervise the formation of a new initiative to support American colleges, universities, and institutions of higher learning in their efforts to educate character. “At Wake Forest, I get to work collaboratively with some of the foremost experts on character in the United States,” says Purvis. “I have the great privilege of building upon a solid foundation and working with those interested in educating character across the country.”

Purvis has more than 33 years of experience in teaching, research, and leadership. Most recently, she served as Senior Program Director at the Kern Family Foundation from 2017 to 2023. During her time there, she led the Education & Character team by partnering with institutions, organizations, and individuals to pursue innovative approaches to character formation and educational leadership. During her time with the Foundation, the Education & Character portfolio invested significantly in more than 60 partners and helped to foster a national network of character educators at colleges and universities. “We enjoyed working with Dr. Purvis during her time with the Kern Family Foundation, where we found her to be an insightful and collaborative partner, and we’re grateful that she’ll be bringing her thoughtful approach and deep expertise to this important work,” says Kenneth Townsend, the Director of Leadership and Character in the Professional Schools.

From 2015 to 2017, Purvis served as the Secretary of Education for the State of Illinois. Most notably, she chaired a bipartisan commission that produced the framework upon which landmark school funding legislation was developed and passed, providing more adequate and equitable funding for all Illinois children. Before that, Purvis was CEO of the Chicago International Charter School (CICS) network from 2003 to 2015 and an assistant professor of special education at the University of Illinois at Chicago from 1999 until 2003. She earned a B.S. in education from Bucknell University, an M.A. in education from Teachers College at Columbia University, and an Ed.D. from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University. Purvis lives with her husband and two children, one of whom will attend Wake Forest as a first-year student in the fall.

“We’re excited to welcome Dr. Purvis to our Program,” says Michael Lamb, executive director of the Program for Leadership and Character. “Her deep knowledge of education, leadership, and character and her experience awarding grants and building a national higher education network will help to nurture a movement that will go well beyond Wake Forest and equip others to make developing character an essential part of a college education.” 

As Director, Purvis will be responsible for implementing the strategic vision for the Educating Character Initiative, building partnerships with other institutions, administering and awarding grants, and leading a dedicated team of staff and senior fellows to support the initiative. “My job here is one of servant leadership,” says Purvis. “My role is to build on the foundation provided by my colleagues, to serve the experts in this field and to connect others, both established scholars and those early in their journey, to the work that’s happening at Wake Forest and around the country. I’m looking forward to helping this Program find the most efficient, effective ways to bring people together to learn from each other.”

The Educating Character Initiative 

The Educating Character Initiative (ECI) is a new part of the Program for Leadership and Character that will support a national effort to educate character in U.S. colleges and universities. The ECI will award grants to other faculty and institutions, organize major international conferences on character, and develop new resources that can help others educate character in their own contexts. The aim is to equip a wide range of higher education institutions––from major research universities to liberal arts colleges, from Historically Black Colleges and Universities to women’s colleges, from secular universities to religious institutions––with the resources, funding, and institutional support needed to integrate character education into their distinctive contexts. The broader aspiration is to foster a robust network and educational movement that recognizes the value of educating character within higher education.

This program is supported by a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. Some $23 million will enable Wake Forest to award funding and provide support to other colleges and universities to create their own initiatives focused on character.

Over the next two years, the Program for Leadership and Character at Wake Forest University will administer a competitive grant process for:

The Educating Character Initiative will also host international conferences and convenings, advance research and assessment on character within higher education, and produce resources that can support others in fostering character in their students. 

“We are building a team with the character, academic expertise, and operational experience to begin working with partner institutions within the next few months,” says Purvis. “We are grateful to the Lilly Endowment for their visionary support of the Educating Character Initiative, which will have a significant impact on American higher education.”