February 20, 2024

Melissa Smiley named new chief of staff and university relations officer

DETROIT – Wayne State University President Kimberly Andrews Espy, Ph.D., has announced the appointment of Melissa Smiley as the new chief of staff and university relations officer, a decision that reflects the university's commitment to community advocacy, executive strategy, organizational operations, and both state and local government leadership.

Smiley, whose appointment was approved electronically by the Board of Governors and is expected to be affirmed at their upcoming March meeting, will join the university on March 4. She brings a wealth of experience from her current role as chief of staff at WorkMoney and her previous leadership positions across various sectors.

As chief of staff and university relations officer, Smiley will lead the new University Relations division and be responsible for overall external advocacy strategy and operational tactics, uniting university leadership’s efforts and bringing together staff in Government and Community Affairs, Marketing and Communications, and the Board of Governors office.

At WorkMoney, Smiley has helped steer a rapidly growing nationwide startup nonprofit aimed at enhancing the financial well-being of working Americans. President Espy said her diverse experiences as an organizational leader spanning local and state government and the nonprofit sector have prepared her for the complexities and challenges currently facing higher education.

Prior to her role at WorkMoney, Smiley was chief of staff to Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a position that required her nimble thinking, collaborative leadership style and organizational expertise during the COVID-19 pandemic and two challenging election cycles. She also launched the Secretary of State’s first Race and Equity taskforce and led efforts to convert more than 130 branch offices to an appointment model, drastically reducing wait times and enhancing efficiency.

Prior to that, she served as special assistant to the president and vice president of strategy and operations at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, where she led governance activities for the foundation’s Board of Trustees, spearheaded the board’s diversification initiative and directed all functions of the president’s office. She also served as deputy chief of staff to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan during the city’s bankruptcy. She has an A.B. from Bryn Mawr College as well as a master of public health, a master of urban planning, and a Ph.D. in epidemiological science from the University of Michigan.

Highlighting Smiley's personal connection to Wayne State and her enthusiasm for the institution, President Espy shared, "Melissa is also a member of our Midtown community and an ardent supporter of Wayne State. She lives just blocks from campus and spoke enthusiastically during her recent visits about the work being done at Wayne State."

President Espy expressed gratitude toward David Ripple and the search committee for their work during the process, as well as all who attended listening sessions with the candidates. She also thanked Michael Wright for his significant contributions as chief of staff and vice president of marketing and communications. "Michael has been an invaluable part of our leadership team for more than 16 years. Among his many accomplishments, he helped oversee the launch of the Warrior Strong brand campaign, centralized our university communications, and served as an organizational leader during times of transition and challenge, including the COVID-19 pandemic,” said President Espy. “His work has left a lasting mark on our university, and we wish him the best in retirement.”

Smiley said she is eager to join the Wayne State community.

“I was so inspired by the faculty and staff I had the privilege of meeting during the search process,” said Smiley. “I’m eager to tell Wayne State's story and advocate for the Warrior community.”


Matt Lockwood
Phone: 248-622-8060
Email: mlockwood@wayne.edu

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