Irma Becerra, Ph.D.
President, Marymount University
Dr. Irma Becerra took office on July 1, 2018 as the seventh President of Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, the first and only four-year Hispanic-Serving Institution in the state. During her first six months in the role, she launched the University’s new Strategic Plan, “Momentum,” which is guiding the University from 2019 to 2026. The plan calls for Marymount to achieve national and international recognition for innovation and commitment to student success, alumni achievement and faculty and staff excellence.
In her five-plus years as President, Dr. Becerra has introduced numerous initiatives with long-lasting effects in support of Marymount’s mission and vision for the future. This includes earning national recognition in U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges Rankings and the America’s Top Colleges List by Forbes, improving research productivity that led the University to be reclassified by Carnegie as a Doctoral/Professional University, overseeing the transition to a new academic structure, adding market-driven academic programs that prioritize career preparation and launching fully online program offerings that include new doctorates in Business Intelligence, Educational Leadership & Organizational Innovation and more. Other notable initiatives include acquiring a luxury apartment building in Ballston, ‘The Rixey,’ and transforming it into a mixed-use property – Placemakr Marymount Ballston – that combines student housing with an extended stay hotel operated in collaboration between Placemakr and Marymount’s School of Business. An Early Learning Academy has also been launched in collaboration with Marymount’s School of Education, the first Amazon Just Walk Out store on any university campus in the U.S. was established and the University’s IT infrastructure has been improved through the implementation of the state-of-the-art enterprise resource planning application, Workday. Additionally, she has also navigated the school community through the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, while also leading efforts at the state and federal levels to advocate for legislative solutions to the DACA program that will protect Dreamer students at Marymount and across the country.
During her tenure at Marymount, she has received numerous recognitions and honors – these include the Women in Leadership Award from Virginia Business and the Washington Business Journal’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Champion Award. She was also recognized as part of the Top 35 Women in Higher Education by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, the Washington Business Journal’s Power 100 Class of 2019 and the Washington Business Journal’s Women Who Mean Business of 2019. Also, at its 2022 annual awards gala in Washington, D.C., the Support Our Aging Religious (SOAR!) organization honored Dr. Becerra with the 2022 St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award for her dedicated work at the University and throughout her career in higher education.
Dr. Becerra’s lifelong commitment to all those who seek an education has continued throughout her professional career. In 2018, she won the DC’s Dancing Stars Gala charity event, and donated her prize money to the Sister Majella Berg Internship Fund, which provides Marymount students a stipend for unpaid internships. In recent years, she has lobbied on Capitol Hill for a permanent legislative solution to DACA that would provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. At Marymount, she was instrumental in establishing the University’s partnership with TheDream.US, the nation’s largest college access and success program for Dreamers, and she also created the institution’s own Dreamers scholarship fund. Dr. Becerra also advocated the Virginia legislature and offered testimony that resulted in the passage of a state law that allows Dreamer students from Virginia to receive state financial aid at colleges and universities in the Commonwealth.
Dr. Becerra is known for expanding educational access for students and keenly targeting programming to meet societal needs and changing demographics. Her academic career, both as a student and a professional, has blended mathematics, engineering and systems thinking and processes in her studies, teaching and administrative leadership. An educator who began her career in the private sector and the holder of four patents and copyrights, Dr. Becerra is an ardent advocate for a STEM-educated workforce and holds the mindset of a trained scientist and seasoned entrepreneur. Catholic-educated throughout her primary and secondary years, she understands the great importance of faith-based instruction and is raising Marymount’s profile and spurring growth in enrollment and academic programs. This is being accomplished, in part, through innovative partnerships, scholarship opportunities and broad initiatives.
A Cuban-born American, Dr. Becerra immigrated to the United States with her parents when she was just an infant, and lived in Puerto Rico through her high school years. These formative experiences ignited her mind, imbuing her with a passion for knowledge along with a deep-seated belief that “no one can take away your education.” She earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Miami and went on to become the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Florida International University (FIU). Dr. Becerra believes that she owes all of her career success to higher education, saying that a college degree is the most important factor in social mobility and the pathway to the American Dream.
After receiving her undergraduate degree, she joined Florida Power & Light and was responsible for coding the computer model which oversees the reliability of the power system grid, giving her hands-on experience in the electrical engineering field. While she enjoyed the technical aspects of the job during her tenure there, she craved a role that would involve more personal interactions with others. Dr. Becerra then volunteered to teach a corporate training course, which stirred an interest in adult education and prompted her to return to school for her doctorate. Following her doctoral studies, she became a professor of Management Information Systems, achieving one of her many long-term goals.
Dr. Becerra spent almost two decades at FIU from 1998 to 2014 in a variety of positions that included Vice President, Vice Provost, Entrepreneurship Center Director and tenured full professor in Management Information Systems at FIU’s College of Business. She founded FIU’s Knowledge Management Lab and led major projects as principal investigator at the National Science Foundation, NASA (Headquarters, Kennedy, Ames and Goddard Space Flight Centers) and the Air Force Research Lab. She was also a Sloan Scholar at MIT’s Center for Information Systems Research.
Prior to Marymount, she served as Provost and Chief Academic Officer at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Florida from 2014 to 2018. In those four years, she led the expansion of academic offerings, launching 19 new market-driven degrees that included Nursing and Cybersecurity. Other initiatives included the development of fully online programs, the establishment of the University’s Student Success Center and the implementation of structural changes and new technology.
Dr. Becerra has authored four books and numerous journal articles in the areas of knowledge management and business intelligence. Her original research has also spanned such areas as enterprise systems, disaster management and IT entrepreneurship. She is a frequently sought-out speaker both in the U.S. and internationally in the areas of knowledge management, student success, technology and academic innovation. Since 2021, she has been a frequent contributor to Forbes Business Council, writing on topics that include business management, best practices and leadership. She also has been featured as a guest on various podcasts, including Plexuss, the EdUp Higher Ed podcast and iHeart Radio, among others. On these platforms, she continues to share her story, her accomplishments and her message that education is a vital asset in one’s life and career.
Dr. Becerra has two grown children – Anthony Fernandez, an attorney at Greenberg Traurig, and Nicole Fernandez, a strategy consultant with Boston Consulting Group.
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