President Saunders began her academic career at UWF in 1984 as an assistant professor in the communication arts department. She rose through the ranks taking on several roles at UWF including coordinator of the public relations program for the communication arts department (1986-1996) and director of University Honors Program and Dean for the College of Arts and Sciences (1999-2002).
Dr. Saunders’ served as chancellor for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater from 2005 to 2007 and as president of the University of Southern Mississippi from 2007 to 2012. In 2013, she returned to UWF as provost and executive vice president.
As provost of UWF, Dr. Saunders oversaw the reorganization of the university’s colleges. She also established the UWF Innovation Institute, the Center for Research and Economic Opportunity, University College, UWF Center for Cybersecurity, and the Office of Equity, Diversity and International Programming. Under her guidance, UWF established two new colleges—the Usha Kundu, MD College of Health and the Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering.
President Saunders’ vision for UWF is for it to grow beyond its beginnings as a regional comprehensive university. She plans to build on the university’s strengths and its undergraduate traditions while creating programs that will attract the faculty and research funding needed make the leap to the next level.
Dr. Saunders has strong ties to the community and serves on the board of directors for Baptist Hospital Inc., the Studer Community Institute and the Institute of Human and Machine Cognition. She is a member of the education committee for the Greater Pensacola Chamber. She also is an active member of the Downtown Pensacola Rotary.
She was selected for The Fulbright International Administrators Program in France in 2015. She has received numerous recognitions for her achievements including 50 Top Business Women in Mississippi (2012), National Stevie Award for Women in Business (2011), National Silver Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America for a campaign to enrich the brand of a research university (2011), Carnegie Community Engagement Classification (2011) and the University of Southern Mississippi Alumni Hall of Fame (2010).
Dr. Saunders received her doctorate in Communication Theory and Research from Florida State University. She earned her master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Georgia and a bachelor’s degree in French from the University of Southern Mississippi.