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Ava Willis-Barksdale

As Executive Director of Corporate, Foundation and Government Relations, Ava is responsible for a comprehensive program for strategically engaging prominent national corporations and foundations, industry partners and government officials and organizations. She works closely with administrators, faculty and program staff to help identify, solicit and steward institutional prospects and donors including the preparation of foundation, corporate and federal grant proposals. 


Ava is a seasoned professional whose career spans over thirty years of success in education, healthcare, fundraising/campaign support, and organizational leadership. She has concentrated her work in the areas of program and team building, human resource development and management, and strategic planning and implementation. She has been recognized for creating strong mentor/mentee relations while still focusing the entire staff or organization on strategies needed to move forward. 

Prior to joining Ursinus, Ava served as the Vice President and Director of Human Resources at Girard College, a small but historic independent school, serving grades one through twelve, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Before that, she worked in institutional advancement in healthcare and education for Fox Chase Cancer Center (Philadelphia, PA), Loyola University Medical Center (Chicago, IL), and Earlham College (Richmond, IN).

She started her career in medical technology and taught chemistry at her undergraduate alma mater – Oakwood University (Huntsville, AL).  She later ran academic and enrichment programs at Quillen School of Medicine, East Tennessee State University (Johnson City,TN) and at Ohio University (Athens, OH).

Ava continues to lend her support to organizations in her current community of Philadelphia by serving on the boards of the West Oak Lane Charter School and the North Philadelphia Community Service Corporation. Every now and again, you will catch Ava singing in her church choir.

Ava is married to Byron Barksdale and they have three adult children and three grandchildren.


  • BS in Medical Technology, Oakwood College (University), Huntsville, Alabama
  • MA in Education, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama