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Headshots of three new College Heads

New heads have been appointed at Grey College, Josephine Butler College and John Snow College.

Dr Sonia Virdee (above, left) will be Principal of Grey College and Associate Director, Strategic Planning and Insight from 17 April 2023.

Professor Gillian Hampden-Thompson (above, centre) will be Principal of Josephine Butler College and hold the post of Professor in the School of Education from 1 July 2023.

Mr Nathan Sempala-Ntege OBE (above, right) will take up the roles of Principal of John Snow College and Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor Colleges & Student Experience from 1 July 2023.

Sonia is a Fellow of the Association of University Administrators, a founding member of the Higher Education Strategic Planners Association, and is active in sustainability and equality networks. For the last three years, she has been Director of Strategic Planning Integration at University College London. As Director of Strategic Planning and Change at the University of Essex, she facilitated strategic plan delivery which prioritised student experience alongside research excellence. Sonia holds a degree in Ecological Sciences from Edinburgh, as well as a PhD in Evolutionary Genetics and a PGCE from the University of East Anglia. She serves on the governing body of the Royal Veterinary College.

As Associate Director, Strategic Planning, Sonia will work in partnership with senior leaders, providing a high-level strategic development service with a particular focus on enhancing the contribution of the University’s interdisciplinary themes.

Gillian is an academic with 25 years of experience working in higher education both in the UK and USA. She has spent her whole professional career working with young people and students as a secondary school teacher, a sports coach, a college governor, a university lecturer, and a researcher. Since 2014, Gillian has been at the University of Sussex serving as Head of the School of Education and Social Work. Prior to her role at Sussex, Gillian was the Director of Research in the Department of Education at York and from 2004 to 2008 a research analyst at the American Institutes for Research in Washington DC.

Gillian holds three degrees in the field of Education, including a PhD in Educational Theory and Policy from the Pennsylvania State University, USA.

Nathan comes to the University from the British Army where he was most recently Head of People Strategy at Army Headquarters. He was commissioned into the Royal Artillery after reading German and Russian at Exeter University, subsequently serving on training exercises and military operations in many locations, including North America and the Middle East. Nathan was awarded an OBE in 2017 for his services to the British Army and a US Legion of Merit in 2020. Promoted to Brigadier in 2019, Nathan then served as Deputy Commanding General of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

In his role as Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor Colleges & Student Experience (C&SE), Nathan will provide dedicated senior leadership, co-ordination and development of C&SE Division annual planning and holding-to-account, including operational, strategic and financial aspects. He will also be responsible for routine development of Wider Student Experience and subordinate strategies and policies.

A wealth of experience and leadership skills

Jeremy Cook, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Colleges and Student Experience, commented: “We are very much looking forward to welcoming our new College heads. Each of them brings a wealth of experience and leadership skills which will contribute to the continuous improvement of our scholarly and pastoral communities.

I would like to thank outgoing heads Professor Tom Allen and Professor Carolyn Summerbell for their hard work and commitment to their Colleges and the University. Thanks also to Professor Adrian Simpson, who has now moved from Josephine Butler to St Mary’s College, and to Dr Peter Swift and Karen Langdon for stepping up in their colleges during the transitional phase.”

Professor Karen O’Brien, Vice-Chancellor and Warden, said: “College Principals play an important and very senior role in the life of our University. I am thrilled that we have made three outstanding appointments.

“Our Colleges are a crucial part of the Durham experience for our students. They have warm associations with our alumni long after they leave the University. I am sure our new Heads will take up their roles with enthusiasm and skill."

Our new College heads – in their own words

Sonia said: “I am delighted to be appointed to this role and am very much looking forward to collaborating with the students, alumni and staff of Grey College while also contributing to strategy and planning at Durham.

“The college environment is such an important enabler of the unique Durham wider student experience, and I am excited by the opportunity to help create the stimulating and supportive environment in which students from a wide range of backgrounds can flourish.”

Gillian commented: “I am really excited to be joining such a fantastic institution and leading a college named after such a courageous individual who fought tirelessly to improve the lives of others. I cannot wait to start meeting students and staff at Josephine Butler College and the School of Education, and I look forward to playing my part in fostering a kind and inclusive community.”

Nathan said: “I am delighted to have been appointed to this exciting role at Durham University. I can't wait to be part of the next chapter of John Snow College’s story and to serve the students and staff as Principal. In my wider University role, I am very much looking forward to helping develop and deliver an outstanding student experience across all Durham colleges.”