As a young woman, Shirley Stancato enrolled at Wayne State, pursuing a bachelor’s in sociology. For many parents, it’s a proud moment when their child goes off to college. For the Stancatos, this moment had a special significance, she said. 

“I was a first generation college grad,” Stancato said. “It was an important milestone not just for me, but for my family. I'm sure that Wayne State has a lot of stories like that.”

Stancato was appointed to the Board of Governors by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Dec. 12, 2019 — taking the place of former Board Chair Kim Trent. Stancato will serve the remainder of Trent’s term — ending Dec. 31, 2020.

Marilyn Kelly now serves as the BOG chair.

Stancato also held down a job the whole time she was in school, she said. Stancato worked for the National Bank of Detroit, which was later acquired by Chase. By the end of her banking career, Stancato was senior vice president.

She went on to get her master’s from WSU in Industrial Relations. She believes the school’s local draw is important. 

“Folks drive there, take the bus there, and get there all kinds of ways,” Stancato said. “I think that's one of the things that's really, really good about this school.”

As documented by The South End, the board has been subject to strife and division. Four members have favored President Wilson’s resignation, criticizing what they call a “non-transparent” approach to ongoing operations relating to the School of Medicine.

“I know that there is a divide. Trust me, I’m accustomed to divide,” Stancato said. “Everybody has implicit bias. If we can stay focused on whatever the issue is, and I think we'll make better decisions.” 

“It’s imperative to have someone on the board who will focus on addressing the problems that are currently facing Wayne State, we must put the students first. I believe that Shirley will work with the board through civil and respectful discourse, to ensure that Wayne State University is focused on providing a high quality education to each student,” Whitmer wrote in a statement after announcing Stancato would be on the BOG.

Stancato said she hopes her background and experience will help with the board’s divide. She said the purpose of the university is to educate people and hopes the board can remain focused on that.

Stancato served nearly 20 years as president and CEO of local non-profit New Detroit. The organization advocates for racial justice. 

Though she retired from New Detroit in 2018, she’s still a board member for the Coleman Young Foundation, Teach for America Detroit and Fifth Third Bank of eastern Michigan. She’s also the board chair for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s diversity and inclusion committee.

During her time with New Detroit, Stancato mediated hundreds of conversations with local corporate, educational and political leaders, she said.

She said a useful motto she adopted during that time is “relationship first, issues second.”

“When you get to know a person, develop a relationship with the person, you can tackle issues better,” Stancato said. “Because you have a real relationship, something that goes deeper than what my title is.”

The first BOG meeting of the year is Jan. 31 in the McGregor Memorial Conference Center.

Jack Thomas is the correspondent for The South End. He can be reached at

Cover photo by Jonathan Deschaine. Jonathan is the multimedia editor for The South End. He can be reached at