An experienced journalist and media leader, Debra Adams Simmons has spent the past several years as executive editor, History and Culture, at National Geographic. She recently was named Vice President, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for National Geographic Media where she will work across The Walt Disney Company, NatGeo’s parent company, on strategic diversity initiatives. Simmons previously was managing editor and editor of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland before joining its parent company, Advance Local, as a vice president. She has extensive reporting, editing and senior management experience including roles as the top editor and managing editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, deputy managing editor of The Virginian-Pilot, as well as editing and reporting roles at the Detroit Free Press, the Hartford Courant and the Syracuse Herald-Journal.
The immediate past board chair of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, Simmons also has been president of the Associated Press Media Editors, and served on the board of directors of the American Society of News Editors and the International Women’s Media Foundation. She is a longtime member of the National Association of Black Journalists. Simmons is a six-time Pulitzer Prize juror and a current judging leader for the American Society of Magazine Editors’ National Magazine Awards. She also is a member of the Kent State University Journalism and Media Studies Professional Advisory Board and the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University advisory board. She has been a journalism consultant for several foundations and philanthropic organizations including the Knight Foundation, Ford Foundation and Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and has served as an adjunct faculty member at Kent State University. A past recipient of the Athena Award, Simmons previously chaired the board of directors of Athena International.
She also has had a robust civic life in northeast Ohio. Simmons is a member of the board of directors of the new Ohio Local News Initiative. She chaired the board of Akron’s Youth Excellence Performing Arts Workshop for many years, and served on the boards of the Akron Art Museum, Old Trail School, Habitat for Humanity of Summit County and Project Learn.
In Cleveland she served on the boards of City Club of Cleveland where she chaired its 100th anniversary gala, Ideastream, In Counsel with Women, College Now Greater Cleveland and Hawken School. She also has chaired anniversary events for the Akron Urban League including the grand opening of its facility, Project Grad Akron and served on the committees of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s Forever Trails, the Akron NAACP and the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women programs. She has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Akron Community Foundation’s Women’s Endowment Fund.
Simmons is the recipient of numerous journalism and civic awards. She is a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, where she was one of the 50 Forward, recognized as part of the school’s 50th anniversary celebration, and the College of Arts & Sciences, where she currently co-chairs the dean’s advisory board and recently spearheaded an endowed scholarship effort for Black and Hispanic students. She is a proud fellow of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. Simmons is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc and an associate member of Jack & Jill of America Inc.