Sylvia Watts McKinney

Sylvia Watts McKinney

The Board of Trustees at Thompson Island Outward Bound has announced that Sylvia Watts McKinney has been appointed as the new President and Chief Executive Officer. Watts McKinney is a leader in the nonprofit education space and her experience and passion make her the perfect candidate to usher in a new era of delivering hands-on, experiential education to Boston’s young people.

Watts McKinney succeeds Arthur Pearson, following his 18-year stint at the helm of the organization. The first woman and person of color to lead Thompson Island Outward Bound, her appointment follows an extensive, nationwide, selection process. She will start her new position in May.

“We are delighted to welcome Sylvia to the team,” said Mark Keating, Chair of the Board of Trustees at Thompson Island Outward Bound. “Her extensive leadership background and her deep understanding of the educational landscape, alongside her unwavering commitment to equity and transformational change, make her the right person to lead our organization. We are excited for the energy and vision she will bring to help us grow, as we continue to serve Boston Public School students and the wider community.”

Watts McKinney comes to Thompson Island Outward Bound with over two decades of experience in education and mission-based work. She currently works as the Executive Director of Summer Search in Philadelphia, a non-profit mentorship program for promising high school students facing unjust obstacles.

Having previously served as the Executive Director of the Museum of African-American History in Boston, she has a deep knowledge of the city, as well as strong connections with the communities that live here.

“I am thrilled to be returning to the great city of Boston, and to guide Thompson Island Outward Bound as it continues delivering award-winning educational programming to young people,” said Watts McKinney. “Whether I have been in the private sector, government, or nonprofit spaces, I have achieved much joy in working on behalf of those who want to advance humanity.  I am excited to work with colleagues who share my passion to provide Boston Public Schools’ middle schoolers with activities and challenges that will help them to thrive academically, while also developing essential life skills.”

McKinney received a BA in Political Science from the University of South Carolina, a Masters in City Planning from MIT, and she completed an Executive Program – Leading Differences for High Performance, at Harvard Business School. In addition to her Summer Search responsibilities, she plays a leading role in her community, raising funds for a local school and church.

Thompson Island Outward Bound’s core mission is to build stronger, more equitable school communities by delivering free experiential learning programs that boost academic success and foster personal growth. Working in partnership with Boston Public Schools, our research-based programs blend STEM, social-emotional, and challenge-based learning, giving students a unique opportunity to build life skills alongside academic ones.