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New River Conservancy Hires New Executive Director, Elizabeth Saxman Underwood, Ph.D

Elizabeth Saxman Underwood, Ph.D

The New River Conservancy (NRC) Board of Directors has selected Elizabeth Saxman Underwood, Ph.D to be the next Executive Director of the three state watershed organization. Elizabeth will succeed George Santucci, who officially stepped down from NRC on January 1 to become the Sustainability and Special Projects Manager for the Town of Boone, NC. Santucci remained Interim Executive Director while the Board of Directors searched for NRC’s next leader. Elizabeth will officially step into her new role as Executive Director on June 1, 2021. 

An avid paddler of both tandem canoes and whitewater kayaking, Elizabeth enjoys being on any river.  She and her husband enjoy multi-day expeditions in their tandem canoe.  Among their favorite adventures, they have paddled all 153 miles of America’s first National River: the Buffalo River.  In her kayaks, she also enjoys surfing on waves and navigating through rivers and creeks.   Elizabeth and Kristian have been active leaders with the Arkansas Canoe Club and often volunteer on river clean-ups.  In western NC, she is involved with the Riverlink Woodfin wave project and volunteered with Riverkeeper. 

Elizabeth comes to New River Conservancy with two decades of experience in higher education and non-profit management.  Her career launched in North Carolina in 2001 at the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, where she worked with the public and private business sectors and managed the volunteer program.  Subsequently, she spent 9 years in Advancement within the University of Arkansas system. At the Arkansas Alumni Association she oversaw regional and student programs and raised funds for the University of Arkansas scholarship endowment.  She was recruited by the University of Arkansas Fort Smith (UAFS) to establish the alumni association and served as the Executive Director of Alumni Relations. In 2012 she was asked to work for the Chancellor at UAFS,  served as the Associate Vice Chancellor for Government and Community relations, and carried a portfolio that included federal, state, and community accomplishments.  In 2017, Elizabeth returned to North Carolina to serve as the Senior Director for Alumni Engagement and Annual Giving at UNC Asheville.  

For higher education’s premier fundraising professional association, the Council for Advancement in Support of Education (CASE), Elizabeth is a frequently invited guest speaker, chaired the Newcomer’s conference and served on several conference leadership teams. In 2016 she was among the 10 who were named Most Powerful Women statewide by the Arkansas magazine, About You. She has also received several professional awards from CASE. 

Elizabeth earned a BA in Literature from UNC Asheville, a MEd in Higher Education and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Arkansas. In 2013 she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study higher education in Germany.  

As Executive Director, Elizabeth will work closely with the Staff and Board of Directors so that the organization can continue to carry out the critical work of protecting the waters, woodlands, and wildlife of the New River Watershed. Elizabeth looks forward to touring the watershed and meeting the members and other New River Conservancy stakeholders.  

“I’m excited to join the incredible team of board members, staff, and supporters of the New River Conservancy.  The work of the NRC is paramount to protect our waters, woodlands and wildlife for all life to survive and preserve this natural resource for future generations.  I’m particularly looking forward to working with stakeholders to increase activity in resource development, policy engagement and science and research.” – says Elizabeth Saxman Underwood, NRC Executive Director   

“Elizabeth is someone you will want to meet!   She is a dynamic leader, as well as, an experienced and avid paddler.  She will be doing great things to further our ability to protect the entire watershed.  Please join us in welcoming her to the NRC”, says Mike O’Connor, NRC Board Chair