Last year, Harvard University welcomed the first female president in its history. In a few months, the university will mark another milestone: the installation of the first black female as dean of Harvard College.

In a statement Tuesday, the university announced the appointment of Evelynn Hammonds, Harvard’s senior vice provost for faculty development and diversity and a professor of the history of science and African-American studies, to the top post in Harvard College. The appointment comes just as Yale administrators are launching an effort to encourage more racial diversity within the upper ranks of the University’s administration.

“This is an exciting moment of change for the College, and Evelynn’s academic values and leadership qualities promise to serve our undergraduates well,” Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, who last year became the first woman to be elevated to Harvard’s presidency after nearly four centuries of male rule, said in a statement.

Hammonds, 55, will be the first female and first black person to hold the position of dean of the college. Yale has never had a black or female dean of Yale College, although Judith Rodin, who went on to become the first female president of the University of Pennsylvania, was appointed Dean of the Graduate School in 1991.

Hammonds’ job places her in charge of matters ranging from academic affairs to student life to the general administration of Harvard College, the oldest undergraduate school in the United States.

“I am honored to have this extraordinary opportunity to lead the College with its exceptional students at such an important period in its history,” Hammonds said in a statement. “I know that there are many challenges facing the College, and I am ready to tackle them with my colleagues’ help.”

The appointment marks the second milestone for the university in breaking down gender barriers; Harvard, America’s oldest university, went 371 years before appointing Faust, its first female president, last year.

Faust was the permanent successor to former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, who was all but driven out of Cambridge in 2006 when faculty discontent with the president peaked following a controversial comment he made about the relative aptitude of women in the sciences compared to their male counterparts.

Hammonds came to Harvard in 2002 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she served as founding director of the Center for the Study of Diversity in Science, Technology and Medicine.

In July 2005, she was named senior vice provost for faculty development and diversity; in that position she worked with Harvard’s president and provost on teaching appointments and the recruitment and advancement of minorities and women on the Harvard faculty.

In that capacity, Hammonds visited Yale on Feb. 18 to participate in a panel discussion organized by Yale’s Women Faculty Forum. During the discussion, Hammonds and other administrators discussed the steps their institutions are taking to promote gender equality among its faculty.

Hammonds also spoke about initiatives Harvard has launched to help women and their families, such as hiring spouses or providing grants that allow faculty to take family along with them during field research.

“We hire families,” she said during the panel. “We support [women] in meeting their family responsibilities.”

Harvard’s announcement, meanwhile, comes at a time when Yale administrators have reaffirmed their commitment to encouraging diversity — particularly of the racial sort — in Yale’s top administrative ranks. University President Richard Levin announced that commitment in an e-mail to the Yale community in January, sent in advance of the holiday commemorating the birthday of civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

University administrators are scheduled to attend a retreat this spring to discuss a strategy for encouraging racial diversity in the Yale administration, and the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, received a presentation from administrators on the subject at its meeting in December. Last year, Yale hired its first chief diversity officer, Nydia Gonzalez, who is spearheading the University’s diversity efforts.

Yale already has significant gender diversity in its top administrative ranks; four of the seven officers of the University are women, and several former top female administrators — Rodin among them — have gone on to assume presidencies of other universities in recent years. But none of the senior officers is an ethnic minority.

Hammonds is a graduate of Spelman College, the historically black women’s college in Atlanta, and the Georgia Institute of Technology. She later received advanced degrees from MIT and Harvard.

Yale Graduate School Dean Jon Butler, who served on a committee with Hammonds about a decade ago for the Organization of American Historians, predicted Tuesday that Hammonds will thrive in her new role.

“She’s smart, she’s savvy, she’s engaged,” Butler said, “and she’s committed, among other things, to faculty diversity.”

Hammonds will take over the deanship from Acting Dean David Pilbeam GRD ’67, who had served in that post since Harvard College Dean Benedict Gross stepped down last summer after four years on the job. Hammonds will take office on June 1, and the university will immediately begin a search for her successor as senior deputy provost, according to a statement.

—Sophia Chen contributed reporting.