President Barack Obama appointed Elisse Walter ’71 as the next chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission today.

Walter is currently one of five members of the agency, which oversees the enforcement of federal securities laws and regulates the securities industry, including the country’s stock and options exchanges. She will replace chairman Mary Schapiro, who announced today that she will step down in the coming weeks — the first major departure from the Obama administration’s team of financial regulators.

“I’m confident that Elisse’s years of experience will serve her well in her new position, and I’m grateful she has agreed to help lead the agency,” Obama said in a statement.

Walter, a Democrat, graduated from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and received her Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School. She served as acting chair of the SEC for a brief period in January 2009, and has previously been the senior executive vice president of regulatory policy and programs for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the security industry’s self-policing organization.

Taking over at a critical time for the SEC, Walter could serve until the end of her commissioner term in late 2013. The White House plans to nominate a permanent successor at that time, according to The Wall Street Journal.