As some of you may know, I am a second year doctoral student at DePaul University. The working title of my dissertation is called “A High Heel in the Door: Challenges Women Face on the Road to the College Presidency.” Like all good doc students I am up to my ears in reading as much as I can about my topic including previously published journal articles and books about women in leadership.
My dear friend Amber (@amberagd) recommended that I read “On Becoming a Woman Leader: Learning from the Experiences of University Presidents,” (Madsen, 2008). While this book has provided excellent insight for my research I was most impressed that nearly every woman in the study reflected on the impact that Student Affairs Administrators had on their lives, development and career path.
Most had a very positive impact but some offered advice that cautioned these women to limit their aspirations:
“My (academic) advisor said that I had very interesting test results. She said ‘If you were not a girl I would put you immediately into a pre-med or heavy science program. I just think that is a bad direction for a woman.’ (pg. 96).
I recognize that times were different and that the attitudes of the time were limiting to women, people of color or anyone else who was viewed as “other.” However, 40 years later, this university President remembers this discussion with clarity.
What are we saying to our students today that they will remember in 2051?
We all know that co-curricular opportunities and student organizations play a “particularly critical role as a laboratory for leadership development in which students learn, are tested, succeed and sometimes fail,” Guido-DiBrito & Batchelor (1988), and these Presidents discussed the ways that their involvement in college prepared them for their future career as an administrator.
“The activities and responsibilities of the Presidents provided occasions to strengthen their abilities and competencies, feel a sense of service, claim recognitions and honors and expand their experiences and understandings,” (pg. 100).
These Presidents frequently mentioned their experience in Greek Life, living in the residence halls and their involvement with clubs and organizations as important moments in their own learning and development.
Another theme that I found in the book is that these women stayed involved as long as they felt like they were adding value to the experience and were getting something in return. “When they did not believe that experiences or activities could provide them with growth opportunities, they often discontinued their involvement,” (pg. 101). How are we as advisers and supervisors investing in our students and our organizations to continue to foster a sense of learning and development?
The book also mentions how being involved assisted them in their own self-awareness. They understood their role as a member of a community and the responsibilities that come along with this. “The women in my study also discovered that college provided them opportunities to expand their understanding of themselves as empowered members of a community,” (pg. 105). How are we teaching our students about the importance of community and their role as a contributing member? These skills will assist them throughout their lives after they leave college.
Another central theme in the book was the role of mentorship. Each woman shared who had encouraged them to be successful during college. Advisers, supervisors, and Student Affairs practitioners were frequently mentioned on the list. It is an important reminder that today’s student leader could be the college President of tomorrow. How can we keep mentorship at the core of the work we do with our students?
These are important take-aways and I will continue to learn from the lessons of these women. How is your work positively contributing to the growth of our students and contributing to their future success? Tell me about it!
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