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Top 25 Women in Higher Education and Beyond

Leading the Way, Women Making a Difference

Many of us here at Diverse have been privileged to meet dynamic women in the world of higher education and beyond. They lead some of the most demanding and consequential organizations and programs on the planet. No longer sitting on the decision-making sidelines, they have shattered the glass ceiling and, subsequently, have introduced new ways of thinking about and approaching leadership.

As the editorial team sat down to plan the Women’s History Month edition for 2012, the team thought it
would be appropriate to introduce a sampling of these women to all of our readers. This list is by no means
exhaustive. Easily, the staff could have come up with 50 or 100 women whose accomplishments would merit
inclusion in this group of extraordinary women. So trying to choose 25 was a major challenge, but we relished
the opportunity to introduce these women to the readers who may not know these outstanding leaders in
their respective fields. This list represents a small sampling of what we all know to be true — when it comes to leadLEXership, women are now taking on long overdue roles.

We consider these 25 women representative of the noteworthy traits and characteristics found throughout the academy and beyond. Their ranks will continue to grow and spread. We hope that these women will provide encouragement to their colleagues as well as those who will follow in their esteemed footsteps.  -The Editors


Myrna Adams

Myrna Adams

When Myrna Adams retired in 2003 as Duke University’s first vice president of institutional equity, she was hailed for “her commitment and passion to issues of equal opportunity, respect for individuals and trying to make Duke a better place for everybody.” Hallmarks of Adams’ efforts at Duke included making the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration a university-wide commemoration, leading a committee that worked to resolve the challenges faced by Hispanic workers and training employees to serve as mediators to resolve issues before they were filed as grievances. Adams, a trusted mentor to hundreds, now works as an organizational consultant, tackling such issues as workplace bullying. Adams holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois, a master’s in counseling psychology from the University of Southern California and a law degree from Hofstra School of Law.

Lezli Baskerville

Lezli Baskerville

Lezli Baskerville served for two decades as outside counsel to the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education before becoming its first female president and CEO in 2004. As the liaison between HBCUs and state and federal governments, corporations, foundations and nonprofits, Baskerville rose to the defense of HBCUs in 2010, after a Wall Street Journal opinion piece questioned the need for such institutions. Baskerville was quoted as saying, “The data demonstrate clearly that HBCUs are doing the heavy lifting of educating Black students, especially in growth and high-need disciplines.” Baskerville received her bachelor’s degree from Douglass College in New Jersey and a law degree from Howard University.

Molly Corbett

Molly Corbett Broad

A leading spokesperson for American higher education, Molly Corbett Broad is the American Council on Education’s (ACE) 12th president and the first woman to lead the organization since its founding in 1918. Broad, who was president of the University of North Carolina (1997-2006) system prior to going to ACE, built an enviable record of achievement in university administration, having previously served as the chief executive officer for Arizona’s three-campus university system and in a number of administrative posts at Syracuse University. Broad earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Syracuse University and a master’s degree in economics from Ohio State University.

Stephanie Bell-Rose

Stephanie Bell Rose

Stephanie Bell-Rose, managing director of the TIAA-CREF Institute since January 2010, knows that losing the opportunity to cultivate the “minds of our nation’s brightest students from every background” is like losing “a precious national resource.” That’s why philanthropy’s Bell-Rose, one of a handful of Black female voices at the top of her field, works closely with higher education, charitable organizations and leaders to broaden the institute’s agenda and expand opportunities for students. Before joining TIAA-CREF, Bell-Rose served as president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation, an organization that promotes excellence and innovation in education worldwide. Bell-Rose earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s in public administration and a law degree from Harvard University.

Phillys Buchanan

Phyllis Buchanan

For DuPont’s Phyllis Buchanan, “promoting science literacy for all” has been her motivator. Buchanan, who manages the company’s Office of Education, a division of DuPont’s Center for Collaborative Research and Education, considers “today’s students” to be “tomorrow’s scientists.” To help get those students there, Buchanan works with educators, universities and other businesses to ensure that young people are prepared for tomorrow’s world. Buchanan says, “The key is to build and sustain knowledge.” Buchanan earned a bachelor’s in management information systems and a master’s in elementary education from Widener University.

Michelle Asha Cooper

Michelle Asha Cooper

As president of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), one of the nation’s premier education research and policy centers, Dr. Michelle Asha Cooper has a vision. Since taking the helm of IHEP in 2008, Cooper’s been out front influencing national education policy. The dynamic education leader, who also made Diverse’s “25 To Watch” list in 2009, has Washington insiders tuned into the issues that impact college access, minority students, and success in postsecondary education. Cooper earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of Charleston, a master’s in professional studies from Cornell University and a Ph.D.
from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Cheryl Davenport

Cheryl Davenport Dozier

In May 2011, Dr. Cheryl Davenport Dozier stepped in as Savannah State University’s interim president. Dozier, who was widely known among Georgia’s education leaders for her work on the state’s systemwide diversity initiative, left her post as associate provost and chief diversity officer at the University of Georgia, where she was also a tenured professor in the School of Social Work. Dozier’s rise to Savannah State’s presidential rank shows that the transition from diversity officer to chief executive officer is indeed possible. Dozier earned a bachelor’s degree from Fairleigh-Dickinson University, her master’s in social work from the Atlanta University School of Social Work (now, Clark Atlanta University) and a Ph.D. in social welfare from Hunter College at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Kimberly Ford

Kimberly Ford

For Kimberly Ford, work in the NCAA has been about giving back. Just 12 years ago, a yearlong NCAA internship aimed at opening doors for women and minorities interested in professional jobs in sports administration helped catapult Ford to a place at the top of her field. As the NCAA’s director of minority inclusion since 2010, Ford has been on a mission to create a culture of inclusion and equity for student-athletes, coaches and administrators from diverse backgrounds. Ford’s wish: “To see in my lifetime that the work I am doing now is no longer needed.” Ford earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in sports management from Baylor University.

Charlene Dukes

Charlene M. Dukes

Dr. Charlene M. Dukes is the first female president of Prince George’s Community College in Largo, Md. Prior to heading to PGCC, Dukes served as dean of students at the Community College of Allegheny County, Allegheny Campus. She also served as an adjunct faculty member for CCAC, PGCC and the Community College Leadership Doctoral Program at Morgan State University. Why a community college career? “I saw what research confirmed — that community colleges were the new model for higher education,” says Dukes. “And community colleges off er an abundance of opportunities for leadership, particularly for women and minorities.” Dukes holds a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master’s and doctorate in administrative and policy studies from the University of Pittsburgh.

Lenora Green

Lenora M. Green

At the end of the day, when new doors open to make college access and opportunity possible, especially for underrepresented and underserved students, Lenora M. Green feels “fortunate and blessed” that her work at the Educational Testing Service (ETS) is helping to turn their dreams of higher education into reality. Today, Green, who began her career at ETS in Princeton, N.J., nearly 30 years ago, is living her dream and pursuing her passion. As ETS’s director of client relations, Green partners with national organizations and communities that represent underserved populations. And through the Social Investment Fund, ETS’s philanthropic arm, Green focuses on improving educational opportunities for African-American, Hispanic, Native American and Asian American and Pacific Islander students and organizations. Says Green: “When deserving students don’t have someone early on in their lives to let them know what possibilities higher education holds, it is a loss for them and for society.” Green holds a bachelor’s degree in Spanish language and literature from Rutgers University.

Hilda Hutcherson

Hilda Hutcherson

Poor Black girls from Tuskegee, Ala., don’t grow up to become physicians is what some teachers and counselors told Dr. Hilda Hutcherson when she shared her childhood dream. Today, Hutcherson is not only a clinical professor but dean of diversity and minority affairs at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. Th e practicing ob-gyn is credited with boosting lagging minority enrollment at the college from 8 percent in 2002 to more than 20 percent over a three-year period. Getting there, she says, “took pounding the pavement, going to countless recruitment fairs and reaching out to high school students.” Hutcherson also has made “empowering women to take better care of themselves and their daughters” her mission beyond the classroom. Hutcherson earned a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and a medical degree from Harvard Medical School.

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Ann Jackson

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson is the 18th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the oldest technological university in the United States. Describing her as “a national treasure,” the National Science Board selected Jackson as its 2007 recipient of the prestigious Vannevar Bush Award for “a lifetime of achievements in scientific research, education, and senior statesman-like contributions to public policy.” Time magazine in 2005 hailed her as “perhaps the ultimate role model for women in science,” having held senior leadership positions in government, industry, research and academe. Jackson also was the recipient of a 2009 John Hope Franklin Award, presented by Diverse: Issues In Higher Education. In 2009, President Obama appointed Jackson to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Jackson holds a bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D. in theoretical elementary particle physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Valarie King

Valarie Greene King

When the University of Central Florida (UCF) struggled to diversify its predominantly White student and faculty demographics, it turned to Dr. Valarie Greene King, an Army-trained clinical psychologist, to help drive the diversity agenda. That was 20 years ago and she’s never looked back. King, who was a UCF counselor, is the founding director of the university’s Office of Diversity Initiatives. Having launched UCF diversity programs and initiatives that span the campus and touch the community, King says “information and communication are essential elements of any viable diversity process.” King earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Spelman College, a master’s in counselor education from North Carolina Central University and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from American University.

Renu Khator

Renu Khator

Telling the story of Dr. Renu Khator’s noted place in American higher education is about diversity and begins with the numbers. Khator, a scholar in the field of global environmental policy, is the eighth chancellor of the University of Houston System and the 13th president of the University of Houston, dual titles she’s held since January 2008. She is the first foreign born president of the university and the second woman to hold the position. Khator was born in Uttar Pradesh, India, and came to the United States in 1973 for graduate school. Today, she is the first Indian American to lead a major research university in the United States and is the second Indian American to lead an accredited university in the country. Khator earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Kanpur and a master’s and Ph.D. in political science from Purdue University.

Cora Barrett

Cora B. Marrett

Before Dr. Cora B. Marrett was appointed deputy director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2011, she already was leading the organization’s mission to achieve excellence in U.S. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Even today, Marrett keeps students — the future of STEM — in mind, urging them to think globally and “Look beyond the borders of this nation for opportunities and challenges.” Marrett also shares with them the key to success: “Success demands perseverance. How many record books report on those who started but did not complete the race?” Marrett holds a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Union University and a master’s and doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, all in sociology.

Cynthia Nance

Cynthia (Cyndi) Nance

Nearly a century aft er the University of Arkansas admitted its first African-American law student in 1922, the School of Law appointed Cynthia (Cyndi) Nance dean from 2006 through 2011, a position that earned her the distinction of being the first African-American and first woman in the position. But Nance, a self-professed Lutheran, says she “wants to be known as a lawyer of faith.” Nance, an internationally recognized expert in labor law, urges students and others in the profession to “approach your life in the law with the heart of a servant.” Nance earned a bachelor’s degree from Chicago State University and a master’s in finance and law degree from the University of Iowa.

Barbee Oakes

Barbee Oakes

Dr. Barbee Oakes, assistant provost for diversity and inclusion at Wake Forest University, knows that “formulating strategies to decrease attrition among underrepresented students can be an elusive target.” But as the architect of Wake Forest University’s first strategic plan for diversity and inclusion, Oakes has made the work of fostering and maintaining cultural competence on campus a shared experience among faculty, staff and students. Oakes, who has the distinction of being the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in the American College of Sports Medicine, also is using principles of exercise physiology and nutrition to undergird many of the university’s strategic diversity and inclusion initiatives. Oakes also holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Wake Forest.

Arlethia Perry Johnson

Arlethia Perry-Johnson

When campus crisis and opportunity find their way to Arlethia Perry Johnson’s office at Kennesaw State University or greet her on the other end of the telephone on any given day, there is little that this veteran communicator hasn’t heard or done. That, says Perry-Johnson, vice president of external affairs, has come with amassing nearly three decades of communications and public affairs experience, with most in higher education. She joined Kennesaw State in 2006 when she was appointed special assistant to the president for external affairs. Perry-Johnson, the former chief spokesperson for the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, also directs the system’s African-American Male Initiative, now operating on 23 campuses. Perry-Johnson holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and communications from Point Park University (formerly Point Park College).

Janine Pease

Janine Pease

Dr. Janine Pease is proof that you can go home again. After spending more than 10 years elsewhere leading in higher education, the celebrated American Indian educator and advocate was appointed head of the Crow Nation’s Education Department in February 2011. Revitalizing the Crow language, especially among its children, is her priority, says Pease, who was most recently vice president for academic and vocational programs at Fort Peck Community College. In 1982, Pease, a former welfare recipient, transformed $50,000 in seed money from her tribe and an abandoned building into Little Big Horn College where she served as founding president for 18 years. Pease earned two bachelor’s degrees at Central Washington University and a master’s and Ph.D. from Montana State University.

Lucy Reuben

Lucy J. Reuben

When Dr. Lucy J. Reuben, professor of the practice of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, looked around but didn’t find enough young talented minority candidates interested in pursuing doctorate degrees in business disciplines, she created an innovative program to cultivate them. Now in its second year, Reuben directs the Ph.D. Pipeline Opportunity Program she founded, working with a network of other business faculty to increase diversity within their ranks. Reuben earned a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College and a master’s and Ph.D. in business administration from the University of Michigan.

Deborah Santiago

Deborah Santiago

In 2004, when Deborah Santiago co-founded the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Excelencia in Education, the time for talking about Latinos in higher education was over. Launching Excelencia signaled an opportunity for Santiago and her team to accelerate a comprehensive plan for supporting Latino student success in higher education while engaging the rest of higher education. Santiago, who also serves as vice president for policy and research at Excelencia, has worked for more than 15 years to improve educational opportunities and access for all students. Santiago earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Mary Washington College and a master’s in urban affairs from Virginia Tech.

Teresa Sullivan

Teresa A. Sullivan

Since Dr. Teresa A. Sullivan was named the eighth president of the university Thomas Jefferson founded in 1819, diversity advocates have kept watch as she leads. Sullivan, who is also the University of Virginia’s first female CEO, stepped into that role in August 2010 and onto a campus already noted for its diversity achievements. While Sullivan says that reputation is important at UVA, the place she calls “one of the truly great public universities in the country,” her focus is on enhancing the diverse campus: “We will continue to recruit and admit the brightest students from all backgrounds.” Sullivan earned a bachelor’s from Michigan State University and a master’s and doctorate in sociology from the University of Chicago.

Belle Wheelan

Belle S. Wheelan

Those in higher education know the familiar acronym SACS – the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, but for Dr. Belle S. Wheelan, president of the accrediting body since 2005, it also means “Students Are Central to Success,” a fitting description for what motivates her on the job. Wheelan is the first African American and the first woman to lead SACS. In that role, the two-time community college president and civil rights activist also addresses the needs of small, private colleges striving to gain and maintain accreditation and the parity of women in higher education. Wheelan earned a bachelor’s degree from Trinity University, a master’s from Louisiana State University and a Ph.D. in educational administration from the University of Texas at Austin.

Karan Watson

Karan L. Watson

When Dr. Karan L. Watson was named provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Texas A&M University in March 2011, she brought with her an arsenal of administrative experience and a relentless commitment to keeping campus diversity at the forefront of her institution. Part of Watson’s approach over the years has been “… to ask continuously if we really are willing to appropriately change our educational and professional systems and culture so it does value diversity.” Watson, an engineer and the first woman to serve as Texas A&M provost in the university’s 134-year history, is also a regents professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and in the Department of Computer Science. Watson earned three degrees in electrical engineering: a bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. all from Texas Tech University.

Phylis Wise

Phyllis Wise

When Dr. Phyllis Wise was selected in October 2011 to lead the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus (UI), she became the first female Asian-American chancellor to serve at a major research university. Before coming to UI, Wise, a Chinese American who immigrated with her parents to the United States, already was blazing higher education trails. She was named interim president at the University of Washington in 2010-2011, making her then, the first female Asian-American to hold that post. To UI President Michael Hogan, Wise, an active scientist, scholar, professor, and mentor, is “the full package.” Wise earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Swarthmore College and a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Michigan.

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