Dr. Carmen Ambar, named last week as the first African-American president in Oberlin College’s 184 years of existence, said that making history is affirming to African-American children that they can do anything.
“The power of it is in what it means to the African-American community, and what it means to young Black girls and young Black boys who don’t always see images that are affirming,” Ambar told Diverse in a recent phone interview.
Ambar, who will become the 15th president of the Ohio college, is the current president at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Penn., where she also made history as that institution’s youngest president. She said she hopes she leaves a legacy at Cedar Crest with the multiple programs she implemented such as the Sophomore Expedition, a study abroad program for all sophomore students fully funded by the school.
“What I hope I’ve left for them is this sense of empowerment,” said Ambar. “The sense that they can achieve at the highest level in whatever field they choose because of the types of programs and initiatives we have provided for them.”
Ambar was raised in Little Rock, Ark. by a family that was “dedicated to education.” She completed her undergraduate at Georgetown University, received a joint degree from Princeton University and Columbia University. Among her many accomplishments, she also is a mother to triplets.
“I went off to practice law because I thought it was really important to get the skill set of being a litigator, and I’m glad that I did that because it served me well in terms of just the work that you do as a college president,” said Ambar.
Ambar has a passion for the work she does as a leader, and helping students realize the many possibilities in life. Before her position at Cedar Crest College, she was the youngest dean at Douglass College in New Jersey for six years.
“I always thought that I had the ability to lead an institution, and I really wanted the skills of what it meant to shape a vision for a particular institution and try to lead that institution towards its next phase,” Ambar said.
Oberlin’s current president, Marvin Krislov, said at the announcement on Oberlin’s campus, “One of the great joys of my time here, and I know will be one of your great joys, is getting to know and work with our students who are passionate about changing the world and making a difference.”
During the last day of her recent visit at Oberlin, Ambar had a meeting with students. She recalled that an African -American female student told her she drove from Michigan just to meet her. Ambar said she was touched because she knew the image of an African-American woman as president was important for the student.
Clyde McGregor, chair of Board of Trustees at Oberlin, said at the announcement that he is excited for Oberlin’s next leader and chapter. Chesly Madox-Dorsey also Vice-chair of the Board of Trustees said she expects “great leadership, commitment to Oberlin’s values and improving enhancing the colleges reach accessibility.”
With Oberlin’s deep history, legacy, passion and commitment to its mission, Ambar has high hopes for her upcoming experience. Noting that students are impacted by the work faculty and staff do on college campuses, Ambar plans to play a role in that impact and inspire students to “reshape the world in ways we will all be proud of.”
“I am excited to be a part of this journey with the Oberlin community and know that we will be, I believe, the institution that’s providing solutions to how we match this commitment to liberal arts, social justice and selectivity but also sustainability,” said Ambar. “Help it move into its next new era, with its commitment and mission intact but also in a way that is sustainable for years to come.”