Celebrating Women in Higher Education

By Laura Morrison

Sisterhood is so important. Historical evidence proves that when women unite to achieve a common goal they become an unstoppable force. Together we have won the right to vote, the ability to pursue opportunities outside of the home, and the right to be educated. But there is still a great deal of work to be done in our quest for full equality in society. There are many industries that are still dominated by the "boys club," and breaking into leadership roles in these industries requires strong competent women to earn their way into top positions and prove their ability to perform in these roles. These brave women clear the way for subsequent women to follow in their footsteps. It is important for us as a community to celebrate the victories of these trailblazers and recognize their professional accomplishments and how these accomplishments advance the cause of our sex as a whole.

women in higher education

Higher education is an example of an industry traditionally dominated by men. In fact, according to the American Council on Education, the demographic profile of campus leaders has not changed much since the council's first survey conducted in 1986, where it was found that college presidents are typically "a white male in his 50s. He was married with children, Protestant, held a doctorate in education, and had served in his current position for six years."1

How is this possible in a society where the majority of enrolled students are actually female? Shouldn't the leadership of an organization somewhat reflect the demographic of the customer it serves?

Thanks to some inspirational females, the face of leadership in higher education is slowly starting to change. These women are our mentors, our inspiration, and our heroes. They are making it possible for more women to achieve the same professional success by changing the industry of higher education to make leadership roles more accessible to women in academia.

In this article, we take a moment to recognize the professional accomplishments of some of the female leaders in higher education and learn first-hand from them what it is like to be a female leader in an academic institution.

Dr. Margee Ensign, President of the American University of Nigeria

Dr. Margee Ensign, Female Leader in Higher Education

Dr. Margee Ensign is President of the American University of Nigeria (AUN) located in Yola, Adamawa, in one of the three northeastern Nigerian states still under a state of emergency. Dr. Ensign also leads the Adamawa Peace Initiative (API), a local Yola-based response to the escalating violence in the region. Under Ensign's leadership API works to promote peace in the area through education, empowerment and community development.

Dr. Ensign has served as an advisor to the governments of Uganda and Rwanda. She is a widely published scholar whose work focuses primarily on the challenges of international development, as well as on the implications of development assistance. Dr. Ensign has been internationally recognized for her pioneering work at AUN, including receipt of the 2011 African Leadership Award in Educational Excellence, granted by a London-based African Leadership Magazine.

Dr. Ensign's Perspective

"In my environment there are few women leaders. Only 7 of 129 vice-chancellors, as the university presidents are called in Nigeria, are women. The expectation is that leaders are male, which sometimes shows in the workplace - the staff typically greet me with 'good morning sir and good morning Mr. President.' When I ask why they greet me like this, the usual response is: 'because you are doing a man's job.'

As a female leader of a university, I feel a greater responsibility to ensure that more women are coming to the university and the girls in the community succeed in their education, from primary to secondary school.

We are trying to build a pipeline here of strong female leaders, similar to what happened in the US from the 1970s onwards. Last semester we had more female students than male entering the university for the first time. This was due in part to scholarships directed to female students. At our 2014 graduation, our class speaker and co-valedictorian were female.

AUN is a "development" university with a strong focus on community development and engagement. This includes strong community programs focused on girls, such as a STEM program in 22 local high schools. The Yola girls secondary school won the math competition this year!"

Praise for Dr. Ensign

"People ask what the difference is between a boss and a leader, and my experience with Dr. Ensign has made me realize that a boss drives and a leader leads. Dr. Ensign is a leader who shows leadership by example, and my experience with her has really affected me positively. She has given me an opportunity to serve as woman in a top position in my department without considering my gender. Her leadership style has encouraged me to realize my dreams, and has brought out good qualities and abilities in me as a woman. She has given me the courage to believe in myself and know that I can consistently do better work than I thought I could do. She's my role model, my mentor and my admirer. She's just too good and wonderful."

---Olayide T. Babalola, Assistant Chief Security Officer, American University of Nigeria

"Dr. Ensign, in the short while I have worked under her, has made me realize that I have a higher level of responsibility to community and societal peace and development as a woman. I go to work every day, excited and looking for the best ways to support her in achieving her goals. Her uncanny dedication and passion for her job gives me hope those that women can really rule the world... Dr. Margee Ensign can!"

---Adaobi Uzowulu, Special Assistant to the President, American University of Nigeria

Dr. Nada Marie Anid, dean, NYIT's School of Engineering and Computing Sciences

Dr. Nada Marie Anid, Female Leader in Higher Education

Dr. Nada Marie Anid is the first female to hold the post of Dean at the School of Engineering and Computing Sciences at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT).

Dr. Anid has participated in many important fields of academic research; she was one of the first engineers to study the role Vitamin B12 in environmental biodegradation processes. Currently, Dr. Anid's research focuses on important topics ranging from alternative energy, sustainability, biotechnology, water quality, to engineering education. In addition to her work at NYIT, Dean Anid serves on the boards of several professional organizations including; the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the American Society for Engineering Education.

Dr. Anid's Perspective

"Science and engineering don't have a gender, yet women are underrepresented in many STEM programs and professional fields. I am committed to helping change this.

NYIT works tirelessly to provide high-quality education and experiential learning opportunities for our undergraduate and graduate engineering and computer science students, but also extends that to help instill a passion for STEM among K-12 students, especially girls and young women.

I am invested in helping them experience the thrill of discovery through science, and in changing the face of engineering from nerdy to cool and fun."

Praise for Dr. Anid

"Women need role models who can serve as examples of what they can do for this world. In the courses I teach, I have experienced a low percentage of female students. One reason is because so many young girls are not exposed to the STEM fields at an early age to give them the perspective of becoming a professional in IT, engineering, and mathematics. Efforts like Dean Anid's will make a positive impact here."

---Dr. Ziqian (Cecilia) Dong, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, NYIT School of Engineering and Computing Sciences

Elizabeth S. Marcuse, President, LIM College

Elizabeth S. Marcuse

Elizabeth S. Marcuse has been President of LIM College since 2002. With a unique combination of senior retail and manufacturing industry experience and hands-on administrative expertise, she has led LIM through 12 years of strategic growth, resulting in an increase in enrollment from 340 students in Fall 2001 to more than 1,600 in the 2013-2014 academic year.

Under President Marcuse’s leadership LIM College has also added graduate-level programs, including a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree with tracks in Fashion Management and Entrepreneurship and Master of Professional Studies (MPS) degrees in Fashion Merchandising & Retail Management, Fashion Marketing, and Visual Merchandising.

President Marcuse is on the Board of Directors of Fashion Group International and is also a member of the Board of Trustees of APC Colleges, where she is an active advocate for higher education issues on both the state and federal levels.

President Marcuse's Perspective

"When LIM College was founded in 1939 (as the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising), its purpose was to prepare young women for successful careers in the business of fashion. The method was integrating classroom learning simultaneously with real-life work experience in the heart of New York City. Our name has changed, and our student body is now co-ed, but our mission remains unchanged.

Traditionally, fashion has been a field in which many women have built successful careers. Today, more than 90 percent of our student population is female. Our alumnae include Chief Executive Officers, Presidents, Senior Vice Presidents, Chief Operating Officers, and other top executives at some of the fashion world’s leading companies.

Having nearly two decades of experience in the industry made my transition into higher education very natural when I joined the College in 2001. I understood what the industry needed in terms of preparing future business leaders, and after having built my own career, I can relate to the specific challenges faced by women in this arena.

Having a mentor is key, especially for women in executive-track positions.

LIM College offers an alumni mentoring program that our students can take part in as early as their freshman year. The young women who attend LIM benefit greatly from the vast experiences and life lessons learned from those who have come before them."

Praise for Elizabeth Marcuse

"Working under female Deans, Vice Presidents, and our college’s President has been both an inspiration and a significant source of encouragement and support. Under their leadership, having children and advancing in my career in higher education happened simultaneously and seamlessly. I was given the time I needed as well as respect as a professional. The day I returned from having my second child was the same day I was promoted."

---Jacqueline LeBlanc, Ph.D., Vice President for Planning & Assessment, LIM College

Dr. Christine Brooks, Associate Dean of Faculty and chair of the Master of Arts and doctor of philosophy programs (Ph.D.) in transpersonal psychology at Sofia University

Christine Brooks

Christine Brooks, Ph.D. is an associate professor and chair of the Master of Arts and doctor of philosophy programs (Ph.D.) in transpersonal psychology at Sofia University. Christine was awarded her Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology from Sofia University (formerly the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology) in 2007. She received her Master of Arts degree in psychology from Sofia University in 2006. She also has a BFA in Acting from the Tisch School of the Arts of New York University, awarded in 1992.

She brings more than 15 years of experience in the corporate world to her current work including expertise as a book editor at Bantam Books and project manager of an online personal growth website. These past work experiences inform her current interest in transformational education and leadership. Christine's research is focused in three areas: intentional childlessness as a life path; archetypal expressions of gendered identities; and the reconciliation of long-term discord via social networking websites. She has presented at major national and international conferences in the social and human sciences on intentional childlessness and her own original qualitative research technique called embodied transcription.

Dr. Brooks' Perspective

"When I graduated from Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, Martin Scorsese was the commencement speaker. He referred to himself as a student of the world and life-long learner. That concept resonated deeply with me as descriptive of my own path. Also, my parents have advanced degrees and have worked in education and social services for more than 50 years, so academic environments are held in high esteem in my family. During my doctoral studies, I was given the opportunity to teach a course on transformational teaching and learning and that launched my career as a life-long educator.

I sincerely believe in the transformative nature of higher education. Along with career development, graduate studies afford students the opportunity to develop self-reflection and critical thinking skills at deep levels. Being able to support students on such a journey is a true gift. These are interesting times to be in higher education: creative and novel use of technology in course delivery and research and the move toward innovative interdisciplinary collaborations to solve real-world challenges make academia an exciting place to be.

Every day in a leadership position is an opportunity to learn valuable lessons and grow as a leader.

One of the major challenges I and other women colleagues face is finding and maintaining a voice. The reality is that many of us were socialized early to communicate in ways that placate, please, or plea. In a leadership position, honesty--especially hard truths--and straightforward clear communication are key.

This is a skill that I work on to this day. Another challenge is to make sure that I honor my time with family and my community as sacred--it is vital to balance my demanding career with time spent with the people whom I love so that I can maintain the level of energy needed to support all of those depending on me at the university."

Praise for Dr. Brooks

"I have the privilege of working with Dr. Christine Brooks at ITP/Sofia University. She was the chair of my doctoral program, and co-chair of my dissertation. Working with her as a student was an empowering experience. She educated me, challenged me, pushed me to rethink what I thought I knew, and above all, taught me that my voice was important and needed to be heard. I now work with her as a colleague and continue to be appreciative of her vision of transformative education, leadership, and commitment to diversity. She is a gifted academic and an outstanding role model of what women can be and achieve in the world of higher education."

---Anne Huffman, PhD, Chair of the MA in Spiritual Guidance, Sofia University


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About the Author: Laura Morrison is the Web Content Manager for GradSchools.com. She earned an MBA from the Rutgers School of Business in 2010.


1.  http://www.acenet.edu/the-presidency/columns-and-features/Pages/The-American-College-President-Study.aspx

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