In honor of Women’s History Month, Et Cetera reporters spoke to nine women leaders at Eastfield about their greatest accomplishments, challenges they overcame, the women who influenced them and the advice they have for young female students.
Compiled by Parker Ward, Ariel Paulson, Mickey Smith, Andrea Carrizales and James Hartley.
Q What is your greatest accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishment has been helping others, particularly women, to reach and exceed their career goals. As president, I frequently have opportunities to do that. This means not only can I help people directly to achieve their goals but am able to actually expand my influence to even more people as those I mentor can pass on career guidance to others.
The women who motivated me most included these three: My first female supervisor, Dr. Joy Babb, saw in me skills and talents I didn’t recognize myself and challenged me to take on roles that helped me hone those skills as I began my career as a college administrator. My first female president, Dr. Patsy Fulton, was a model for me in that she exhibited great strength and decisiveness while effectively merging those skills with feminine traits such a caring spirit and collaborative decision-making. My friend and colleague President of Cedar Valley Dr. Jennifer Wimbish showed me how to be a wise leader who understood her own values and used those as a guide for both her vision and her decisions. Although not a woman, my father motivated me by believing women could and should take on leadership roles and encouraged me throughout my life to take initiative and lead projects. His encouragement helped me seek leadership possibilities from the time I was a young girl.
Get all the education and experience you can. They give you credibility. Don’t be afraid to take responsible risks. Trust your feminine instincts. Know your own values and use them as your compass.
Becoming president while Eastfield College was on SACS warning and having to get the college back on solid ground with the SACS accrediting agency while still moving the college forward toward new standards of excellence was a big challenge. Handling both of these efforts as I worked to gain the trust of faculty and staff added complexity to the challenge. How rewarding, though, it was to successfully guide the college through the SACS difficulty and at the same time bring on numerous innovative, engaging initiatives that increased student enrollment and success.
QWhat is your greatest accomplishment?
Personally, that I was the first member of my family to graduate from college. I’m the youngest of four children, and I was able to accomplish that and went on a scholarship and worked my way through college. My family had to pay very little of my college tuition and college expenses. Professionally, the fact that I have been able to work in this position for 34 years and I enjoy what I do.
Definitely my mama. She had a third-grade education. She and my father were very instrumental on putting education first. I also had my first grade teacher, Ms. Scott. She was the one that was instrumental on making me move from a left-handed person to a right-handed person, and her reasoning there was that there would be more difficulties as I was older if I was a left-handed person. My third grade teacher Ms. Love was the one that inspired me, and she was the one who was real critical about reading and public speaking. She wanted to make sure you felt comfortable in speaking to all ages, not just your fellow peers but to adults and to elderly people with whom I’ve really concentrated my volunteering.
Enjoy what you do. I had an opportunity in this career field that everything that I do, I like, and I think the fact that I enjoy my work has made me want to continue. I think you have to find something that you really desire. It may not be the highest paid position. You’ll have to work harder for it, but something that you enjoy. That when you go to work you enjoy it, when you leave you enjoy it and you want to come back the next day. The day that I don’t want to come back to work is the day that I retire. Just enjoy what you’re doing, and hopefully the fruits of your labor will blossom.
When I was going to school, Hispanic families’ children were not allowed to speak Spanish in school. My mother was Hispanic, and we were all raised so that we would learn English first. But I think the fact that because I didn’t continue with my Spanish-speaking skills, I regret that I’m not able to be as fluent as I would like to be now in my adult career. And that was just a part of where I was raised in south Texas and that the English language was encouraged in school and you were reprimanded for speaking Spanish.
I would have to say my greatest professional accomplishment would be this position as Vice President of Business Services [at Eastfield]… overseeing the college budget, overseeing the business office facilities, IT and our auxiliary services which is our food and vending.
Oh gosh, my mother has been my biggest motivator and my grandmother. Other ladies as I look at people who were other college presidents would be Jerry Sue Thornton who was the president of Cuyahoga Community College.
I would say think about what it is you’re passionate about and what it is you would like to spend your time doing and figure out how to get paid doing it!
The biggest challenge for me is to be able to be an African-American woman in administration and to find that balance between work life and being professional and being true to myself and how I treat people.
Professionally, I would have to say that has been being able to design and implement programs that have benefited students’ success and completion.
Personally, my grandmother and my mom have served as huge pieces of motivation for me. They instilled in me early on a good work ethic, the importance of education, things like integrity, discipline and responsibility, and as I’ve grown I’ve had many mentors from someone being my academic advisor, to someone being my boss, to someone being my president that I’ve really been able to follow their lead and learn from them.
Sounds cliché, but just not to give up, to recognize we take steps towards a larger goal and things won’t always be easy but there are support systems to help you on your way. Stay encouraged, work hard and realize your journey is your own. It may not happen as fast as other people’s, and it may not happen just like other people’s, but trust that what you put into it you will get out and reap those benefits. I would tell female students to dream big, stay true to yourself and just know the possibilities are endless. When I started at a community college, professionally and personally where I am now, I did not see at that time. You just have to be responsible and get the work done.
I think the biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome, being both a female and a minority, is the idea of having to work twice as hard. Personally, it can be taxing because you never want someone to question your abilities or competencies, one as a woman and two as a minority. I also recognize that because I’m both a woman and a minority, some people look to me to be the example and when that happens it can be challenging at times.
I have great concern for genders rights. I have worked in the district for a really long time. I love my job and I love my work and I’ve done amazing things, but the thing I’m proudest of is being a mother. I would get in trouble with some of the feminist sisterhood. I like that I have the job, but [my son’s] my best accomplishment and I’m proud of who he is and I take great pride of the work I do as a mother.
In college, I had a professor who taught my American class. She was this tall, statuesque tall woman who went to Michigan. She was the epitome of what an English professor should be. I thought, ‘That’s what I’ll do.’ She really motivated me. I loved her because she was demanding and had high standards. The content was important. It was a rigorous course. I started working at Richland, and Dr. [Jean] Conway was my dean. She was somebody who raised her family but had this tremendous grace and composure. Her greatest gift is finding people’s strengths and helping them cultivate that. She´s very motivating.
It’s really important for women to appreciate the opportunities that they have in education and to engage in that education. Don’t just sit there and passively participate. Ask questions. Challenge assumptions. Stay away from BS like the Kardashians not because it’s interesting and has its appeal but because it’s not real, and I think that a lot of young women are inclined to play dumb or focus on appearance.
Challenges to my values. Like, I think this is important and this should be done this way. Always having to have my way. It’s something that’s hard to overcome, but it should come with age and time.
I think my greatest accomplishment is working in the educational field and being able to impact people’s lives, being able to see over the years the students that come back and are successful because of the opportunities that were afforded to them by the college.
My friend Emma DeShong. When I was coming into college, she gave me some good advice about always trying everything and never stopping. One of my supervisors, Carolyn Stock, was very business-oriented and was able to help me in the early years to learn the ropes of DCCCD. How to get going, and how to do things. She was very influential and showed me what a strong woman is and how to motivate.
Just be tenacious and continue to dream. Don’t let anyone get in your way. Go around all obstacles. Constantly grow and constantly seek your dreams.
I think earning the trust of the people that you work with. Making sure they know that everything that you do is for them. I love what I do. It’s not difficult to me, so it’s just a new activity and I just have to attack it.
I would say my greatest accomplishment has been being able to empower my [Office of Student Engagement and Retention] staff and see them grow and develop and really become confident and productive and successful in their roles that they play as OSER staff.
I would definitely say Oprah Winfrey is a woman who motivated me with all that she has accomplished and all of what she’s still doing. My personal motivator would be a faculty mentor [from] when I taught speech full-time at Brookhaven. She was very motivating in terms of me being a new faculty member and she really took the time to get to know me personally, and get to know my desires, and interests, and was very encouraging and allowed me to be me in the classroom and at the college. I would also say that someone here at Eastfield College that motivates me is Dr. Mary Forest. She hired me when I was still an adjunct professor, and then a few years later she participated in the hiring of me to be a full-time faculty member here at Eastfield, so that’s how I got from Brookhaven to Eastfield. As I have moved into the more administrative roles, she’s continued to be a great supporter, so her introducing me to Eastfield as a part-time faculty member and then reintroducing me as a full-time faculty member was very instrumental in pointing me towards a path that allowed me to be here and grow into different roles.
Don’t give up because there are going to be challenges. There’s going to be good days, there’s going to be bad days, but I think if you stay true to who you are and true to what you believe in and if you have the confidence in yourself, then you can make things happen. My other bit of advice is to network because I think that it’s important to build relationships with other women so you can somewhat become a part of this sisterhood, if you will, in terms of leaning on other women who have taken a path that you would like to go down because then that person can mentor you through that relationship that you build. But then in return, you also want to give back, so I’ve had several mentors along the way in my career — I spotlighted Mary Forest, but I’ve also had several other women in my career that have motivated me and inspired me — so it’s always important to give that back to another young woman. I think that once you do achieve success or after you’ve persevered and have achieved one goal after the other, I think it’s important that you give back what you can in terms of support and mentorship to other young women.
I think for me being an African-American female, there are lots of challenges that I faced that are perhaps unique to other challenges that others may face, and I think it’s a matter of just really having self-confidence and having that self-worth, so that way no matter what preconceived notions or stereotypes that people may have of you — again, it’s a matter of staying true to who you are and pursuing your passions and your dreams — but I’ve had some challenges based on my gender and the color of my skin in terms of people having preconceived notions about what I can and cannot do, so I think there’s always a challenge of being underestimated just based on your gender or your skin color.
My greatest accomplishment by far is getting to a place where I get to make choices about what I want versus what society thinks I should do.
My mother. She was a single mother of four who put herself through college while we were in grade school. We were very poor growing up, but I saw her navigate her way out of poverty through education while having children [in] school.
Don’t let anyone tell you who you are, what you want and what you are capable of. One trait that as a about woman.
The biggest challenge I have had to overcome is poverty. I’ve also had to overcome objectivity as a woman. Sometimes we are not taken seriously or we are looked at as the little dolls that are put in these cases to play a certain part or play a certain role. Having to break through that case or casing of just being pretty or being beautiful or overtly feminine and not as a brain or a mouth or a voice.
When I was in my 20s, I went down to Costa RicaProject Hope. They do medical training around the globe, and we set up a school for restorative therapy in San Jose. That school is still there today.
Jean Kenner, she was a little bit of a maverick. She married at the ripe old age of 31 in 1954, which those days was an old age to get married. She was an educator, and from her I learned that the student was the most important. The other thing that she taught me was fairness. She was a very fair person and really not judgmental. She loved everyone. She showed me that you can be a tough leader but still be a lady. And also Carline Amesbury, who had been born with basically one-and-a-half arms. Some might call her disabled, but I would never put that label on her because of everything she could accomplish. She could do everything anyone else could do. What I learned from her is that life might deal you a hand that’s different from someone else, but what you do with it is up to you.
Keep at it and keep going towards the goal. Remember the turtle from the tortoise and the hare. It doesn’t [matter] whether you finish quickly or not. What matters is that you finish. And, what would you do for free? Answer that question then find a way to get paid for that.
My own self doubts and my own criticism.