Leading the Way: Women Making a Difference, Part III - Higher Education
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Leading the Way: Women Making a Difference, Part III

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by The Diverse Staff

This final story in a 3-part series, which profile a total of 25 high achievers, documents the pioneering and path-breaking roles women are taking on in American higher education. Diverse anticipates that these women will provide encouragement to their colleagues as well as to those who will follow in their footsteps.

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. (see photo)

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. (see photo)

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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). (see photo)

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. (see photo)

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. (see photo)

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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. (see photo)

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. (see photo)

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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. (see photo)

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. (see photo)

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