Sep/Oct
2018

Women Leading Higher Education: Learners empower learning

Written by Gina Dewink Photography by Fagan Studios
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WOMEN REPRESENT JUST 30 PERCENT OF UNIVERSITY PRESIDENTS OR CHANCELLORS, ACCORDING TO A 2016 AMERICAN COUNCIL ON EDUCATION STUDY. WHILE THE REPORT DOESN’T ACCOUNT FOR OTHER LEADERSHIP POSITIONS HELD WITHIN HIGHER EDUCATION, THE POINT REMAINS: ROCHESTER IS ATYPICAL BY HAVING THREE MAJOR INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARNING WITH WOMEN LEADERS AT THE HELM.

Winona State University–Rochester: Jeanine E. Gangeness, Ph.D.

Dr. Gangeness jokingly refers to herself as the “WSU-Rochester roadie.” But, in fact, she is the Winona State University-Rochester (WSU-R) chief executive and operations officer responsible for leading the campus. “I work with the team to develop planning documents for marketing, recruitment, enrollment, graduate programs, student services, finance and facilities,” Dr. Gangeness explains. “Through intense engagement of staff, we work together to improve local culture, increase graduate enrollment and develop strategy for branch campus sustainability.”

 

Annually, WSU-R serves the higher education needs of over 800 undergraduate and 450 graduate students in Rochester. Dr. Gangeness describes the WSU-Rochester culture as supportive and respectful, while honoring the variety of life experiences that bring people to the institution. Dr. Gangeness explains, “We work together to ensure our students are able to take advantage of our higher education opportunities and achieve their career dreams. This is the promise I made when I came to Rochester, and it’s been easy to keep!”

When asked how she came to choose a career in higher education, Dr. Gangeness says, “The dream and the promise. I believe higher education is the best equalizer for achieving life goals. Everyone should have an opportunity to achieve their dream, and higher education is the best way to realize a better career, exposure to new thinking and a life of your choosing.”

WSU-R has been providing education to Rochester for over 100 years. Dr. Gangeness believes the institution provides opportunities to every student by empowering them to take the next step in their life. “That’s what makes this job so amazing,” she shares, “I’m creating an atmosphere and space for the superstars to work!”

Rochester Community And Technical College: Michelle Pyfferoen, MBA

As the interim vice president of academic affairs of Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC), Michelle Pyfferoen is involved in developing business and community partnerships to provide opportunities for the success of students. RCTC is Minnesota’s oldest original community college, with its 1915 founding date making it one of the nation’s oldest.

“Early in my career,” Pyfferoen begins, “I worked with entrepreneurs, teaching them the skills to open, operate and grow a successful business.” As Pyfferoen’s career has evolved, she has aimed to help individuals build the skills necessary to meet the needs of employers. “I transitioned into my current work in career and technical education from there,” Pyfferoen explains. “This allows me the opportunity to build partnerships to align education with the needs of business and industry, all of which I’m familiar with. Education is lifelong, and we all play critical roles.”

Pyfferoen cites finding skilled employees as one of the region’s biggest challenges. She states, “The availability of a workforce with the right skills is critical to the growth of a community. Therefore, by teaching students the skills needed to work in high-demand, high-wage occupations, they can find careers that support families, which in turn create strong communities.”  

According to Pyfferoen, getting to know the stories of students is the best part of her career. “I continue to be amazed at the diversity of students’ experiences and backgrounds,” Pyfferoen says of working at RCTC. “I am so rewarded by their success in achieving their educational goals and careers following graduation.”

Pyfferoen’s advice is to be passionate about what you do. “Those who have the greatest joy and success in higher education—whether students or leadership—are those who constantly look for ways to engage with learning.”

University of Minnesota Rochester: Lori Carrell, Ph.D.

“Insatiable curiosity coupled with a desire to make a difference” is what led Dr. Lori Carrell to a career in higher education. “As a child,” Dr. Carrell, chancellor of University of Minnesota Rochester (UMR), begins, “I remember waiting at the mailbox for National Geographic to arrive. I would marvel at the diverse cultures and scientific discoveries. The desire to make a difference and work in an innovative field has always been with me.”

UMR is one of the youngest universities in the country, with its first graduating class in 2013. “We are a unique campus with a diverse population of students seeing success in a rigorous degree program. More than half of our undergraduate health sciences students are from underrepresented populations, and we see no difference in student success rates,” Dr. Carrell explains. “I credit UMR students’ success to the evidence-driven, educational innovations of our faculty and staff.”

Dr. Carrell believes the Rochester community is intertwined with UMR because of the history of citizen advocacy that launched the campus. “When potential students take their tours, I see excitement light up their faces when they pass through the Gonda Building of Mayo Clinic. We are bringing 18- to 22-year-olds to downtown Rochester, and they are filling our community with passion, vibrancy and innovation. And the community is fostering our students’ drive with all of its distinctive amenities.”

Dr. Carrell refers to UMR as “a playground for educators committed to student success” and an “innovation hub.” As she made her way from vice chancellor to chancellor of UMR, Dr. Carrell met with many leaders in Rochester and beyond. “What I hear from other leaders is that Rochester has an educational ecosystem and community support unlike other regions,” she states. “I talk regularly about our deep gratitude to the trailblazers who brought UMR here, as well as the community, which has made this complementary relationship a possibility.”

 

Gina Dewink is an author, freelance writer and communications manager living in Rochester.