Tell us about yourself and your company: When I retired from the presidency of Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pa., in 2006, and moved to California, my plan was to write — not scholarly books as I had done — but fiction and biography.
However, in 2007, I was invited to consult on several programs at Dominican University. One of these was the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, at that time a program with about 350 members that was falling between the cracks of administration. One year later I told the president that I would be willing to work full time as the director of OLLI.
OLLI is an academic program founded in 2004 and supported by a generous endowment from the Bernard Osher Foundation, the resources of Dominican University, and member donations and tuition. The program offers challenging non-credit liberal arts courses for retired members, taught by experienced, qualified instructors at the intellectual level of a university senior or graduate student.
Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share?: In the past year, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute recruited more than 300 new members, bringing our total for the year to almost 1,200. For the past two years we have had a growth rate of 33 to 36 percent each year (enrollment begins at zero each summer). This growth enables us to offer more programming and become eligible for further funding.
What is the achievement you are most proud of?: I am most proud of the quality of teaching in the program; we have worked hard to find superb lecturers with advanced degrees, usually the doctorate.
What is your biggest challenge today?: The biggest challenge is economics: Given the expense of faculty and staff salaries, how do you present a quality program that is affordable for people on a fixed income? We want to enable everyone who wants to attend; for this reason we offer scholarships to members below a certain income level.
Words that best describe you: Determined, persistent, problem-solver, realist with dreams to be realized.
As a successful female professional, what were the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?: When I entered the college teaching profession in 1968 there was no Title 9 to guarantee equality to women in the job market. Despite holding a Ph.D from an Ivy institution, I was frequently asked questions such as “Can you type?” and “Can you control a class?” The most prestigious English departments in the country — the Stanfords and Columbias and Harvards — did not hire women at all. Fortunately, I was hired by a women’s college where not only half the faculty but also half the administration were women. Both pay and prestige were lower than they would have been at Columbia or NYU or Stanford, but eventually I knew that I was fortunate to spend my career at smaller institutions where I could make a difference.
How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?: I think that as more baby boomers retire and people live longer, the field of lifelong learning will boom across the country. The multigenerational presence on campus will help universities in many ways.
Who was your most important mentor? And tell us a little bit about that person: I have had wonderful mentors throughout my life and career, but my father was the first, telling me that “Girls can do anything boys can do.” Because I believed him, I did not believe the feminine mystique being offered by the post WWII culture. I persisted with what I wanted to do regardless of the cultural message.
What advice would you give to a young woman entering your profession or the work world today?: To a young woman hoping to become a university professor, I would recommend studying business or one of the STEM professions (science, technology, engineering, math/medicine) Universities are trying to control their costs to avoid large tuition increases; they are not hiring in the humanities or social sciences. If you do find a full-time job, you will enjoy working for a university for a multitude of reasons.
Most admired businessperson outside your organization: I admire all women who combine career and family, especially women who take high-profile jobs such as the CEO of Facebook. I admire all men such as Warren Buffet who champion the poor and underpaid.
Current reading: I am reading Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man.
Most want to meet: Michelle Obama.
Stress relievers: Reading mysteries and playing basketball ball with my grandson.
Favorite hobbies: With three kids and demanding jobs, I never had time (also don’t have skills).
Is there something we didn’t ask that you would like to add?: I am honored by both Dominican University and your organization to be selected for this award.
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