Raising Up the Voices of Powerful Women

By Josephine Sepel ’21, April 26, 2019
Women’s Mentoring Network hosts an afternoon of sharing stories, asking questions and giving advice.

On April 15, Clark Lounge at Ithaca College was filled with women-identifying faculty and staff. They had come out for the college’s version of an event that traced its roots back to the 1930s: a fireside chat.

Created by U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the original fireside chats were a series of radio broadcasts for the country. This spring’s event, called the “Women Leaders in Higher Education Fireside Chat,” had a more personal feel. A trio of panelists — President Shirley M. Collado, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs La Jerne Terry Cornish, and Executive Vice President and Senior Advisor to the President Nancy Pringle — spoke about their leadership styles, what it means to be a woman leader, and how each of them got to where they are today.

The chat was the 15th event put on this year by the Women’s Mentoring Network, a group founded in the fall of 2018 by associate professor of occupational therapy Julie Dorsey with the purpose of connecting women at Ithaca College. Supported by the Center for Faculty Excellence, the network is a continuation of work that was funded by a grant from the President’s Seed Grant Initiative, which was created by Collado to foster and grow cross-disciplinary collaborations and innovations on campus. Currently, the network has nearly 170 members.

Collado began the event by highlighting how sacred and important the space was. “It’s really powerful and humanizing to be in a space where we can actually talk about being people or about being scared or confused,” she said.

She then shared stories from her life, covering everything from her childhood, the lessons that she learned growing up as an older sister and a child of immigrant parents, her experiences in college, and her experience as IC president. While noting that she has experienced bias in her lifetime and been overlooked as a woman of color, she stressed the importance of having a team that you can rely on, so that you have a safe environment to decompress. She added that knowing that she is never alone is “very, very freeing.”

“Often women need to hear from other women about their leadership journey. Other people have done this before you and you can learn something from the path that others took to get to the place you might want to be.”

Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs La Jerne Terry Cornish

In addition to the people on her team today, Collado has had many other people throughout her life who have helped her talk through important decisions. She named Susan Roth, a renowned psychologist, as one of those people. When making the choice to take a position as executive vice president of the Posse Foundation, Collado remembers that Roth was instrumental in helping her realize “that it was okay to actually do what [she] wanted to do. To do what [she] felt called to do. And that if [she] did that, the work would follow.” She said this advice shaped her career path and her general approach to life, focusing on the importance of following your passions.

Cornish told the audience that she never expected to end up working in higher education. She outlined her path from an undergraduate at Goucher College to provost at IC. She talked about the importance of mentors in her life, such as Eli Velder, a professor that she had while in college. She explained how, since she was 19 years old, Velder has been giving her advice, encouraging her to extend her studies, and constantly pushing her to pursue bigger and greater things.

“This man has been mentor, friend, father,” Cornish said. “He planted seeds, he watered them and I’ve grown as a result of it.”

Discussing self-care, Pringle shared the importance of always maintaining a sense of humor and being authentic in interactions. She noted that being able to laugh with others and also at yourself is a great stress reliever and something that she values immensely.

A group of women sitting

A student asks a question at the “Women Leaders in Higher Education Fireside Chat.” (Photo by Stetson Doggett/Ithaca College)

Pringle indicated that it is critical to her emotional and physical well-being to have a time and place where she can take time to think and reflect. She laughingly shared that with her very busy personal and professional life, her best place is when she travels alone in her car. “In order to survive in these jobs, you have to find your quiet space,” she said.

Pringle also spoke of her mother, who always supported her in finding her voice and modeled for her how to stand strong, particularly in male dominated spaces. She said that her mother inspired her to have faith that no matter what happens in life you can and will survive.

Michelle Bradshaw, associate professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy, said that she chose to come to the event because she wanted some advice and to “hear the stories that bring us together as women.”

Bradshaw said that events like these are important because it’s easy to get caught up in your life and your job and to forget that you don’t have to deal with things alone. “I’m not always good at asking for help or reaching out and collaborating so I think that it’s a good thing for these kind of programs to happen on campus to help us all grow,” she said.

Cornish said that she hopes women walked away from the event feeling confident that they can lead without fear.

“Often women need to hear from other women about their leadership journey,” Cornish said. “Other people have done this before you and you can learn something from the path that others took to get to the place you might want to be.”