SOUTH HADLEY—Mount Holyoke College President Lynn Pasquerella has a beautiful office in the Mary Lyon Hall building on campus. The bright yellow walls play host to sports memorabilia and photographs, including a framed image of her twin sons, Pierce and Spencer, when they were young boys.
Although a very inviting and prestigious looking office, it’s sometimes hard to find President Pasquerella there. That’s because since she took over as president in 2010, she has been on a mission to not only bring visibility to the college, but to promote the importance of and access to a college education and to recognize the work of scholars.
That means getting out from behind her desk.
Whether it’s participating at the White House at a summit on college affordability or speaking on local radio programs, her job is more than full time.
It’s clear when speaking with her that she is smart—like graduating magna cum laude from Mount Holyoke in 1980 and later earning her PhD in philosophy from Brown University, kind of smart. But you don’t feel intimidated because she genuinely seems to enjoy engaging in dialogue with people about important issues, especially when getting the ears of students.
In almost every semester as president she has made it a point to connect with students by teaching classes on subjects such as medical ethics and philosophy of law. She enjoys the opportunities to chat with students before and after class to find out what’s on their minds so she can continually improve as the college’s leader.
President Pasquerella is a staunch advocate of equal access to education. From her perspective, it’s not just reserved for those who have the means to pay or who want to become professionals, but should be made available for everyone. She is part of a group of higher education leaders and heads of private businesses working on ways to make higher education more affordable for low-income students. Her participation in the White House summit in January helped kick off this effort.
As the leader of an all-female institution, President Pasquerella is very mindful of the opportunities that women have post-college, but is also aware of barriers that still exist, especially in the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“What research shows is the problem isn’t getting women into disciplines, it’s getting them to stay. Especially in the pre-tenure period if they are thinking of having family,” she said. “So it’s important to look at all of the dynamics and how different factors are brought to bear on decision making with respect to women in the STEM disciplines.”
She noted that studies also show hidden biases come into play when a man and a woman—with identical resumes—still land the man the job because she is seen as having potential, but not enough experience.
At Mount Holyoke, about 10 percent more students than compared to students nationally are majoring in the sciences and STEM disciplines. She credits that bump with the opportunity for women to play leadership roles the minute they step onto campus.
“Those opportunities are critical and pivotal in allowing women to see themselves in the lab and in careers in science,” she said.
“We also have these 34,000 extraordinarily active alumnae who are mentors and role models.”
My guess is President Pasquerella is exactly the kind of role model women on campus and elsewhere could aspire to become.
I could go on and on about her missions and passions, but she’s doing just fine for herself.