National and industry leaders share experiences at first-ever UND Women’s Leadership Conference


Kate Menzies

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National and industry leaders share experiences at first-ever UND Women’s Leadership Conference

Debra Humphreys, vice president for policy and public engagement at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, came to the University of North Dakota hoping to inspire female change agents in higher education.

And that's exactly what she did ? with help from many others from across the state of North Dakota.

As part of the Women's Leadership Conference, held Sept. 22 at UND, Humphreys was part of a panel discussion focused on the opportunities and barriers facing women leaders in higher education. The other panelist included Laurel Vermillion, president of Sitting Bull College on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation; Dr. Gwen Halaas, senior associate dean of education at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences; Kim Bobby, director of the inclusive excellence Group for the American Council on Education; and Anne Kelsch, director of instructional development at UND.

The panel addressed issues such as stereotype barriers, balance and wellness, self-talk, gender resiliency and mentoring. Throughout the discussion, conference attendees shared their personal experiences and asked the panel for advice on issues they were currently grappling with in their professional careers.

This event sought to unite female leaders across institutions to change the landscape of higher education.

Kelsch, who chaired the conference planning committee, noted "It is a rare opportunity to have a day to devote to thinking about the big picture in terms of your career, the direction of the industry you work in and your sense of how to enhance the value of your contribution. Doing that in the company of collaborative colleagues is even better."

These initiatives complement President Kelley's vision for "Exceptional UND" by gathering faculty, staff, administrators and students, organizers to develop a community of learning and support.

The more than 230 attendees from across the state gained access to professional development that promoted their talents and skills. The conference provided attendees with a collective voice, a shared platform and opportunities to collectively anticipate change, foster innovate and build connections.

The Women's Leadership Conference — which was envisioned, organized and carried out by a group of UND administrators, faculty and staff and funded by Provost Tom DiLorenzo and Vice President for Student Affairs Lori Reesor — brought national and institutional leaders to UND to discuss important leadership issues being faced in higher education and what they could do to help address those issues.

At UND, half of the vice presidents that report to President Kelley and half of the college deans are women. This made such a conference at UND a fitting setting to encourage and inspire the female leaders of campus and the state to embrace a needed rejuvenate of the landscape of higher education.

In addition to her comments as a panelist, Humphreys also provided the keynote remarks for the conference. She presented a startling statistic: According to a 2012 survey by Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Americans said they believed "colleges fail to provide students with good value for money spent."

As educators who understand the danger of that misperception, this statistic disturbed the attendees at the UND conference.

Humphreys focused on how to change that perception for the better. She suggested that by examining economic influences, policy priorities, media messages and legacy structures, leaders can challenge this value perception by being catalysts for high-impact educational practices.

She also mentioned that those willing to break the mold of traditional educational practices should be supported and celebrated for their work to enhance student learning.

"We continue to be bombarded with a 'get it done' agenda. Rather, we should be focusing on what's worth doing," said Humphreys, who stressed the need to educate problem-solvers and life-long learners.

Kate Menzies University & Public Affairs student writer

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