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Influential Women in Higher Education

Women's History Month Graphic. Celebrating women who tell our stories: Influential women in higher ed.

It still kinda blows my mind that America may have been founded in 1776, but it wasn’t until (almost) 200 years later that women started to receive “equal” treatment. 

It was…

  • 1969 when a woman was a juror for the first time
  • 1969 when a woman first sat in a Yale or Princeton classroom
  • 1972 when a woman first ran the Boston Marathon
  • 1974 when a woman was first able to apply for a credit card or loan
  • 1977 when a law was passed to protect against sexual harassment
  • 1978 when a law was passed to protect pregnant women in the workforce
  • 1980 when athletic shoes were specifically designed for women

And, unfortunately, the race is not over.

We didn’t always have a month dedicated to celebrating women. The National Women’s History Project was founded in 1980 and lobbied congress to designate a month to celebrate women yearly. Fast forward to 2023, the National Women’s History Alliance now selects yearly themes. 

This year’s theme is Celebrating Women Who Tell our Stories

Many challenges and barriers still exist in 2023 — from gender bias, pay gaps, etc. This is why it is so important to tell our stories. To lift, celebrate and empower girls and women. So, let’s hear it for the women in our lives. The storytellers. The truth-tellers. The connectors. 

Throughout March, I’ll feature women breaking barriers and inspiring the next generation in higher education. This page will be updated each Friday. Please join me in celebrating their contributions.

Community College Presidents and Chancellors

I’m kicking off my spotlight series by celebrating six remarkable community college leaders. These women are trailblazers in their fields, inspiring and empowering students and colleagues. From advocating for equitable access to education to leading initiatives for student success, they positively impact their colleges and beyond.

Seher Awan

President, Mission College

Seher Awan symbolizes the American immigrant dream, becoming the youngest California college president at 32! As her Instagram bio reads, “I am an unstoppable force of nature” She believes in the transformative power of education to change lives and uplift families. Not only is she sharing her story and lifting up others on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram – but her dog, Jayce, has an Instagram, too @baddestdogaround. Yes, to presidential puppies!

Sonya Christian

Chancellor, California Community Colleges

Exciting news for the California Community College system, Sonya Christian has been appointed as the first female and first person of South Asian origin to lead the system, which serves 1.8 million students annually! Christian is known for her dynamic leadership style and incredible work closing achievement and equity gaps. Make sure you check out her blog, where you can stay updated on her impact. 

Angélica Garcia

President, Berkeley City College

Angélica Garcia is a dynamic educational leader deeply committed to equity, access, and student success in higher education. Garcia champions community colleges as pathways to liberation for historically marginalized communities and brings a collaborative and inclusive leadership style to institutional reform efforts. Make sure to follow her on LinkedIn, bringing all these issues to life and celebrating her community. 

Tammeil Gilkerson

President, Evergreen Valley College

Tammeil Gilkerson is the first in her family to earn a college degree and holds degrees in history, counseling, and organizational leadership. She is currently the President of Evergreen Valley College. She is also one of three community college leaders behind #EquityAvengers, a fantastic organization leading the charge for a more equitable higher ed landscape, increasing access for those marginalized by academia, including a popular Twitter chat called #EquityChat.

DeRionne Pollard

President, Nevada State College

DeRionne Pollard is the first permanent Black woman President of Nevada State College and of any institution with the Nevada system. Dr. Pollard is committed to advancing the college’s focus on high-impact practices, courageous innovation, equity, and community vitality and works hard to build intentional relationships to drive social justice and generational impact. Check out this Twitter-verified president who consistently documents her presence in the community.

Claudia Schrader

President, Kingsborough Community College of The City University Of New York

Dr. Claudia Schrader is the first African-American president of Kingsborough Community College of The City University of New York. Recently listed on Diverse Magazine’s 25 leading women in higher education, she is breaking barriers and shattering stereotypes! Whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn, Tune into Claudia’s video content that brings her work to life.

University Presidents and Chancellors

I’m continuing my spotlight series by highlighting six incredible university presidents and chancellors making a difference in higher education. These university leaders are a testament to the transformative power of education. I’m honored to share their stories with you!

Roslyn Clark Artis

President, Benedict College

Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis made history as the first woman president of Benedict College, an HBCU in South Carolina. Her achievements and leadership have earned her several accolades, including being among the “Top 35 Leading Women in Higher Education” by Diverse Issues in Higher Education in 2019 and 2020, recognized as “President of the Year” by Higher Ed Dive. Don’t miss her annual A-Team family Halloween posts on Instagram! 

Sian Beilock

President, Barnard College President-elect, Dartmouth

In addition to serving as a university president, Sian Beilock is a renowned cognitive scientist and leading expert on the brain science behind “choking under pressure.” She has authored two acclaimed books, including “Choke” and “How the Body Knows Its Mind.” Her TED talk on the subject has been viewed over 2.5 million times! Beilock’s work has been instrumental in helping individuals overcome performance anxiety and achieve their full potential. 

Paula A. Johnson

President, Wellesley College

Dr. Paula Johnson is the first African American woman to lead Wellesley College, a highly respected women’s college in Massachusetts. She is also a physician-scientist who has improved health outcomes for women globally by addressing gender biases in clinical care and medical research. Her career is a testament to her belief in women and their ability to create lasting positive change in the world! Follow this #WellesleyPrez on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Krista L. Newkirk

President, University of Redlands

Krista Newkirk became the first woman president of the University of Redlands, but even before then, she has been making waves in the industry. In 2020, she was honored as one of the 50 Most Influential People and one of the 25 Women of Influence in the Upstate of South Carolina, and she was named a Woman of Achievement by the Spartanburg Herald-Journal in 2018. Find her on IG, Twitter, and LinkedIn, consistently celebrating the Redland community.

Astrid S. Tuminez

President, Utah Valley University

Dr. Astrid S. Tuminez is the first woman to serve as President of Utah Valley University. As noted in her bio, “she rose from the slums of Iloilo City in the Philippines” to become a technology and political science leader, having worked at Microsoft and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Tuminez is a highly respected global influencer, an author, and an avid runner who uses her passion for the sport as a metaphor to teach students about commitment, grit, and determination. 

Lori S. White

President, Depauw University

Lori White is the first woman of color to serve as a president of a higher education institution in Indiana. As a previous vice president of student affairs, Lori has a student-centered approach focus and a significant impact on the preparation and mentorship of new, mid-level, and aspiring senior student affairs professionals. White recently united 70 other presidents to form the Liberal Arts Colleges Racial Equity Leadership Alliance for cross-institution professional learning, data on their campus racial climates, and robust resources. As listed in Forbes, Lori is a president to watch – listed among 10 other black higher-ed CEOs! 

I’m continuing this spotlight series featuring seven incredible marketing and communications leaders in higher education. These women are paving the way for innovative marketing strategies and communication techniques that are making a real impact. Follow them all for their advocacy, mentorship, and timely insights.

Jaime Hunt

Vice President for University Communications and Chief Marketing Officer, Old Dominion University

Jaime Hunt is an award-winning strategic communications executive, serving as the inaugural VP for University Communications and Chief Marketing Officer at Old Dominion University. Jaime is also a champion for DEI and an advocate of the entire MarComm industry – whether through countless conference speeches, like at CUPRAP or AMA symposium higher education or articles found in Forbes or Inside Higher Ed. I love her podcast, Confessions of a Higher Ed CMO, which offers insights into the joys and challenges of working in higher education marketing.

Liz Gross

CEO of Campus Sonar

Liz Gross is the founder and CEO of Campus Sonar, a company that empowers colleges and universities to analyze online conversations, identify insights, and seize engagement opportunities with strategic impact. Dr. Gross is an award-winning author, sought-after speaker, and leader in higher ed – but also a fierce advocate and ally. Whether, on social, in her newsletter (the Elder Millenial), or being a guest on a podcast, Liz is pushing MarComm toward an anti-racist future. 

Binti Harvey

Vice President for External Relations and Institutional Advancement, Scripps College

Binti Harvey is a skilled strategist and relationship builder in fundraising, marketing, or communications. As Vice President for External Relations and Institutional Advancement at Scripps College, she has led and elevated the brand and fundraising marketing strategies. Her impact is also felt with initiatives she’s led for the Los Angeles Mayros office, the Superintendents of Los Angeles, and Pasadena School Districts. 

Teresa Valerio Parrot

Principle, TVP Communications

Teresa Valerio Parrot is wildly respected and adored in the world of higher ed communications. She provides not just for the “whispers” to campus presidents and boards but for the caring mentorship of countless professionals. Catch her podcast Trusted Voices, Inside Higher Ed Blog “Call to Action,” or endless wit and wisdom on Twitter and LinkedIn. Any moment this spring, Teresa will add the title of doctor, defending her dissertation on college athletics. 

Jenny Petty

Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, University of Montana

The first word that comes to mind for Jenny Petty is Servant Leader. And it’s not just because she is exceptional and award-winning at marketing and branding – with her podcast The Severant Marketer. This Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at the University of Montana embodies the 10 ten tenants, especially healing, empathy, building community, and cultivating people. Jenny has led notable higher ed campaigns at University at Wyoming, “The World Needs More Cowboys,” and the recent University of Montana brand revitalization, “Montana Made. Montana Making.”

Kinnari “Kin” Sejpal

Vice President of Marketing and Communications, University of Redlands

Kinnari “Kin” Sejpal recently joined the University of Redlands as Vice President of Marketing and Communications. Kin has shared her inspirational journey on numerous notable podcasts, being born and raised in Mumbai, India, with humble beginnings. Her educational path brought her to the US as a first-generation student, which heavily influenced her philosophy and practice in marketing, as well as how much she gives back through organizations and conferences like CASE, AMA Higher Ed, EduWeb, and more.

Jenny Li Fowler

Director of Social Media Strategy, MIT

Jenny Li Fowler is the first director of social media strategy at MIT, but she might be even more known for her global influence on Twitter. She shares teachable tweets for social media managers, no matter the industry. That has led her to speak at numerous conferences and write for Sprout Social. Jenny’s personal background as the daughter of immigrants and a mother has undoubtedly influenced her work and decision-making processes, making her an invaluable leader in social media. 

I am proud to present next in this Women’s History Month series featuring six exceptional leaders in Student Affairs. These women are dedicated to supporting students holistically and are fierce advocates for advancing the profession, mentorship, and more. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to follow these trailblazers!

Jill Creighton

Chief Student Affairs Officer and Dean of Student Affairs, Duke Kunshan University

Jill Creighton is the Chief Student Affairs Officer and Dean of Student Affairs at Duke Kunshan University. Not only that, but she’s also the podcast host for NASPA SA: Voices from the Field, serving up some accessible and timely professional development for student affairs pros across the globe. Jill is leading the industry and humanity to have a global perspective. This hit even more personal, as she recently became a dual citizen through her Irish descent!

Taléa R. Drummer-Ferrell

Associate Vice President and Dean of Students, Kent State University

Taléa R. Drummer-Ferrell is the Associate Vice President and Dean of Students and an all-around rockstar. With her focus on advocacy, support, and well-being, she oversees critical student services, including counseling and psychological services, recreation and wellness, and the center for sexual and relationship violence support. Recently she was the recipient of the Greater Akron Chamber’s 30 for the Future Award and is one to follow in student affairs.

Heather Shea

Director of Women’s Student Services, Michigan State University

Check out Heather Shea, Director of Women’s Student Services at Michigan State University and incoming ACPA President! She’s a passionate higher ed administrator with a feminist and social justice focus. When she’s not leading change in student affairs, you might find her teaching abroad, producing and hosting the podcast Student Affairs Now, or painting portraits of pets.

Julie Payne-Kirchmeier

Vice President For Student Success, Indiana University 

Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, Vice President for Student Success at Indiana University and past Board Chair for NASPA has a fierce passion for student success. With over 25 years of leadership experience, she’s a strategic planning expert and problem-solving powerhouse – which also explains why she is part of the class of 2023 NASPA Pillars of the Profession. This dedication also carries over to her love for Peloton, her ‘Spicy Kitty’ Luna, and Ted Lasso. #Believe 

Patty Perillo

Vice President for Student Affairs, University of Maryland

Patty Perillo, the Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Maryland, has over 30 years of spreading joy and centering students, no matter the campus she has impacted. She’s a true scholar-practitioner,  committed to creating transformative learning experiences and ensuring they thrive! Patty is a past president of ACPA and also received the highest honor of that organization as a Diamond Honoree. I love part of Patty’s Instagram bio, which reads, “loving life & surrounded by extraordinary people, making the world more humane & just.”

Anna Gonzalez

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Washington University in St. Louis

Anna Gonzalez, aka “Dr. G,” is the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at Washington University in St. Louis. She’s also the NASPA Board Chair-Elect! 🌟 Dr. G’s immigrated to the US at ten and is a first-generation student who now researches first-generation and immigrant students, equity and diversity, and higher education policy and governance. Keep your eyes out for her furbabies, Rafa and Yoshi, in her social media feed or at a WashU event! 🌺🐶 

I’m dropping the mic on our spotlight series by featuring seven consultants shaking up the higher education scene. Whether on stage speaking, behind-the-scenes coaching, or facilitating critical conversations, these women are the real deal in driving transformation in higher ed. I’m excited to share their stories with you! Get ready to be inspired and learn how you can make a positive impact in the world of higher education, no matter at a campus or building your own empire.


Joy Hoffman

Joy Hoffman is an educator, consultant, mom, and self-proclaimed wanna-be baker with a heart of gold. She approaches her work as a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant and trainer with empathy and humility, also bringing 24 years of working on college campuses. She guides institutions, companies, and nonprofits on their DEI goals, enacting her mission to open doors to information, resources, and opportunities to impact change. Joy truly embodies her name. Learn more about Dr. Hoffman and how she helps you to be more equity-minded: https://www.joyconsulting.org/.

Sumun Pendakur

Sumun Pendakur is a powerhouse and purposeful consultant, speaker, and coach on diversity, equity, and inclusion. With over 20 years of experience, she has worked with more than 250 higher education institutions, non-profits, and corporations to empower individuals to become agents of change in their communities. She’s a proud mother, a multilingual daughter of immigrants, and was named one of the top 35 women in higher education by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine. Get to know Sumi and how she can help you build capacity for social justice and racial equity: http://www.sumunpendakur.com/.

Angela Batista

Angela Batista is a trailblazing educator, leader, and coach who has previously worked at universities and colleges across the US. As a first-generation college student, Angela knows the importance of representation and creating spaces where everyone can thrive. She is also a lecturer at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, teaching Multiculturalism in Higher Education. Angela is ICF trained, is a previous NASPA board chair and received the PIllar of Professional award in 2020. You can find her on Instagram and LinkedIn, sharing her wisdom and love of life with her followers, and make sure to check out her website: http://www.drangelabatista.com/.

Maisha Beasley

Hey, have you heard of Dr. Maisha Beasley?!? She’s an incredible education consultant with over 20 years of experience building sustainable programming for colleges, universities, school districts, and small businesses – especially to support African American students in suburban communities and Black women at predominately white institutions. Maisha founded MEB Consulting Group, a black woman-owned social justice organization that uses conversation and compassion to educate and transform our school communities and beyond. MEB provides DEI services such as the 21-Day Challenge, Courageous Conversations, and discussion groups. Learn about Maisha and MEB: https://www.mebconsultingroup.com/.

Meghan M. Grace

Meet Dr. Meghan Grace! She’s a researcher, consultant, and international speaker – centered around researching Generation Z. As the co-lead of the Institution for Generational Research and Education, she’s co-authored four books (and more coming!) and conducted five original studies on generations. She’s also a podcast host #GenZ, many times interviewing guests who are Gen Z.  Meghan is a triple threat/asset to her clients, using her background in research, assessment, strategic planning, curriculum design, and program and project management. P.S. her IG is also FULL of puppy content and self-care reminders like to take your lunch breaks. https://www.meghanmgrace.com/.

 Bridget Burns

Bridget Burns is the founding CEO of the University Innovation Alliance, on a mission to transform the way institutions think about and take action on behalf of low-income, first-generation students of color. Her work has been highlighted in national outlets like The New York Times, Fast Company, and 60 Minutes and was featured in the documentary “Unlikely.” She’s a trusted advisor to university presidents and policymakers, and her passion for increasing the number and diversity of college graduates is truly inspiring. You can follow her on Twitter, and LinkedIn, and even check out her weekly wisdom and innovation spotlight on YouTube and Spotify.

Ana Rossetti

Ana Rossetti is a Consulting Manager for Higher Education Strategy and Operations at Huron, and she’s seriously amazing at what she does! With over 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector and higher education, Ana brings a multicultural and intercultural lens to her work. By the title of her dissertation, you know how much Dr. Rossetti advocates, “I Want to Bring Other People with Me”: Leadership Self-Efficacy as a Moderator of Stereotype Threat for College Students of Color at Historically White Institutions (Rosseti, 2022). Learn more about Ana and the support she provides at Huron.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s not forget the struggles and victories of women in higher education. Women have come a long way, from being excluded from classrooms to breaking barriers in executive leadership positions. However, many challenges still exist, and it’s crucial to tell our stories to inspire and empower the next generation. Let’s continue celebrating the women who tell our stories, lift each other up, and break down barriers. Join me in recognizing the influential women in higher education who are making a difference today and inspiring the leaders of tomorrow.

For even more women to follow, check out my Twitter list of over 500 female campus executives.

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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Rebekah Tilley

Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

Previously she was the director of strategic communication for the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and the director of communication for the University of Kentucky College of Law. She is a Kentucky native and a proud alum of the University of Kentucky.

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