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Women of Higher Ed: A Third Installment With Stories of Mentoring

Linda HoopesVice President, University PartnershipsSeptember 15, 2022

Earlier this year, we published the first two blogs in the “Women of Higher Ed” series (part one and part two). We want to continue to share stories of mentorship, leadership, and growth as inspiration for the women we are working with in higher education.

My colleague, Julie Bryant was the driving force for this third installment in our series. She is a true go-getter and inspiration to me and many others, and she made this blog happen! Here is Julie’s story and three other terrific perspectives from our colleagues.

Julie Bryant, Vice President for Student Success

I recently realized that my mentors, the strong women I learned from when my career began 35 years ago, were among those on the front lines demanding equality and opportunities for women in the workplace. What we took for granted when I entered the workforce in the late 1980s was not commonplace when my mentors began their careers in the early 1970s. In retrospect, I have even more gratitude and respect for what they accomplished, for the example they set, and for the doors they opened to my generation of women leaders.

Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work with and for women who created workplace environments where I was expected to meet goals and work hard. I was also encouraged to speak my mind and actively contribute to the team’s collaborative efforts. However, what is most notable is the women I worked with saw me as a whole person, with a family and priorities outside of the office. I was recognized as a mother, a wife, a daughter, and a friend, as well as an employee. Work was important, but I learned that it was okay to bring my family into my work environment, with the stories I shared, the times I took PTO, and the days I brought my daughter to work with me.

Today I am the mentor, the example, the encourager to a new generation of women who are also mothers, wives, daughters, friends, and even graduate students, all while working full time. My greatest gift to them is to pass on what I learned from the amazing women who taught me so well. Work is still important, but so is living your life to the fullest and being present for all those valuable moments that occur away from your desk. Emails will be responded to, clients will be served, goals will be met, in due time, while you also enjoy being with your family and taking in all of life’s experiences that bring you joy. I see and value my team members as the whole people they are, and I hope that will be a gift they will pay forward as they step into future leadership roles.

Cherron Hoppes, EdD, Chief Academic Officer

As with many women in higher education, I probably have more tales of women who did not support my ambitions or provide mentorship than those who did. I often found myself in roles and responsibilities that often were far beyond my level of experience with little support for success. As a 24-year-old, newly minted graduate student, I was asked to serve as acting dean of student affairs at a small private college. That required me to lead the board’s committee on student affairs with my counterpart the provost, who liked to refer to me as “sweetie” in those meetings. I was often over my head but adopted the “fake it ‘til you make it” mentality. And it served me well.

It was not until I became director of admissions and student affairs at Golden Gate University (GGU) that I truly understood the value of a woman as a true mentor. Barbara Karlin, vice president emerita and faculty in the School of Tax, served as the vice president of academic affairs during my time at GGU. She advocated for me to be appointed as the dean of undergraduate programs, knowing I had little experience as a faculty member (I was an adjunct a time or two). She also provided me with significant support to complete my EdD at the University of Alabama (commuting once a month between San Francisco and Tuscaloosa for two years). She had the tough conversations with me about leading in a predominately man’s world and was a role model for success through leadership transition. The lesson that most sticks with me is having a “poker face” in tough meetings. I tend to wear my heart and soul on my sleeve (and apparently on my face), but she was able to coach with kindness in ways that have served me well through tough times within organizations.

I never lose sight of her love of her family or that fact that many of our meetings resulted in a teary eye or two as her empathy was often needed and greatly appreciated. She championed my transition to full-time consultant as I moved from campus roles to a corporate career tract, and I have no doubt that without her influence, I would not enjoy the career that I have today. If I have not said it before, thank you Barbara.

Laura Breckner, Consultant, Student Success Solutions

When I reflect on my career in higher education so far, it is not the roles I have filled that come immediately to mind, but the people who have impacted my work. I can see myself sitting in a coffee shop or in an office having a one-on-one conversation with a mentor who took intentional time out of her or his busy day to ensure that I am being supported, challenged, and not staying stagnant in my career. As I reflect on my interactions with my mentors, several of those being women, I see three primary themes:

  1. Mentors have the experience to know about opportunities you may be unaware of early in your career. Although I had an education, I recognize now that I knew very little from a practical standpoint about the field in which I began my career. I encourage others to be humble and open to the experience and direction from those who have had more exposure within your field. You risk limiting your experience if you stay on a path that you have planned all on your own.
  2. Mentors can recognize your potential and challenge you to overcome your own barriers. I think of the supervisor who served as a mentor with an open door. She pushed me to get out of my comfort zone, challenged me to speak up in meetings, and take advantage of leadership training and professional development. When I felt frustrated and anxious, I thought the opportunity was not right for me. But that was not the case and my mentor helped me to learn that. One of the best pieces of advice I received from a mentor was, “When you feel anxiety about an opportunity PUSH TOWARDS it—not away from it.”
  3. Mentorship is all about servant-leadership. Those who have become my mentors are servant-leaders first. They did not want me to start at ground-zero. This is a reminder that those of us who have benefited from female mentors must also help others so they may push higher and help others to do the same.

Amy Jauman, EdD, Director of University Partnerships

I was fortunate to start my career in higher education at a small, private college that was filled with strategic thinkers. I started in an admissions role and loved my team, but I was not particularly good at my job. Because I was working in what always felt like a safe environment, I shared with a campus leader that I did not feel like I was particularly well-suited for my role in the organization. Her response still makes me laugh when I think about it.

“Oh, we know,” she said calmly. “We’re still trying to figure out the best job for you.”

They were right. Within a year, I was in a different role in the organization that was the right fit. Most importantly, I learned the value of connecting with strategic thinkers in an organization who see individuals for their unique ability to contribute. I was too young in my career to fully appreciate working in such an open environment or having leaders who made themselves available, but I try now to be that strategic thinker for others whenever I have the opportunity.

Share who influenced you

As you reflect on your own journey to your current position, who has influenced you along the way? How are you taking what you have learned from your mentors and paying it forward to the next generation of female leaders within your organization? RNL would welcome sharing your story in the next installment of Women of Higher Ed series. Contact me if you would like to contribute to a future blog article with a paragraph or two reflecting on your pathway and the people who guided, supported, and encouraged you to where you are today.

I also want to share one more resource with you: Our colleague, Wendy Beckemeyer, an RNL associate consultant and the vice president for enrollment management at Cornell College of Iowa, has organized a series of free webinars designed to help women take charge of themselves, their careers and perform optimally. The Pay It Forward series will be presented weekly by women on a variety of topics.I encourage you to check it out.


About the Author

Linda Hoopes joined Ruffalo Noel Levitz in 2010 as a consultant before transitioning to her current role as Vice President, University Partnerships. Dr. Hoopes assists the team of seasoned experts who conduct the RNL Campus Opportunity...

Read more about Linda's experience and expertise

Reach Linda by e-mail at Linda.Hoopes@RuffaloNL.com.

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