Faculty and Administration: Inspiration for Higher Education

Administration and faculty members at institutions of higher education work with today’s students day in and day out. They are on the front lines working to provide students with high-quality education programs and see first-hand the needs of today’s students. Insights & Outlooks spoke with administration and faculty members about their inspiration for working directly with today’s students.

Dr. Dominique Baker, Southern Methodist University

“As a kid, I never understood why, even though they were all equally intelligent, some members of my family held advanced degrees and were presidents of universities while other members never had the opportunity to finish high school. The more I learned about higher education in the United States, the more I wondered why structures were created to separate and provide resources and opportunities to certain students at the expense of others. This reality inspired me to focus on researching and better understanding the role that policies play in fostering and inhibiting educational equity.”

Trent Ball, Southeast Missouri State University

“I attended a small private liberal arts institution in northwest Missouri, Dr. Sherer was the registrar at the time and at the end of my first year I applied for a staff assistant position working in his office. It was similar to a graduate assistant position at a University, it covered full tuition and room and board. I worked 20 hours a week and had a great, developmental experience.

Dr. Sherer, or Terry as he told us to call him, was a great mentor and sponsor – a term that was not used at the time, but as reflect, he definitely was – he talked to us about civic mindedness, what books to read, had challenging conversations and made sure we ate Sunday nights.

There were a small diverse group of us, impressionable young men, that worked with Terry and he challenged us, worked with us, scolded us and helped develop us. As an African-American young man on a predominantly white small campus he promoted inclusion and participation in 1985, before it was the thing to do.

Dr. Sherer’s intelligence, his energy, his commitment to education and his willingness to talk, share, listen, cajole, support, celebrate and elevate us, at a critical period in our lives inspired me then, and continues to inspire me now!”

Dr. Angela Boatman, Boston College

“My work in higher education is motivated by a quote from the late Senator from Minnesota, Paul Wellstone: “Education and democracy have the same goal: the fullest possible development of human capabilities.” It is my hope that we, as a field, continue to identify policies and practices in education that help all people move toward their own fullest capabilities; to feel included rather than excluded, and to feel empowered rather than powerless. I believe this is the most important work we can do, both for our colleges and for our democracy.”

Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Temple University and the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice

“My grandfather, Isaac Youcha, attended college thanks to the GI Bill. Throughout my life, he’s expressed how life-changing that opportunity was, and how central educational opportunity is to this country. His words are echoed in research findings and the lived experiences of so many Americans; they’ve inspired me to fight for similar opportunities for everyone. (He turns 92 this month).”

Steve Partridge, Northern Virginia Community College

“I was inspired to pursue a career in higher education because colleges and universities are at the center of the coming educational revolution. This change is being driven by the continued evolution of today’s high-demand, high-tech skills. Since most young workers can now easily expect to work for the next 50-60 years, it makes sense that individuals will be compelled to constantly upskill in order to avoid obsolescence. Successful higher educational institutions will be those that are both nimble and very closely aligned with industry, which makes the coming decade an exciting time to be in higher education.”

Dr. Laura W. Perna, University of Pennsylvania

“It’s difficult to point to one source of inspiration, but one especially influential experience was my first job out of college. With dreams of “making the world a better place,” I took my bachelor’s degrees in economics/business and psychology to an entry-level position working for the county executive of Hudson County, New Jersey. My charge (as I interpret it now!) was to consider how local government can help ensure that longtime residents of Jersey City and other communities in the county had access to the new jobs that were being created in financial services, as manufacturing and other blue-collar jobs were being eliminated. I learned a great deal in this position – including the roles that government, higher education institutions, employers, and other stakeholders can play in creating systemic, structural changes that advance the well-being of individuals and communities.”

Dr. Doug Webber, Temple University

“I am involved in higher education policy primarily because of my graduate school advisor Ron Ehrenberg. Ron is the best teacher, mentor, and friend that I can imagine. His passion for the field and kindness as a person has inspired countless people to follow in his footsteps.”