Three leaders in Higher Education

As the recession drags on and most industries are either retrenched or flailing, it would stand to reason that higher education would be suffering as well. Plunking down tuition when money is tight might seem like yet another luxury to skip. Surprisingly, though, it is precisely during troubled economic times like these that enrollment tends to go up, especially in state schools and community colleges. Laid-off workers wanting to switch careers, nervous professionals hoping to beef up résumés, and new high school graduates who might not otherwise have considered college all help bolster the numbers. “I think there are two larger trends that are amplified in these tough economic times,” explains Debra Humphreys, vice president of communications and public affairs for the Association of American Colleges and Universities. While enrollment has been going up for some time, she says now more than ever people see higher education as crucial to being more valuable in their jobs and to being more competitive in trying to land those jobs. “It is a very rational economic choice in these times to invest in education,” she says. Helping to shape the future of higher education in Denver are three highly accomplished women who each bring to their jobs very different backgrounds and life experiences but in the end share a common goal. Here are their stories:

The first time Lynn Gangone noticed the disparity between how boys and girls were treated was when she was playing softball for her high school’s team in the 1970s. Her team was undefeated and capturing notice throughout their corner of Connecticut, yet the school would not give them money for uniforms. All of the boys’ sports teams had uniforms and seemingly anything else they wanted. The slap stung and awakened a keen sense of righting gender imbalance. It is a passion she continues to fight for today. A striking, confident woman who can own any room, she tempers her presence with an easy laugh and self-deprecating sense of humor. She calls herself a “higher ed geek.” And in fact she has amassed 25 years of accolades and experience that includes senior administrator, writer, Ph.D., faculty member, lobbyist, policy analyst and consultant. She is deeply involved in HERS (Higher Education Resource Service), providing leadership development for women in higher education, and co-created the Institute for Women in Higher Education Administration. Such an august résumé does not, however, tell her whole story. The signature 10,000-watt smile ignites as she confesses to singing along with the B-52s in concert and mentions the little red 1993 sports car she keeps tucked in her garage.

Now 51, she thought she would be a lawyer during the heady early days of the women’s movement in this country. The first in her working-class Italian family to go to college, in 1975 she enrolled in the College of New Rochelle, an all-women’s Catholic college in New York. Her career path began to diverge when she got a work study job in the dean’s office and witnessed in the Ursuline sisters the importance of strong women educators and leaders. “You don’t grow up saying, ‘Hey I want to be dean of a college,’” she says with a laugh. But she adds: “The education experience I received changed my life. I wanted to give that to other women.” Gangone arrived in Denver three years ago to take the helm of The Women’s College, a 300-student undergraduate school that was folded into the larger Denver University in 1982. The very existence of a “woman’s college” may seem odd in 2009. At the turn of the 20th century such colleges, much like the black colleges, came into existence because women and students of color were often shut out of more traditional higher education. But women now outnumber men in undergraduate enrollment. Why is a college just for women necessary? “Yes, there are women everywhere,” Gangone agrees. But then she pulls out the sobering statistics: Fewer than one-fifth of the highest placed leaders in corporate America, in academia and in other professions are women. Somewhere between college and the real world, Gangone says, women are still being shut out.

“Until we have a society where both men and women are deeply engaged in making decisions about the important issues of the day, there need to be places that educate and empower women,” she says. Her vision for the school is to give women a place to feel comfortable with themselves in small classrooms and a nurturing environment. As an evening and weekend college, it attracts many students who are older and already juggling careers and families. She wants them to embrace those parts of their lives rather than feeling they must wedge them into their academic life. She also thinks being surrounded by other women will allow students to practice being assertive. “It’s just like a musician or athlete,” she says. “The way you become skilled is to practice.” For many women, speaking up and out does not come naturally. More than once a 30-something student has confessed to Gangone that she usually keeps quiet during meetings at her job and lets men take the lead. Gangone is having none of that. “Frankly, after being here, they go on to master’s degrees and knock the socks off men,” she says, unable to suppress a grin. Gangone is not discouraged by the downturn in the economy. She sees, instead, opportunity for women. “Research has shown that when times are tough, people are more willing to let others in where they might not have done so before,” she says. These days she is looking everywhere for those cracks, hosting gatherings with civic leaders to make sure they know about her college and the students who attend there. She hopes to expand programs to include entrepreneurship training, leadership studies and even courses to prepare women for political office. “In economies like this one you can either circle the wagon or go big,” she says. She picks going big.

DEAN OF THE COLLEGE OF NURSING University of Colorado, Denver
As a child Patricia Moritz was always drawn to life science. She would climb a tree just to learn more about the bees inside a hive. A deep curiosity pushed her to learn how we fit into our world. After volunteering one summer at a hospital, a life plan began to take shape. Back then girls were still mostly relegated to one of two career paths: teaching or nursing. Moritz chose nursing. By the 1960s young women had begun to question what they could do and how far they could go. For Moritz, nursing allowed her a chance to care for others, which she loved, but it also opened a pathway to the kind of scientific research she craved. In the four decades since, Moritz has watched her profession evolve. She has even had a hand in shaping the changes that have moved nursing from being seen as a mere helpmate to a doctor to that of a respected partner. “We are no longer just the cool hand on a fevered brow,” she says with a smile. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she earned a degree in nursing from Johns Hopkins University and a master’s degree from the same school in human development with an emphasis in child development. She went on to earn a doctorate in administrative and policy science. In addition to being an educator and administrator, she was especially interested in crafting research to improve clinical care. She saw opportunities to actually measure the impact and outcome. “We did things because we believed they made a difference,” she says. “Now we had the opportunity to actually study whether it was true.”

As a working wife and mother, Moritz juggled the many parts of her life when there were few examples to lead the way. She says she was luckier than most to be surrounded by strong women leaders. Among her influences were Dr. Mary Ellen Avery, a pioneering researcher who helped unlock the cause of respiratory distress syndrome in premature babies, and Ada Sue Hinshaw, a leader in understanding the impact of nurse staffing on the quality of care. Moritz’s career path took her to the National Institutes of Health, where she managed the nursing systems branch. In 2002 she was named dean of the University of Colorado College of Nursing. “It was an important step for me to be able to continue to grow nursing science,” she says. “It gives me the opportunity to directly influence the education of new nurses, expert clinicians and nurse scientists.” Just as the role and status of nurses has evolved, so, too, has nursing education. Where once it was a matter of memorizing bones and muscles, today there is a more integrated approach. The facts are still there, but now they are part of a much deeper understanding of how the body works. Moritz says the shift has led to better prevention strategies. With Moritz at the helm the nursing school is revising both its undergraduate curriculum and that of the doctoral program. New standards for undergraduate nursing education will include a broader worldview on health care and policy. In addition, Moritz hopes to see advanced degree candidates more prepared to take on academic roles for the future. While the shortage of nurses in this country has long been reported, she says the lack of nurse educators is even more acute.

Moritz says she will probably retire in the next decade, although she makes no predictions. She’s been kicking around the idea of opening a flower shop. There’s little doubt she’ll be the smartest florist in the room. Or at least the most curious.

Growing up in Denver in the 1960s and 70s, Sandra Haynes never thought of herself as college material. No one in her family had gone to college, so it wasn’t encouraged. She got vocational training and after high school landed a decent job as a secretary for the U.S. Corps of Engineers. What more could she want? She worked as a secretary for three years. It was then she met the lone female engineer at the job, who was bright, accomplished and succeeding in a field not typical for women. Haynes was in awe. It sparked an ambition that ultimately won out against inner doubt. “There’s a whole life out there I don’t know about,” she said to herself.
In 1980, at age 21, Haynes enrolled in Metro State, not unlike the nontraditional students she shepherds today. Attending on a federal Pell grant for low-income students, she worked her way through school as a waitress, transferring to Colorado State University, where she got a degree in psychology. By then her ambition and determination had taken hold. She flourished in school and went on to earn both master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology. In 1994 she returned to Metro State to take her first faculty position teaching human services. In 1998 she married, had a baby daughter and was awarded tenure in one watershed year. Her life trajectory once again seemed set. Then one year later a faculty member who had just been bumped to dean asked her if she wouldn’t also consider making the move from the classroom to the administrative side of academia as associate dean. She hesitated. The old doubt returned. Was she really up to it? And she truly enjoyed teaching. Could she give it up? Faculty always joked that such a switch was tantamount to going over to the dark side. In the end she leapt.

“As much as I loved teaching, I realized I could influence many more students (as an administrator) than I could in the classroom,” she says, adding with twinkling eyes, “and it wasn’t the dark side.” Today she is dean of professional studies, an administrative overseer to three centers and 12 academic departments. Her motto is “To be a good leader you have to be a good servant.” That and not taking yourself too seriously. Her office is a testament to the latter. An action figure of Freud stands on a bookshelf next to Glinda, from The Wizard of Oz. The first is a nod to her days in psychology, the second a reassurance from her husband that even if she has to be a witch sometimes to make feuding faculty members get along, at least she can be the good one. There is also a jar on the shelf that reads “Ashes of Problem Students.” That one needs no explanation. She rejects the often-held notion that commuter schools like Metro are somehow lesser than bigger universities. “I think my students are second to none,” she says with a touch of defiance. After all, she was once one of them. “We are all about access,” she adds. “I think everybody deserves an education.” These days enrollment at Metro is up, especially in the 19 to 21 age group. The average age is 23, actually down from the previous average of 27. The school has more fulltime students of color than the University of Colorado and Colorado State University combined. It also has one of the highest transfer-in rates in the state. “Our students come to us with such a rich background,” she says. “To watch them grow, to succeed, to achieve is just the best feeling in the world.”

On her watch she has taken on the role of peacekeeping, implementing better communication and coordination between departments. She has also helped start an accelerated nursing program, which allows students from other disciplines to earn a nursing degree in just 13 months. That is especially helpful for those changing careers. At her core is a deep appreciation for education and the doors it opens. She stresses fearless learning to her own daughter, now 10. At home she is the primary wage earner, and her husband, a nurse, takes on more day-to-day kid duties. Haynes thinks the arrangement sends the right message to their daughter — that there is no such thing as gender boundary. Sometimes she still feels amazed at all she has accomplished. She has come so far. It serves as a good reminder to appreciate what she has: “I may not have an extraordinary life, but what I have really is quite remarkable.”

Written by Jenny Deam
Photography by Kit Williams

View Women’s Directory

banner image ad to view business woman directory

Advertising Partners

Denver Woman