Katherine Rowe is an example of how we can still make progress toward race- and gender-based equality
“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning.” — Benjamin Franklin
Imagine being the first person to fly, the first to walk on the moon or the first to climb the world's highest peaks.
It is within our human nature to strive for new achievements and eclipse milestones. And yet, our record books are still being written. The honorific “first time” is being placed in front of names of people who reach new heights.
On Monday, Katherine A. Rowe became the 28th president to be sworn in at the College of William and Mary, making her the first woman to hold the title. She replaced outgoing president Taylor Reveley.
She comes to W&M after four years as provost and dean of faculty at Smith College, a private women’s college in Massachusetts. Before that, she spent 16 years at Bryn Mawr College, a women’s college in Pennsylvania, as an English professor, department chair and director of the Katharine Houghtan Hepburn Center for leadership and public engagement. With those credentials, she no doubt has what it takes to lead the country’s second-oldest institution of higher education.
The nation’s oldest collegiate institution — Harvard University — is seeing its first female president, Drew Gilpin Faust, step down this year after a decade in the role.
Knowing the symbolic significance of the day, Ms. Rowe chose to place her hand atop a Bible published in 1808 by Jane Aitken — the first woman in the United States to publish an English translation of the holy text — during the swearing-in ceremony.
Mss. Rowe and Faust are breaking down barriers in higher education. It is achievements such as theirs that will inspire young girls to pursue their own dreams in academia, or perhaps in other pursuits.
This board wonders what our culture and country will look like when these first-timers inspire new generations of leaders to break down their own barriers. We look forward to a day when gender and race-based first-times are all but accomplished.
As a society, we have not reached that day yet. There are still some significant first-times we still have yet to eclipse. We imagine a day when someone of minority descent is picked as president of Newport News Shipbuilding.
The shipyard hired its first female president, Jennifer Boykin, last July, an impressive feat for an industry dominated still to this day by men.
A 2014 NASA study on race and demographics found the agency to be a majority male and overwhelmingly white. We note this because progress toward these goals will only come once we begin introducing science, technology, engineering and math to girls and minorities at an earlier age.
Progress will come when hiring managers and advisory committees are handed a diverse list of candidates that all equally hold an impressive set of credentials, regardless of their race or gender.
This board does not advocate lowering standards simply to fill race- and gender-based quotas. We simply want to note the importance of early education and mentorship for young students. We must introduce them to the Mss. Rowes and Boykins of the day at an early age.
We point out both NASA and Newport News Shipbuilding here because they have a significant presence on the Peninsula.
The shipyard has created employee resource groups for women and minorities, veterans and members of the LGBT community as a way of strengthening employee relationships and supporting leadership and professional development.
NASA offers scholarship and fellowships to help increase the number of masters and doctorate degrees awarded to women, minorities and disabled people in STEM disciplines. That is the type of opportunity that has a generational payoff.
As of 2016, 30 percent of college presidents were women, according to the American Council on Education, and about three in four were serving for the first time as presidents. In 1980, they made up just 10 percent.
As a society, we still have a long way to go to provide equal opportunities. But we have some significant examples of trailblazers right here on the Peninsula.
We applaud their efforts and will continue to push to open more opportunities where none have historically existed.