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Feminine touch: Some of SU’s most successful women share their stories for Women of Achievement Month
Central New York is no stranger to serving as a home to strong women.
In 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention spurred women to start the movement for women’s suffrage. Today, more than 150 years later, several women are prominent members and leaders on campus at Syracuse University. From deans to nationally recognized scholars to the chancellor herself, women have opened doors for future generations to rise to all sorts of leadership.
September, Women of Achievement Month, looks to honor that influence. Here are some of the women that have made a difference at SU.
When sitting across from her desk, the first thing one might notice about Chancellor Nancy Cantor is her strong eye contact. She sits down, smiles and looks directly at whoever addresses her.
Her directness also comes across clearly when she discusses the significance of the availability of opportunity on campus.
“As chancellor, it’s an enormous opportunity to serve the public good,” Cantor said. “It allows students to become leaders and make a difference in the major issues of today.”
An encouraging spirit is important for young women on campus if they are to be inspired by the female role models on campus. What is also important for young women, she said, is to feel they can relate to their role models and share their experiences.
“These women can think to themselves, ‘If they can do this, I can do this,’” Cantor said. “I think it’s important to have a lateral sort of mentorship.”
Cantor said the university having a majority of women leaders is not viewed any differently than a majority of male leaders.
Said Cantor: “It’s especially important to recognize the social context of the environment. It can be hard, but don’t personalize it. The best thing I can say is to simply keep at it.”
For some, competition is merely a word for sports or the job market. For Elizabeth Liddy, dean of theSchoolofInformation Studies, it’s a way of life.
Competitiveness allowed her to move forward in her field and become the person she is now, and for her students to be top contenders with current professionals.
This competitiveness continues to motivate Liddy today and she feels commitment to what students want to achieve is the most important thing her students can have. She also believes that it should not matter whether or not the competition is skewed gender-wise. All that matters is the goal of being the best.
Liddy discussed experiences she had working with the military and the government, being put in situations where the gender makeup was 97 percent male.
“I would only notice this if it was brought to my attention,” Liddy said. “I don’t want a break if I’m a woman. I want to be recognized because I’m good at what I do.”
Her philosophy also carries weight in her advice to fellow competitive women.
Said Liddy: “Be as good as you can be. Stand up and compete. I want women to know that it’s okay to be competitive and be comfortable with it. They should value it.”
Adaptation is the name of the game in the engineering world.
Laura Steinberg, dean of the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science, said students and professionals have to keep adapting to the new influx of technology and scientific research in the field.
“I want their engineering skills to be used in a very positive way, to help them with the questions of life and sustainability,” Steinberg said.
Another change in the engineering world is the emergence of a more visual and prominent representation of women engineers, something Steinberg is happy to be a role model for.
“Engineering has moved far as accepting and promoting women in the field,” Steinberg said. “What’s being seen is that a woman or a man could do the same work and can be role models for all. I’m happy to serve that role.”
Steinberg also stressed that women emerging in the engineering world should not be discouraged because of the gender differences and the shifting nature of the profession.
“You don’t know how much you are capable of,” Steinberg said. “We have a difficult engineering program here, and because of the curriculum, they are capable of doing things that they don’t even realize that they could do.”
Sally Roesch Wagner is a woman on the move. The founder of The Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation has spoken at universities, taught classes and founded programs and institutions.
The one thing that remains constant for her is the passion she carries for learning and practicing social justice.
“I don’t have a career path, I have a calling,” Dr. Wagner said. “That’s just what social justice is for me.”
Wagner is the leading academic on feminist Matilda Joslyn Gage, and also founded one of the earliest gender studies programs atCaliforniaStateUniversity,Sacramentoin 1970.
Wagner has been teaching women studies for more than 40 years — a feat which she says is more than anyone else in the country. Now an adjunct professor in the Honors Program, she has stayed committed to her passions and feels that she has made a difference.
“What I used to get criticized for I’m now getting awards for,” said Wagner, laughing. “It allows me to fulfill my goal of teaching students of Gage. My goal is to teach her to the world. Her ideas are still things we’re doing today.”
Courage is also something Dr. Wagner wants to stress to pass on to future generations of women.
Said Wagner: “Things still need to be changed, and we’re going to pass the torch, so to speak. So courage: It can be a wall, but you can walk through it.”
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