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Women in Higher Education: 7 Deans Share Insights and Advice

University Leaders Reflect on Women’s History Month
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Dean Marie Johnson
Marie Johnson

College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
Dean Marie Johnson

During her nearly five years as the first female dean of the college, Marie Johnson has been committed to equitable, inclusive science and mathematics teaching — and empowering students to transform their own lives and the communities around them.

Johnson, professor of geological sciences, came to the university in July 2016 following a 21-year career as a professor and leader at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Her goals have included preparing all students, including future female scientists and mathematicians, for graduate school or industry and arming them with the skills to become active and engaged citizens. She earned a doctorate in geological sciences from Brown University.

What is your college doing to advance women to become leaders in the fields of natural sciences and mathematics?

We are looking at our college policies and practices in general, with the goal of increasing equity and inclusion in all of our NSM spaces. We formed a college Equity and Inclusion Committee in fall 2019. This committee is working on identifying and disseminating inclusive practices in our large enrollment, lower-division courses and how we recruit and mentor students in our research groups. Our goal is to build a community where all of our students feel welcome, and bring their unique talents and lived experiences to the fields of science and mathematics.

What is one example of an obstacle you personally encountered — and overcame?

I was a curious kid by nature and I loved the outdoors. Geology gave me the chance to experience some of the most beautiful places on Earth and to appreciate them, not just as a tourist, but as a scientist. The road from high school to college to Ph.D. program to faculty member and now to dean had plenty of hardships — but I think everyone’s journey does. I taught for over two decades at West Point, a school which when I started had 13% women students and about the same in the faculty ranks. Learning to navigate those waters taught me a lot about how and when to make your voice heard.

What advice do you have for female students in your college?

If I had a magic wand, I would make the same wish for all of our students. And my wish is that you learn to love hard work. If you are willing to work hard — if hard work doesn’t scare you — then all roads are open to you. What separates those who achieve their dreams from those who don’t, is effort over time. So, my advice for all our women students is to embrace hard work. Know that every time you strengthen your work ethic, you are investing in yourself — and this investment will make all futures possible for you.

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