10 Inspiring Female Leaders in Higher Education

5 min read

Julia Sachs

International Women’s Day on March 8th and Women’s History Month celebrate the achievements that women have made across all industries.

We wanted to take some time to celebrate a few of the many women in both higher education and leadership roles that have shaped our industry today, or continue to shape it through their work.

Here is a list of 10 inspiring women in the higher education industry that we’re celebrating throughout women’s history month. 

1) Edith Bartley

Edith Bartley is a prominent figure in the world of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) where she served as the Vice President of Government Affairs for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and as the Director of Government Affairs for the United Negro College Fund from 2013-2017 and 2007-2013, respectively, before leaving to further advocate for victims of terrorism in the last several years. Through her work at Thurgood Marshall and the United Negro College Fund, Bartley advocated for college student assistance programs, housing programs and addressing the loan crisis on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. 

Watch our favorite podcast episodes featuring inspiring women leaders in higher education



2) Carrie L. Billy

Carrie L. Billy is the president and CEO of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium and advocates for Native American students on campuses across the United States. Billy is a member of Navajo Nation and has worked since the Clinton administration to advocate for Indigenous students in the United States, specifically in the world of higher education. 


3) Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell

Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell was nominated as the President of Spelman College, one of the most prominent HBCUs in the United States, in 2015. Throughout her career, Dr. Campbell has worked in higher education and culture, serving as the Dean of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. 


4) Dr. Stella Flores

Dr. Stella Flores is a former professor at New York University who currently works as a professor of higher education at UT Austin. Dr. Flores’ work has helped immigrant and minority students in the United States for years, and her insight helped to reach a dissenting opinion in the Gratz V. Bollinger US Supreme Court case that deemed affirmative actions policies at the University of Michigan as unconstitutional. 


5) Cheryl L. Smith

Cheryl L. Smith is Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Governing Affairs at the United Negro College Fund. Smith has dedicated her career to advocating for scholarships and funding to students of color at HBCUs around the United States. Smith was also the first African American staff director on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Education, which assures that Americans can access and utilize higher education in a way that serves a changing workforce. 


6) Drew Gilpin Faust

Drew Gilpin Faust was the first woman to serve as the president of Harvard University as the 28th president of the school. Faust is a historian and was ranked by Forbes in 2014 as the 33rd most powerful woman in the world. Faust is a specialist in the antebellum south and has written several books on how the civil war shaped American life. Her 2008 book titled This Republic of Suffering was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. 


7) Dorothy Garrod

Dorothy Garrod was the first woman in history to hold a position as a professor at the University of Cambridge as well as the University of Oxford. Garrod was an archaeologist who is celebrated for her employment of diverse groups during expeditions of places like Mt. Carmel, as she wanted to help people local to the areas she worked in to get experience in the archaeology industry. During the Second World War, Garrod served as a section officer in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. 


8) Louise Richardson

Louise Richardson is currently the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University and has been since taking on the position in 2016. Richardson is credited for pushing for meaningful change in Oxford University, and believes that the university must make changes to shape with the changing world or face a likely future of decline. Richardson is credited as having stood up for the University after the Chinese embassy threatened to remove its students when a chancellor visited Hong Kong amid the 2019 protests. 


9) Alice Gast

Alice Gast is currently the 16th president of the Imperial College of London and has a long career in the engineering industry around the world. Currently, Gast sits on the board of directors at Chevron and has worked as an advisor to the United States State Department and White House. 


10) Angela Davis

Angela Davis is a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz and is one of the most famous female political activists in American history. Davis has long been credited as a leading figure in the abolition of the prison-industrial complex, and is a prominent figure in the prison abolition movement. She was listed in 2020 as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, and her work has inspired generations of activists to fight for Black lives both in the United States and around the world. Davis’ work in feminist studies and the abolition of the prison-industrial complex has long shaped the way educators at Universities around the world approach such topics. 

There are far too many inspiring female leaders throughout history that have shaped higher education for the better over time. Today, we honor the women throughout history and those working today that continue to create impactful change in the higher education industry. 

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