Posts Tagged 'ellen eckman'

A Few Words from Dr. Ellen Eckman

This May, Dr. Ellen Eckman is retiring from the College of Education where she celebrated over 20 years of service, including serving as chair of the Educational Policy and Leadership department. At a joint retirement party with Dr. Bob Lowe on Tuesday, March 14, Dr. Eckman shared the following sentiments and memories of her time at Marquette University.

ellen-eckman-2019As I thought about what to say this afternoon, it became clear to me that my research on women in leadership actually provides a framework that describes my experiences. I have lived the very research that I do.

My career followed the trajectory that many women in education experience and in fact women still face today in many fields.  I began as a teacher, stopped out and went part-time when my children were young, then returned to teaching and began thinking about and preparing for an administrative position as a principal. I should add here that I had wanted to go to Law school, but my father — a lawyer — discouraged me because as he explained, he had never seen female lawyers only female legal secretaries. This was before Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Such discouragement is something many women experience as they explore career opportunities. And though the situation seems better today for women – women are still underrepresented in leadership positions in many fields. We still talk about whether or not women are “likeable” enough to be president and, in our state, governor.

After 15 years of teaching, I became an assistant principal and then as is the customary career trajectory, began seeking a principal position. Lots of applications to school districts in metro Milwaukee and even in New England, lots of final interviews but it was always the other candidate who was hired: the man. It was never clear to me what experiences or credentials these men had that were significantly different than mine. I began to see that it was because I was a woman – I was the one that was different.

Researchers have noted that what helps women in moving into leadership positions is a “tap on the shoulder” or encouragement to try a new role. I did receive encouragement at just the right time and it helped me come to Marquette. I was working as an Assistant Principal, working on my PhD at UW-Milwaukee and in my fourth or fifth year of applying for principal positions. I actually thought if I had the PhD credential I could get a job as principal – a little naïve, I know. In my search for positions I was reading the classified ads in the Milwaukee Journal – that’s how we did job searches 20 years ago!   There was an ad for a visiting assistant professor in Educational Administration at Marquette. I thought what an interesting opportunity – I could teach, apply my experience and research on administration, and finish my dissertation – I could move into higher education. But I didn’t know if my credentials would be acceptable, and I didn’t really want to face another rejection.

Then I remembered someone I could call for advice – this is, of course, the important concept of networking that women are beginning to use successfully. The person I knew had taught with me at Shorewood High School, we knew each other through our families and children ran into each other in Shorewood. I knew she had finished her PhD and was now at Marquette. So, I called Joan Whipp. And she encouraged me – she told me that I should apply, that I should send her my CV, and that they would be interested in me. Without her supportive answer and encouragement, I don’t know if I would have applied. I have a special memory of Joan.

Researchers of women in leadership positions have reported on the need for strong reliable mentors that women can trust to provide clear advice and support.  I have had that! As a new assistant professor, I had role models like Christine Weisman and Nancy Snow, whose gender and diversity committees I served on. I served on committees with Cheryl Maranto and could call her with questions and concerns. When I became department chair, I had the expert advice and mentorship of my good friend Bob Lowe. I also have women leaders like Anne Pasero, Professor and Chair of World Languages and Literatures, and Barbara Silver-Thorn, Emeritus Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering. Anne has helped me problem-solve and has provided expert advice and information on how to handle things as a chair and also shared many lunch conversations. Barb Silver-Thorn, who couldn’t be here today, taught me how to organize and write and direct a grant and along the way gave me advice, perspectives, and guidance on leadership issues. I thank them for the significant role they have played in my career at Marquette.

As a department, we also owe a special thank-you to an outside mentor who had deep experience in serving as a chair, though he was often stymied in offering advice by the differences between private and public universities. That is my husband Fred – who willingly shared his wisdom and perspective on all things concerning being a department chair. He often joked that he could become an outside consultant for department chairs – which is not a bad idea, Leigh, if you need a consultant.

Researchers on women leaders offer various definitions of women’s leadership styles or what has been called a feminist leadership style. They most often describe women as collaborators who bring groups together as teams to share leadership or women as servant leaders, who quietly work to support those around them.

As chair of the department for the last 10 years, I have sought to lead as both – a collaborative and a servant leader – one who works to bring faculty and staff together in decision-making, all the while serving them, getting them recognition, balancing their course assignments, preparing their dossiers for promotion and tenure, respecting their needs, and bringing together an exciting eclectic group of individuals that has kept our department moving forward for the most part with great success and, of course, laughter and joy.

I couldn’t end this talk without a special recognition to someone who has taught me about hard work, loyalty, kindness, calmness in a storm — and even some environmental stuff – Melissa Econom. She quietly keeps me on task – all those due dates for scheduling and bulletins and graduate forms and hiring and dossiers and meetings and, of course, getting names and lists and photos and music for this wonderful event. I have relied on her immensely, as I know many others do. I couldn’t have done my work without Melissa. Thank you for your leadership. Your career parallels that of many women leaders, and you too have places you can go and the skills to take you there.

Finally, my career is not over. I have too much energy to just go quietly into the night! My next stage is to return to teaching courses that I love and to taking courses that I never got to take earlier – like law courses. So be prepared to see me on campus going to classes – either to teach or learn. And know that I will be more than willing to provide mentorship and networking and a good laugh over lunch or coffee to you.

We’ve done a lot together. Thanks so much for being with me.


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