ACE2018: Women’s Leadership Dinner Keynote—Students Have the Solutions

March 12, 2018

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By Kristen Carmen

At ACE2018’s Women’s Leadership Dinner Saturday night, Judith S. White was awarded the 2018 Donna Shavlik Award. White is president and executive director of HERS (Higher Education Resource Services), which is dedicated to creating and sustaining a diverse community of women leaders through leadership development programs and other strategies with a special focus on gender equity within the broader commitment to achieving equality and excellence in higher education.

In her keynote address to the Women’s Leadership Dinner at ACE2018, Dickinson College (PA) President Margee Ensign brought her audience first to Nigeria.

Ensign is no stranger to the country, where she lived for several years as the president of the American University of Nigeria (AUN).

While president of AUN, which was purposefully founded in one of the poorest places in the world, Ensign encountered food insecurity, corruption, and the terrorist group Boko Haram. AUN is located in Yola, the capital of Adamawa State, one of the three northeastern Nigerian states that were under a state of emergency because of the Boko Haram insurgency.

Dickinson College President Margee Ensign

In her address, Ensign sought to ground the audience in these experiences, first by reminding them just how large Africa is, and then by noting how quickly demographic growth is changing the continent (Nigeria will be the third most populous nation in the world by 2045). Third, she showed how high fertility rates meant high mortality rates.

Then she spoke to what she saw firsthand. Ensign saw that educating women and reducing child and infant mortality rates lowered fertility rates—which in turn lowered the nation’s mortality rates. She also saw that when women have income, their lives and the lives of their families changed for the better.

“Women are the center of development,” she said, and her experience at AUN proved this. Ensign co-founded and led a response to the region’s escalating violence, which successfully promoted peace through education, empowerment, and community development while feeding 300,000 refugees fleeing the fighting.

She also offered aid to the girls who escaped the infamous Chibok kidnappings, bringing them to the university and facilitating a scholarship for them and others who would eventually also escape Boko Haram.

At the Women’s Leadership Dinner, Ensign’s words rang true to the gathered women leaders.

“What does this have to do with American higher education?” Ensign asked her audience. “In many of our universities,” she continued, “we have kids who are homeless, who don’t have enough to eat.”

In her role as the leader of Dickinson, a small liberal arts college in central Pennsylvania, Ensign finds herself with the same goal: educating. And she’s firmly placed the solution once again in her students: “When we give young people the big problems, they can solve them.”

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