SNHU appoints first female board chair

In a crowded on-campus auditorium, the inspiring women of the Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) Board of Trustees gathered for a panel discussion in early October. Moderated by the SNHU Chief Experience Officer sue nathanthe roundtable highlighted the voices and experiences of female members of the university’s board of trustees.

Together, each of the directors shared their unique perspectives and discussed the impact that leadership roles can have on the women in them.

SNHU Board Maribel Duran speaking at the Women on Board panel“Women walk around with different identities,” said Maribel Duran ’16. “I am very proud to say that I was a teenage mother, a single mother and a first generation adult learner. It took me almost 17 years to get my bachelor’s degree, and I carry those identities with me in many rooms. Over time, I learned by observation. I learned from the bravest leaders, and I learned from not so great leaders. You take notes, learn, and start creating more tools in your toolbox.

SNHU Board of Directors Janiece Y. Evans-Page listening to other panelists speak at SNHU's Women on Board eventWhen asked if there was a singular moment that Janiece Y. Evans-Page realized she was officially a leader, she said, “I’m the one who believes that leadership can start and happen anywhere. For me, it was really when I knew I had a sense of agency and when I could give direction and inspire others.

Lisa Guertin shared his thoughts on impostor syndrome. “I vividly remember my first job coming out of college and looking at senior executives and fully believing, ‘they’re different, they’re cut from a different cloth,'” she said. “Then you become one by title, but you think ‘I’m still just me.’ As you rise in leadership you realize this and it is liberating.

Reflect on what it means to be a leader, Dr. MaryEllen C. McGuire highlighted the importance of strategic thinking. Earlier in her career, a co-worker told her, “You have to get off the dance floor and onto the balcony. You need to start thinking long term. It’s not just about deliverables. Think beyond that – really live your mission every day. She believes strategic thinking didn’t come naturally, and this advice prompted her to change her mindset.

SNHU's Director of Experience, Sue Nathan, moderates the Women's Panel on the Board of Six SNHU Board MembersDiane Tryneski expressed that often in her career she was the only woman in the room. At first, she didn’t feel comfortable talking, but she found that having confidence in herself made all the difference. She also shared the importance of having diverse voices in the workplace. “In my career, I would hire people who didn’t come to a position traditionally,” she said. “I think it’s a lot about what someone brings to the role and having a look that sees things differently from the band. It’s that magic, like a recipe. You always add to it.

Among the panelists was Winnie Lerner, who recently became the first female board chair in SNHU history. She joined the board in 2015 and is currently co-CEO of FGS Global for North America, a communications consultancy. The board unanimously elected Lerner president.

“It is an honor and a privilege to take on this position, replacing Mark (Ouellette), who has been an incredible Chairman of the Board,” said Lerner. “He truly left an incredible mark on the institution, and it is with great humility that I stand here today and take on this role.”

During the panel, she also emphasized the importance of finding your passions and being part of meaningful work. “For me, what gets me out of bed every day is versatile, flexible, interesting and interconnected work,” she said.

SNHU Board Chair Winnie Lerner listens to panelists speak at SNHU's Women on Board eventPrior to Lerner’s role at FGS, Lerner led corporate communications at Ralph Lauren and served as President of the Abernathy MacGregor Group. She also worked as an energy and commerce legislative aide on Capitol Hill and worked on presidential and congressional campaigns. She has advised senior executives of companies in transition and through mergers and acquisitions, crises and leadership changes for more than two decades. Lerner advises companies through complex moments of change and develops strategies to build their profiles and communicate their mission and business goals to important audiences.

“We are thrilled to welcome Winnie Lerner as the first female chair of the board,” said Paul LeBlanc, president of the SNHU. “Winnie brings to SNHU a wealth of experience, creativity, and a deep commitment to our mission. This is an important day for Southern New Hampshire University, and I look forward to working together to continue transforming lives at scale.” .

From left to right: Outgoing SNHU Board Chair Mark Ouellette, SNHU Board Chair Winnie Lerner and SNHU President Paul LeBlancHis predecessor, Marc Ouellette ’77, served on the SNHU Board of Directors for 26 years, including nine years as Chairman of the Board. This month, he proudly passed the torch to Lerner.

“Working with Winnie over the past seven years has been a wonderful experience,” said Ouellette, outgoing Chair of the SNHU Board of Directors. “I know I’m leaving SNHU in very capable hands, and I’m confident Winnie will thrive in this role.”

Recognized by Forbes as one of the top employers for women in the nation, SNHU understands the importance of a diversity of voices and perspectives. The university currently maintains a 50/50 gender ratio on the board, and the majority of SNHU’s leadership team are women. SNHU is also working toward increased Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) representation, with the goal of achieving 50/50 in terms of white and non-white board members.

As part of these efforts, SNHU hosted Luis Lopez to the board this fall. Having built national, regional and international higher education networks, he has extensive knowledge of post-secondary education and its growing markets. As former CEO of Honoris United Universities, Lopez played a leading role in the launch and development of the pan-African network of private higher education institutions and its unique collaborative approach.

“While American higher education still has a long way to go in terms of gender and diversity in leadership roles, at SNHU we have experienced firsthand the benefits of a diverse board,” LeBlanc said. “Winnie and Luis are welcome additions to the SNHU Board of Directors, and their roles will support our continued growth as an organization.”

Melanie Drolet ’16 is a communications manager at Southern New Hampshire University.

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