WOMEN SHAPING HISTORY 2016
Mary Erina Driscoll
Dean, The City College Of NY
Career Path: I have been fortunate over the years to learn from many individuals who share a deep respect for the important work that teachers and school leaders do. My grandparents met teaching in the Boston public schools and on both sides of my family teaching was seen as a respected and noble profession. I have been a faculty member or administrator in three professional schools, each located in an urban research university, since 1988. For me, that setting permits me to join scholarly inquiry informed by practice with a commitment to understand and improve education. Given the opportunity to work in each of these institutions with a community of scholars and practitioner, I have been allowed to to learn from students and full time educators engaged in schools. Together, we can better the education and life chances for this city’s children.
Challenges: I am currently the Dean of the School of Education at City College. Since its founding in 1847, The City College of New York (CCNY) has been true to its legacy of access, opportunity, and transformation. It has also demonstrated excellence in preparing professionals who serve the city in many different ways. Teacher and leadership preparation today face many calls for public accountability. We continue to respond creatively and thoughtfully to the many public demands for high quality in our programs. We do so even as we grapple with levels of diminishing state support that have transformed this public college into a tuition-driven institution.
Getting teacher and leadership education right here matters, because we still offer opportunities to achieve levels of professional success and mobility for first generation, diverse, multi-lingual students who are so needed in our schools. Maintaining that balance of excellence and access remains our greatest challenge. But every time a new teacher walks across the graduation stage into a city classroom full of children, I think we have made a contribution.
Accomplishments: During my career we have seen the profession of educational leadership grow to encompass diversity, first in terms of gender, but more recently with respect to many other characteristics as well. I was among the first women to be hired in the first two academic departments in which I served; I was proud to be part of that transformation, and am delighted that few who look at the profession of educational leadership as it stands in schools and universities today would find the lack of diversity that was so evident thirty years ago.
I am very proud as well of the work that is done every day in collaboration with the faculty here at CCNY. Coming to this community I have been gifted with a group of faculty and staff whose dedication to this work seems to know no bounds. To the extent I can support and sustain their work, I feel some sense of accomplishment.
Mentors: As a parochial school student I was educated from kindergarten through grammar school by talented and dedicated women who were members of two religious communities. In high school I was taught by members of the Order of St. Ursula (the Ursulines,) in one of their schools that embodied their long tradition of service to women’s education. I attended two post secondary institutions that had been formed as women’s colleges, but had recently become coeducational. My first job was teaching music in another Ursuline school for girls. Until I got to the University of Chicago (where I never had a single women professor in my educational administration and policy doctoral program), it never occurred to me that women did not rule the world in general and run schools in particular. I certainly had plenty of evidence that they could. That was an important lesson to carry with me in the years ahead, because it took a long time for the profession of educational leadership to reflect the gender diversity of the teaching force.
One mentor I always note with gratitude and respect is the late Sr. Dorothy Ann Kelly, o.s.u., who was a long time leader in American higher education and a visionary in every sense of the word. I was proud to call her a friend.
TURNING POINT: The night before my 44th birthday, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had to face major surgery and chemotherapy with little preparation or delay. It was a transformative experience, one that was simultaneously humbling and yet perhaps the greatest learning experience of my life. I have been fortunate enough to recover and to flourish since, but I will always remain grateful for the love and support I received, the wonderful access I had to excellent care that saved my life, and the enormous good luck I had in having this disease found at a relatively early stage. Every day counts.
GOALS: To get a little better each day at doing what I do, and to try to imagine and envision where we need to be next. #