Drew Gilpin Faust, President, Harvard University

Pioneer for female influence and authority in the Ivy League

Faust’s story: If the number of women in college leadership roles seems small, you’ll be shocked to learn just how few females sit or have sat at the helms of Ivy League colleges and Universities. Faust is the first woman to serve as Harvard’s president, and only the fifth woman to serve as president of an Ivy League university. She is also Harvard’s first president since 1672 without an undergraduate or graduate degree from Harvard.

Faust’s impact: An achiever of several firsts, Drew Gilpin Faust has gained entry into the ultimate boys’ club: the Ivy Leagues. Faust’s tendency to buck convention began at an early age, when as a young girl growing up in the Jim Crow South, she broke ranks with the white establishment and wrote a letter to President Eisenhower imploring him to end segregation. As the first female leader to take the reins at Harvard, she asked people to look beyond her gender (just as she was able to look beyond people’s color), stating during her appointment ceremony, “I’m not the woman president of Harvard, I’m the president of Harvard.”viii

She has also led one of the Ivy League’s first successful entries into online education by overseeing the launch of edX, a platform for MOOCs (massive open online courses) taught by some of the world’s best universities. In May 2012, Faust joined forces with MIT to introduce the site, offering courses that are free to anyone with access to a computer and internet connection.

Through edX, Faust has taken a stand to democratize access to educational courses, allowing virtually anyone to gain knowledge from some of the most respected universities in the world – including her own Harvard, and MIT, Berkeley University of California, Dartmouth, and Columbia University (among others). Though Ivy League schools like Harvard are still some of the most exclusive and expensive learning institutions in America (and often accused of elitism), Faust and her partners have taken a large step to make the top-quality education they offer accessible to a far greater diversity of students.

Kanter, Bravo, Wheelan and Faust are among a new generation of women opening doors and raising the bar for female leadership in higher education. Challenging what we thought we knew about educating college students (both traditional and post-traditional), their impact is making a difference at colleges, universities and education organizations across America. Most of all, they exert their influence to make decisions – some of them unpopular, or even radical – that best serve students, schools and the world of higher education as a whole.

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