Dr. Marcia Welsh, PhD., President East Stroudsburg University

MArciaWelshWhat inspires you as the president of a university?

I meet students on campus every day who are energized by what they’re learning and are eager to use their talents and knowledge for the greater good.  They inspire me because they come to us from so many pathways and in many cases choose to pursue a specific degree despite personal challenges and the weight of financial debt.
I take the name of our strategic plan, “Students First: Empowering Innovation through Collaboration,” to heart.  Daily, I work with ESU’s leadership team, Council of Trustees, colleagues within the State System and influencers in our community to identify ways to help our students in terms of scholarships, internships and externships, and services. The resiliency of our students to overcome obstacles is humbling and reminds me – every day – of why I do what I do.

What has your journey as a woman at the top of your field and the challenges you faced along the way been like?
I started in science and I was discouraged every step of the way. I was told “you can’t do that.” An advisor told me I was too scatterbrained to ever go into the field of medicine. That I should do what other women do, take off and have kids and then get back to work. When I had my first child I took 3 months off for parenting time. In grad school I wasn’t allowed to use the electro microscope because they had assigned times to use it and I couldn’t make it with my family obligations.
I was the first woman at the University of South Carolina Medical School to be hired as a full professor. That was pretty amazing.
As you try to rise through the ranks in higher education, you have to try harder and work harder to excel to make it though. It’s truer than I wish it were. It’s lessened…women have shown they can do the job. Women are now in a powerful place. They have a chance to really step up. It’s our world too. Time is opportune to take a stronger role.

Why did you get into education?
My parents instilled in us to get an education. My mother got her college diploma at age 16 and then became a second-grade teacher. As siblings, we were four college grads.
I was considering med school, but female physicians told me not to pursue a medical career because there was so much discrimination. I wanted to be an artist but my mother said, “They don’t make money.” So, I received my undergraduate degree in physical science, took anatomy and did a lot of sketching and drawing. Then I got a Ph.D. and taught med school for 20 years.
The department chair went on leave and I was asked to step in as the interim chair. That’s a big step in medical school. I was the first woman elected to chair the faculty senate at the University of South Carolina. I had dual administrative roles for a while, and really enjoyed it. When the department chair returned, I was asked, “Why don’t you stay another year?” Then I was hired as the associate provost. I stayed in administration.

Do you sit on any boards?
Yes, I serve on the Northampton Community College Monroe Campus Advisory Board, the Northeastern Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Universities (NEPACU), Women’s Resources of Monroe County Board, and the Pocono Mountains Music Festival Board. I’m also a member of the Chincoteague Bay Field Station board of directors, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), the Greater Pocono Chamber of Commerce, WVIA Board of Directors, TecBridge Board of Directors, and  chair of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Board of Directors.

In what ways have you learned to become adaptable and flexible at ESU?
I power through it. I try to get it to happen. If somebody comes up with a better idea, I’m open to anything that makes it easier. I get stubborn and I want what’s best for the university; it’s students first, so they have every opportunity to be successful.

What is your advice to women seeking to rise in their profession?
To go for it. All too often women say, “I have to learn it.” Men just do the next job, but women take another class. I did that my entire life, waiting until I was ready and some man would get the job. I learned to just go for it.
Women need to do a better job of planning their future, not just letting it happen to them; not to think, “Maybe they’ll make me an offer,” but by being proactive.

How would you define “success”?
Watching my kids, I see that they’re happy doing what they’re doing. It isn’t just about money. It’s having enough to be comfortable, have enough food, those are the things we need to be really happy.

What are your strengths?
Stubbornness is a strength and a fault. It’s my tenacity. I don’t let go easily. I always want to win, to be the best school in PASSHE.
I was middle of four kids, and we lived in a small town and my father owned a small-town store. He made sure we were always gracious. I try to be very accessible and available too. I say hello to every single student. It’s important in this line of business. The students see me as human and they get to know me. It shows that there’s somebody here who cares about you.

How do you develop yourself and continue to improve?
I go the gym to stay fit, and I read and take continuing education classes to stay on top of what’s current. I follow social media, and a lot of current education websites to know what’s happening at other universities. Also, I strive to be a better writer and a better public speaker.

What are your “words to live by”?
Another day in which to excel. It’s my personal mantra!
I want ESU to excel too. When I came here, one of my goals was to turn things around. Taking care of your facility and your campus shows you will take good care of our families’ sons and daughters.
We have rebranded and now have a contemporary logo. We have faculty who were willing to step up and outside of the comfort zone and adopt the 3D printing capabilities that very few schools offer.
To excel also means to plan. We are involved in the Monroe 2030 county plan. If Monroe is the fastest growing county now, it’s a good time for us to think about what it will look like. We need to be more sustainable.
We should also be a bigger part of the community. We’re not a walled castle; we are a public university that serves our community.  6

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