Taking the long view: German relfects on service with Commission for Women
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Outgoing chairwoman of the Penn State Commission for Women (CFW) and associate dean for Collections Information and Access Services, Lisa German reflects on the 2013-14 year. She sees her service as part of a larger and ongoing movement to expand leadership roles for women and to foster a more welcoming workplace climate for everyone.
German came to Penn State in 2005, and it was not long before she got involved with the University Libraries mentoring program. “I was a mentor to Doris Malkmus, and she took me to a commission meeting. I really enjoyed it. I attended a few more meetings and then volunteered to be a mentor in the Commission for Women mentoring program in 2009. That was a great experience,” German recalled, as she flips through a file folder containing her appointment letter and other documents related to the commission.
German was assigned to mentor Karen Weekes, a new division head for Arts and Humanities at Penn State Abington. “I was so fortunate to be able to participate in this program, as it allowed me to learn from an experienced senior scholar and administrator, someone whose humor and good advice helped me navigate some of the challenges of the first year in my new position,” Weekes said. “This was an unusual experience for us both, since our locations are separated by more than half the state; we would get together when I was at University Park for meetings, but it was a true comfort to know that Lisa’s wisdom was only a phone call away. She was so helpful in giving me a different perspective on my experiences and suggesting ways that I could perhaps negotiate or advocate better for my unit or myself — exactly what one would hope to gain from a mentor. She continues to influence my life even four years after this mentoring year, as I continue to find myself passing along her advice to others.”
After that, German was asked to run for chairwoman of the commission. It was a three-year commitment; year one as chairwoman-elect, year two as the chairwoman and year three as the immediate past chairwoman.
“When I was asked to run for chair of the commission, before I accepted, I met with Karin Foley (commission chairwoman in 2010–11) for coffee. She advised me to take the long view, that each year is a continuation on the previous,” German said.
Foley, now at University of Missouri-Columbia, recalled that meeting. “I was excited to see Lisa serve as chair. There are two reasons why my advice for chairs is to take the long view. First, I think it is very motivating both for the chair and for all the members of the commission to take a moment and reflect on all the Commission has accomplished since its inception in the early 1980s. If one forms opinions about the impact of the commission simply by attending a few meetings, one will miss the big picture and the transforming influence of the commission,” she said. “The second reason for encouraging the long view is to guide decisions on what projects to tackle in the current year. I think it is better to accomplish one or two major things that will survive the test of time.”
“I’ve always been concerned about expanding leadership opportunities for women, perhaps because I am the mother of three daughters,” German said of her motivations. “I thought serving as chair would be an opportunity to expand the sphere of influence for myself, and I was hopeful that the commission could expand leadership roles for women. I also wanted to have a role in developing the Framework to Foster Diversity,” she added.
German noted several ways in which the commission has made an impact on Penn State and on her personally during her year as the chairwoman. “So much of the work is done within committees — some have a broad impact at the University, for example, the mentoring committee, marketing committee and sexual assault awareness committee.”
During 2013-14, the commission launched “the incredibly successful financial empowerment series for women at Penn State, in partnership with the Penn State Office of Human Resources and TIAA-CREF, and Women with Influence, which is a wonderful showcase of the accomplishments of women in leadership at Penn State,” German said, adding a bit more soberly, “And there is more to do, but I think we’ve done a good job at raising awareness about violence against women.
“I’ve been able to meet such a wide variety of people I would not have otherwise, for example, the Humphrey Fellows, and all the outstanding Schraer and Achieving Women award winners. Working together with the other commissions, CORED and CLGBTE, has also been very rewarding for me.
"Being involved with an organization that has such a positive influence on a person’s life — that is powerful. It has made me more thoughtful about and more aware of workplace climate. It has made me more respectful of how everybody’s job is important. It’s inspiring to see how much people care — all different jobs — but the common theme weaving through is the importance of education and their role in educating students, and that makes me proud, too.”
German encouraged new members to get involved and make the most of their experience. “Come to the kick-off on Tuesday, Sept. 16, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Hintz Family Alumni Center. Visit the website and use the material to find a committee that’s working on something you feel passionate about and feel you can contribute to, and then volunteer to be on that committee.
“I hope that someday we don’t need to have equity commissions (CFW, CLGBTE, CORED) that do the work that we do,” German said, adding, “and I look forward to that day.”