A world-class educator, working to infuse a global perspective in Peoria
I pursued degrees in political science and Russian area studies at Illinois State University. I was active in Model United Nations and cultural groups, and I planned to work for the government or an international NGO [non-governmental organization]. At the University of Minnesota, I became a Sovietologist, but decided to marry instead of head to DC.
I taught for a year at Northern Illinois University and was able to study for a semester outside Moscow at the time Gorbachev was trying to lead his communist state to “market socialism.” Most people who studied the Soviet Union at that time could not have predicted that those changes would lead to the collapse of the USSR within a year, but the experience showed me there were ways to follow my passion down a different path. Marriage brought me to Peoria, and I discovered the World Affairs Council. Through PAWAC, I have been able to shape a career in the Midwest that brings the world to us. It has been an exciting career for me, if not the one I first envisioned.
How have you contributed to the Peoria community through your roles at PAWAC and the Institute of International Studies at Bradley University?
The Peoria area has a rich, diverse cultural heritage that is often overlooked or taken for granted. The World Affairs Council helps the people of central Illinois recognize how closely tied we are to the broader global community. Teaching at Bradley gives me a different professional opportunity to engage tomorrow’s leaders and help them understand that they will be even more connected to their global community than we are today. They will compete with students from around the world for the same jobs, and collaborate with them on projects in a multitude of ways; and so they need to know more about their counterparts around the world in order to be both effective and competitive.
Tell us briefly about growing up and how family may have influenced your future career path.
My family is a typical family from an Iowa farming community. I grew up walking beans and detasseling corn, and hearing about Soviet Premier Sergei Khrushchev, who visited very near my hometown the year I was born. In high school, I fell in love with Spanish and the Model United Nations program for high schools across the Midwest. Although I am in the middle of 10 children, I was the first to pursue international relations, and my parents were not sure what to make of my career goals. The first time I visited the USSR in 1985, my father, a World War II vet, voiced very strong objections. I think they hoped I would join the military and see the world that way, which seemed a safer route to them at the time. My family is a mixed bag of careers, but we support and encourage each other, and eagerly await updates on each other’s career paths.
Please list and reflect upon your major accomplishments in recent years.
With the support of a terrific board of directors, the Peoria Area World Affairs Council maintains an active membership that supports a broad range of international programming. New partnerships have been initiated, offering exciting potential for growth, both in the depth and breadth of programs and in participation. International education for high school students and curriculum assistance for teachers has also shown growth, offering encouragement for the preparation of our future leaders.
What is your leadership philosophy?
I believe leaders have to have passion for their work. Many people can do a job, and even do it well. But leadership should feel less like doing a job and more like fulfilling a mission or purpose. A leader also has to be willing to step up and take on the tough tasks, accepting the accolades when things turn out, but accepting the fallout when they don’t—both of which happen with great regularity. I believe quite strongly that one of the most important qualities of a leader is knowing when to step aside. A good leader knows when she has reached the capacity of her skills and learns to delegate or ask for help. Essentially, my philosophy of leadership can be summed up as knowing when to step in, when to step up, and when to step aside.
Did you have a mentor in the early stages of your career? How did he or she help you along the way?
Many people have helped me along the way. Dr. John Howard was the director of the Institute of International Studies when I was first hired in 1993. In fact, he taught the courses I now teach and was preparing to retire. He offered valuable advice about the courses and the department, and he always made certain I was valued for my teaching ability, even though I have never been on a tenure track. Dr. Charles Bukowski, the current director, has made me feel valued in much the same way.
When I was first hired as executive director of the Peoria Area World Affairs Council in 2000, Dennis and Judy Triggs took me under their wing and helped me both personally and professionally. Dennis was generous with his contacts, introducing me to a wide variety of people in the Peoria area who have become important to PAWAC and me. Judy has treated me like a daughter, with advice and guidance that have helped in countless ways.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
When I was first elected to the national board for the World Affairs Councils of America, one of the ambassadors advised me to listen and to talk only if I could improve the dialogue. I took that advice and began to notice the difference between those who could move the issues forward and those who really liked to hear the sound of their own voices. I now offer that same advice to anyone who might ask me for it.
What advice would you give to a young, up-and-coming female professional?
Be active listeners, but don’t be afraid to contribute to the conversation in constructive ways. Do your homework and be prepared for the tasks you will be handling, but don’t be afraid to ask for help—or accept help when it is offered. Be your own best advocate and let your qualities shine, as a woman and as a professional.
I do have one cautionary piece of advice. Young women today have far more opportunities than I did at their age, and far, far more opportunities than my mother did. Still, women are often judged more harshly on their behavior, attire and speech than their male counterparts. I would advise young women to be professional at all times, in all they do. Be extremely careful about your online activities and remember that what is put out on the Internet is always out there. iBi