Women are making headway in history with lead positions at WCU

As Western Carolina University rolls into the spring semester in January of 2022, the College of Education and Allied Professions will be breaking history by being completely led by females.

Dr. Kia Asberg, associate professor in psychology, will start as department head of psychology on Jan. 1.

For the first time in WCU’s history, the predominantly male field is going to be managed by women. The college didn’t intend for it to happen. When the final two contenders for changing the psychology department head were women, the choice was inevitably female. This makes the eight leadership chairs soon to be filled by women.

The Killian Annex building, home of education and psychology at WCU. Named after Dr. Carl Dan Killian, dean of the school of education and psychology from 1935-1968.
Photo credit: Savanna Tenenoff

The CEAP is only seeing its second female dean since 1936. Dean Betty L. Siegel’s portrait hangs proudly in Killian 202 among the other male deans. She was dean from 1976-1981, a total of 5 years. Dr. Siegel left Western to become Georgia’s first female university president at Kennesaw State University.

The current dean of the CEAP is Dr. Kim Winter, who is has been leading the university since 2017.

Dr. Winter, a mother, and professor, and dean herself, strides for promotion in females and plans to bring female faculty together through retreats and events that are targeted towards women in the workplace.

Dr. Winter’s collaboration is based on transparency and taking into consideration faculty who have families. Having a family shouldn’t be an obstacle when being in a leadership position.

Dr. Winter urges that in order to survive in the future, we must be welcome and ready to change. One of those changes is parents in the workplace. Becoming a mom has a significant change in time management among other things. It is crucial for any leader to understand that.

Dr. Lisen Roberts, department head and associate professor of Human Services, opened up about her struggles as being a female sitting in power among males. Meetings at 8 a.m. seemed to be a regular ongoing burden due to family priorities. Between getting kids ready for school and taking them to school, an 8 a.m. meeting is nearly impossible for a working mom.

Dr. Asberg, like Dr. Winter and Dr. Roberts, is a parent. She views it as an approach as opposed to an obstacle. With a 5-year-old to go home to, she desires safety among faculty, staff, and students at all times.

Dr. Asberg questioned if the chairs were filled by all men, would it be as big of a deal. She wishes the change wasn’t such a big issue.

Dr. Kelli R. Brown, the university’s first permanent female chancellor, has been leading the university since July of 2019. Since being appointed, Dr. Brown has worked hard to push forth diversity and overall excellence within the university. She has marked a pivotal starting point to female leadership roles on campus.

Dr. Richard Starnes, Vice-Chancellor of WCU and trained historian, has noticed a change in female leadership over time. The number of female deans has been growing over time and has created diversity among leadership positions. The diversity proves positive in the college environment and is often encouraged by peers. Dr. Starnes explained how training and development in leadership programs have been inspiring for females striving for higher positions in university settings.

When asked about working with a female chancellor, Dr. Starnes was taken aback. He stressed that leadership and communication have nothing to do with gender, but everything to do with skill and experience.

When looking for the new psychology department head, gender wasn’t a factor. The team was looking for a leader who was inclusive, supportive, perspective, good at communication, empowered others, and looked at what students and faculty both needed. The two finalists were chosen by their skills, not gender.

To Dr. Starnes’s knowledge, this will be the first time that an entire college at WCU will have all leadership positions chaired by women.

It is not a secret that a miracle will not happen immediately because of the change, but what will the change bring to students and staff?

Although the overall shift hasn’t sparked large public or student reactions, the CEAP faculty shares anticipation.

Dr. Kelly Tracy, director of the School of Teaching and Learning, shares her curiosity in what being an all-female leadership means. The change seems positive and visionary like any other change. The role change brings new light and ideas into the workspace.

Dr. Tracy is excited for a fresh start to the year and welcomes Dr. Asberg to the team. Dr. Tracy also thanks Dr. Malesky for being inclusive and collaborative with the other departments during his time.

The sitting psychology department head, Dr. L. Alvin Malesky, is active and is said to have been a great asset to the college. When questioned about the changes he has made since becoming the department head, he was humble and gave all credit to his staff.

Even with a positive male, there is a large shift when the room seats all women with no men in sight. It is a breath of fresh air that holds silent freedom.

Dr. Patricia Bricker, associate dean of CEAP, said, “There’s been a strong passion in it for so long but now it is motion,” when talking about change and equality in the workplace.

Dr. Malesky has been in the role for nine years. He feels it was an advantage to have the experience as department head before COVID times. He is excited about the change and recommends for Dr. Asberg to not open emails after 10 p.m. and stay focused.

Dr. Asberg was stunned and surprised when declared the next department head of psychology. As Jan. 1 approaches, she is already actively learning from her peers and other leadership chairs.  It is a learning curve that she is overcoming.

In the transition from professor to department head, Dr. Asberg wants to hear the voice of the students and staff around her. She is honored and has great gratitude for the current head and her colleagues.

Dr. Asberg plans to show her support of students and faculty through listening to their goals and having realistic expectations of them. She wants to see even more growth in the department and looks forward to the new year.