SNHU Appoints First Female Board Chair
In a packed auditorium on campus, the inspiring women of Southern New Hampshire University’s (SNHU) Board of Trustees came together for a panel discussion in early October. Moderated by SNHU’s Chief Experience Officer Sue Nathan, the panel discussion highlighted the voices and experiences of the university’s female board members.
Together, each of the trustees shared their unique perspectives and discussed the impact that leadership roles can have on the women who hold them.
“Women walk around with different identities,” said Maribel Duran ’16. “I’m very proud to say that I was a teen mom, single mom and first-generation adult learner. It took me almost 17 years to graduate with my bachelor’s degree, and I carry those identities with me in a lot of rooms. Over time, I learned by observation. I learned from the bravest leaders, and I learned from the not-so-great leaders. You take notes, learn and start to build more tools in your toolbox.”
When asked if there was a singular moment that Janiece Y. Evans-Page realized she was officially a leader she said, “I am one that believes that leadership can start and happen everywhere. To me, it really was about when I knew that I had a sense of agency and when I could set direction and inspire others.”
Lisa Guertin shared her thoughts on the imposter syndrome. “I distinctly remember my first job out of college and looking at the senior executives and fully believing, ‘they’re different, they’re cut from a different cloth,’” she said. “Then you become one by title, but you think ‘I’m still just me.’ The fact is, it is not that we’re imposters, it is that they weren’t different all along. As you ascend through leadership, you realize that and it’s freeing.”
Reflecting on what it means to be a leader, Dr. MaryEllen C. McGuire highlighted the importance of strategic thinking. Earlier in her career, a colleague said to her, “You need to get off the dance floor and get up on the balcony. You need to start thinking long term. It’s not just about deliverables. Think beyond that––really live your mission every day.” She believes that strategic thinking did not come naturally, and those words of advice pushed her to shift her mindset.
Diane Tryneski expressed that oftentimes in her career, she was the only woman in the room. Initially, she didn’t feel comfortable speaking up, but she found that owning her confidence made all the difference. She also shared the importance of having diverse voices in the workplace. “In my career, I would hire people who didn’t come to a role traditionally,” she said. “I think it’s a lot about what someone brings to the role and having a set of eyes that sees things differently than the group. It’s that magic, like a recipe. You’re always adding to it.”
Among the panelists was Winnie Lerner, who recently became the first woman Board Chair in the history of SNHU. She joined the Board of Trustees in 2015 and currently serves as Co-CEO of FGS Global for North America, a communications consulting firm. The Board of Trustees unanimously elected Lerner as Chair.
“It is an honor and privilege assuming this position, in place of Mark (Ouellette), who has been an incredible Chairman,” said Lerner. “He has really made such an amazing mark on the institution, and it is with a lot of humility that I sit here today and assume this post.”
During the panel, she also stressed the importance of finding one's passions and being part of meaningful work. “For me, what gets me out of bed every day is versatile, flexible, interesting and interconnected work,” she said.
Prior to Lerner’s role at FGS, Lerner led corporate communications at Ralph Lauren and was President of The Abernathy MacGregor Group. She also worked as a Legislative Assistant in Energy & Commerce on Capitol Hill and worked on Presidential and Congressional campaigns. She has advised senior executives of companies navigating transition and through mergers and acquisitions, crises and changes to leadership for over two decades. Lerner counsels companies through complex moments of change and develops strategies to build their profiles and communicate their mission and business goals to important audiences.
“We are thrilled to welcome Winnie Lerner as our first female Board Chair,” said Paul LeBlanc, president of SNHU. “Winnie brings to SNHU a breadth of experience, creativity and a deep commitment to our mission. This is an important day for Southern New Hampshire University, and I look forward to working together to continue transforming lives at scale.”Her predecessor, Mark Ouellette ’77, served on the SNHU Board of Trustees for 26 years, including nine years as Board Chair. This month, he proudly passed the torch to Lerner.
“Working with Winnie over the past seven years has been a wonderful experience,” said Ouellette, outgoing SNHU Board Chair. “I know I’m leaving SNHU in very capable hands, and I have no doubt Winnie will flourish in this role.”
Recognized by Forbes as one of the nation’s Best Employers for Women, SNHU understands the importance of diverse voices and perspectives. The university currently maintains a 50/50 gender ratio on the Board of Trustees, and a majority of SNHU’s leadership team are women. SNHU is also working toward further Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) representation, with a goal of reaching 50/50 in terms of White and Non-White Board members.
As part of these efforts, SNHU welcomed Luis Lopez to the Board of Trustees this fall. Having built higher education networks in-country, regionally and internationally, he has a deep understanding of post-secondary education and its growth markets. As the former CEO of Honoris United Universities, Lopez played a leading role in the launch and development of the pan-African network of private higher education institutions and its unique collaborative approach.
“While American higher education has a long way to go in terms of gender and diversity in leadership roles, at SNHU, we have experienced first-hand the benefits of a diverse Board,” said LeBlanc. “Winnie and Luis are welcomed additions to the SNHU Board of Trustees, and their roles will support our continued growth as an organization.”
Melanie Drolet '16 is a communications manager at Southern New Hampshire University.
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About Southern New Hampshire University
SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.
Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.