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Lisker takes history of women's advocacy, diverse involvement to Smith

When Donna Lisker leaves Duke to become dean of the college and vice president for campus life at Smith College this summer, she will continue to establish a legacy of encouraging female leadership.

Lisker has spent 15 years at Duke, serving as director of the Women's Center from 1999 to 2007 and associate vice provost for undergraduate education for the past seven years. She additionally works as co-director of the Baldwin Scholars, a female leadership program that she founded in 2004. Her role at Smith, an all-female liberal arts college in Northampton, Mass., will involve overseeing all aspects of student life.

"I'm excited about the position," she said. "It's obviously bittersweet.... I have a lot of friends here and a lot of roots here. But that being said, the opportunity to take on a really senior leadership role at one of the preeminent women's colleges in the country is hard for me to turn down."

The role of dean will allow Lisker to showcase a number of her strengths, combining her intellectual skills with her ability to connect with people, said Steve Nowicki, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education.

Lisker noted that the breadth of her experiences at Duke has prepared her for the new role at Smith.

"I've had the privilege—especially in this role of associate vice provost of undergraduate education—of getting involved in so many areas of campus life," she said. "It's not just the classroom, and it's not just residential. I do things with athletics and alumni affairs and development and admissions and financial aid, so I've gotten to do a little bit of everything.... That will really help me go to a place like Smith."

Nowicki praised Lisker's leadership skills and personable disposition, noting that the impact she has made at Duke will last beyond her stay.

"I was both delighted and depressed when Smith asked Donna to apply," Nowicki said. "Delighted because it's a great job for her and she's great for the job, but depressed because she's a really important person here at Duke and we're really going to miss her."

Lisker cited her work with the Baldwin Scholars as a particular point of pride from her tenure at Duke, noting her confidence in the ability of the program's associate directors—Colleen Scott and Ava Vinesett—to continue the initiative.

At Smith, Lisker hopes to continue working to foster female leadership. She noted that though all student leadership roles at a women's college are held by women, there is a distinction between holding a leadership position and making an impact as a leader.

"One of my goals will be to really look critically at what would a women's leadership effort look like at a place like Smith, with 2,500 strong female undergraduates," she said.

Smith President Kathleen McCartney noted her pleasure with the hire in a press release Monday.

“I am very pleased to be bringing Donna Lisker to Smith,” McCartney said. “Her experience in bridging the curricular and co-curricular aspects of undergraduate life, as well as her commitment to the education and advancement of women, make her a terrific match for Smith.”

Nowicki said that he hopes to find Lisker's replacement before the end of the Spring semester. The search committee will be chaired by Nancy Allen, vice provost for faculty diversity and faculty development.
Other members of the committee include Andrew Janiak, Creed C. Black associate professor of philosophy and Stephanie Helms Pickett, the newly-appointed director of the Women's Center.


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