After being unanimously selected last November, the University of New Mexico’s first female President Garnett S. Stokes had her historic moment during the 31st anniversary of Women’s History Month, as she began her term on March 1.
Stokes has been a “first” several times, she said.
She was a first-generation college student, first permanent female head of psychology at the University of Georgia, the first female dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at UGA and the first female provost at Florida State University.
“I know how much seeing women achieve such high levels of academic leadership has meant to students, staff, faculty and alumni at each of my previous institutions,” she said. “At UNM, it seems to be even more special. I have had so many people express their genuine excitement to see a woman in such an important leadership role in the state.”
Erin Kerwin, a third year psychology major, said it’s about time UNM had its first female president.
“A woman was finally chosen, because she was better for the job,” Kerwin said. “It’s significant…It shows progress.”
Stokes said younger girls feel liberated by seeing women in powerful leadership positions.
“It helps young girls expand their thinking about what their own careers and lives can look like — there is an empowerment that comes from knowing what is possible,” Stokes said.
Having women in such roles “normalizes success for (young women) and shows them how successful they can be and the success that they should be able to reach,” Kerwin said.
Stokes said she has always derived influence from other women.
Growing up, she was influenced by her mother as well as women she saw on television and became inspired by female political leaders, she said.
“I can see clearly the extent to which characteristics and strengths that I learned from my mother have been instrumental to my success,” Stokes said. “I also had a very close friend, Dr. Rosanne Lorden, who I went to graduate school with and who was a few years older than me, who had a big impact on me.”
Stokes plans on spending her first few weeks at UNM getting to know campus, but she doesn’t have any definitive plans except for getting to know the several external and internal constituents that love the University, she said.
“This is a wonderful University, and I am sure over the course of the next several months, I will be launching some initiatives designed to enhance the experience and success of our students, support our faculty and staff and strengthen UNM’s ties to Albuquerque and throughout New Mexico,” she said. “It’s too early to be too definitive, because I need to listen to the community and make sure I understand the areas of greatest need.”
Stokes’ advice to students is: education is life-changing in sometimes unforeseen ways and may open doors that are often unexpected.
“Our students are the future,” she said. “There is much reason to be hopeful that our students will solve problems previous generations have found to be intractable.”
Shayla Cunico is a culture reporter with the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ShaylaCunico.