President, Antioch College, Ohio
Pola Rosen, Ed.D.
Straumanis has the unusual perspective of having been a student
at Antioch College during its centennial year and coming back
as President in its sesquicentennial year after a career spanning
three deanships, work at the Department of Education in Washington
D.C. and a deep interest in political science and mathematics.
“Changes over the intervening years are remarkably few. It’s amazing
how the college has kept its character,” notes Straumanis. “However,
it’s much smaller than it was and is under capacity now. The students
look different than when I was here but they sound the same,”
she adds. “Students are very connected with the outside world.
They are activists who feel a sense of responsibility. The physical
plant is similar; the small town environment is much the same.
There are big differences in faculty composition. Years ago, President
Straumanis did not have any female professors except in physical
education. Now about 50 percent of the faculty is women.”
Historically, Antioch was the first college to grant equal degrees
to men and women, in 1853. If women worked after graduation, they
became teachers or activists in the women’s movement or civil
rights. Often they were the daughters of the affluent who simply
desired an education and a symbolic degree.
President Straumanis had a double major in political science and
mathematics. Few women majored in math or science (there were
only two women in her math class). Today Antioch has a slight
majority of women, as do most liberal arts colleges. However,
according to Straumanis, while there is current national parity
for women in mathematics and biology, that does not exist for
chemistry, physics and engineering. “Women still have a way to
Part of President Straumanis’ mission is to increase enrollment,
build financial stability and enhance the public visibility of
the institution. Antioch’s educational outcomes are measurably
still wonderful. Students are oriented to academic excellence
and achievement. The student body has a balance between academic,
social, political and work lives. “That is what is so unusual
about Antioch. Students think about the problems of the world
and their responsibility to address them. They come here partly
because they know Antioch will support that,” according to the
my current job I have authority but not resources so the challenge
is to develop resources.”
In discussing the uniqueness of Antioch College, President Straumanis
underscored three elements: the co-op program, which combines
classroom and outside work. The program requires a very substantial
commitment of time. Work is perceived as part of a liberal arts
education. The co-op program incorporates the work experience
with the curriculum. President Straumanis wants to help increase
the number of professional level and well-paying jobs for students.
Student government is also unique here. Students are involved
in the governance of the college; they are on the tenure committee
as well as the budget committee, and the labor committee. Students
and faculty have a significant voice in community government which
is part of the educational experience here.
Unusual here too is that students leave with a sense of optimism
and responsibility and with the feeling that they can effect change
in the world. Antioch is at the top of the list when it comes
to student engagement in the community. About one third of the
students are engaged in community service.
Antioch has five branches around the country. Two are in Yellow
Springs, the others in Seattle, Los Angeles and New Hampshire.
Each campus has its own president and operates in a semi-autonomous
President’s Straumanis’ mentors in her own life did not include
women; in fact, she had relatively little mentoring and few women
of her generation did, she averred. She encountered “many roadblocks
in [her] career because of being a woman. The women’s movement
was a great help later on providing mentoring by peers rather
than by older professionals.” Her achievement as the first woman
president of Antioch College becomes even more remarkable.
Her advice to the students of today: “a critical mass is two.
If you have a friend, you can make things better. It doesn’t take
many to make a difference.” Certainly, President Straumanis has
made a difference in education and the lives of young people and
will continue to do so over the years to come.#
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