Kappner, President, Bank
Street College of Education
in Career Choice:
Growing up in a Jamaican household, a high value was always placed
on education, although no one in the family before me had gone
to college. In my South Bronx neighborhood, I had many committed
teachers in my school. One particularly memorable teacher was
Mrs. Sherman who spent her lunch hours and afternoons coaching
several of us for the Hunter admissions test. With Mrs. Sherman’s
guidance, I passed the admissions test and continued my studies
at the Hunter College Junior and High Schools, then an all–girls
school, which provided me an outstanding high school education.
Just as important, Hunter took me outside my South Bronx neighborhood
and brought me into contact with all the diversity and lifestyles
of New York City. From there I attended Barnard College, which
gave me the financial support to make college possible and allowed
me to remain in New York where I could care for my mother. Barnard
also instilled the philosophy that every woman could “do it all.”
A major in sociology proved stimulating, but frustrating in the
distance between theory and practice. One professor, Dr. Gladys
Meyer, bridged the gap for many of us by helping us to understand
that we could study and learn the workings of society and still
work toward changing that society. The ability to test this idea
out in internships during college helped to choose social work
as a profession.
Point: When I discovered that colleges and universities as
institutions could be used for the social good and that teaching
other adults could be as satisfying and meaningful
as direct social action. This new career direction was most clearly
set by my joining LaGuardia Community College to head up the Human
Services academic area. At the time, community colleges were a
relatively recent phenomenon. What attracted many of us to this
movement was the potential, not just for LaGuardia, but for all
community colleges to provide opportunities otherwise closed to
many, and their potential for serving the greater needs of a community.
The central aspect of the decision to go to LaGuardia was that
it set me on the path of working in and from academic institutions
to create greater opportunity for previously excluded populations.
By creating partnerships between those institutions and others,
we could expand that net of opportunity, equity and hopefulness
I am proud of having been the first African–American female President
in the City University of New York, but as I have always said,
the goal is not to be the first, but rather to insure that you
are not also the last. So I am prouder of having counseled and
mentored many good women, toward achieving their aspirations.
I am proud of having expanded the horizons and opportunities for
thousands of New Yorkers by my work in CUNY. I am also proud of
having helped to create opportunities for thousands of young Americans
to develop career pathways through the School–to–Work Opportunities
Act. And, I am proud to be helping to change the face of teacher
education and improve the lives of thousands of children across
the United States through our work at Bank Street. On a more personal
note, I am proud of being married to the same guy for 35 years
and having two wonderful human beings for daughters, not to mention
Starting out in poverty was certainly an obstacle, as was having
a dependent mother to care for. The decision about college came
down to the line – could I go or would I have to go to work immediately.
What a different path my life might have taken had I gone directly
to full time work.
Over the course of my career, race and gender were obstacles to
overcome in reaching for leadership positions. A reluctance to
accept women as leaders in higher education was pervasive. Committees
were always questioning whether female candidates were “tough
enough” to do the job. This meant that one was always dragging
up examples of some “tough” action one had engaged in. There was
also, and still is, a reluctance to accept the varying styles
of leadership that exist. This was to change with the years, but
still exists today.
There were many mentors along the way, some living, some now gone,
both men and women. The mentors from history provided the insights
upon which to build the present, and the inspiration of knowing
that whatever you attempted today, it would be infinitely less
daunting than the circumstances faced by your forebears. The historical
mentors also provided the conscience, and the responsibility not
to squander the hard won gains of those who came before us. The
mentors from the present were the Deans and College Presidents
who permitted me to see their work up close, to learn that I too
could do this work and who trusted me to take on ever increasing
responsibilities and to do it right.
I have what some may view as rather old–fashioned advice for young
women. First, not only complete your education, but use it to
the fullest to explore areas that you may not be familiar with.
Travel if you can, learn at least one second language, learn not
just the United States but learn the world. Whatever job you have
learn it well and do it well – and learn about the work of those
above you. Ask for assignments that will broaden your perspective,
and that will allow you to demonstrate your talents.
What are your future goals?
now, all of my energies are focused
on Bank Street College and its potential to improve the education
of children and the model it offers for preparing excellent teachers.#
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