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A Conversation with Lynne Cossman

In July, Lynne Cossman, chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, participated in the 2016 Higher Education Resource Services (HERS) Bryn Mawr Summer Institute. Cossman joined 63 women leaders from across the United States for presentations on diversity and inclusion, legal issues, women leading and more. For 40 years, HERS has prepared women faculty and administrators for leadership roles in higher education. 

How did you benefit from this institute?

Wow, there were so many benefits. I would say the most important benefit was getting to meet women leaders from a variety of institutions of higher education from around the country. Those women held a variety of positions, so they were all at different institutions and they had very different positions and it was really nice to be able to meet a lot of women leaders from various backgrounds.
That was probably the biggest benefit and, then, of course, there was so much that they taught us everyday. We had sessions on the laws that we need to be aware of as leaders and how to follow the federal policies and procedures, things like Title IX and FERPA. 

Plus, we had all sorts of sessions on learning how to frame problems and solutions and think creatively. We also did things like career mapping and thinking about where we want to go, and—beyond networking with the other women who were at the institute—we had panels of provosts and panels of presidents; so we got to meet women leaders from around the country who were already in senior leadership positions.

How do you plan on incorporating what you learned from the institute into your teaching and as chair?

I believe a lot of what it takes to be a good teacher— those same skills are needed to lead a department. When you learn about how to lead a classroom, you are also by definition learning about how to lead a program. So I think understanding your students and understanding them well so that you know how best to teach them, parallels with understanding the faculty that I work with and their personalities and how to lead them.

The training has already helped me as chair tremendously and I believe it will continue to help me as chair in both tangible and intangible ways. I’m not sure if I could tell you all the ways it has helped me as chair. You know, it can be something as simple as learning about Title IX and how to implement that as a department chair and how to help my faculty be good stewards of Title IX, so that’s something very specific.

But they also did personality tests on us and then talked to us about how—given our personality strengths and weaknesses—we could be better leaders and find people to compliment our weaknesses so that we develop a good leadership team. It will help me be a chair in numerous ways. 

Will you remain in contact with some of the people you met at the institute?

Definitely.  The experience has strengthened my network. The alumni started a LISTSERV, they’ve started a Facebook group, and we’ve even decided we’re going to start a virtual book club where we’ll be reading books on women leaders, higher education and related topics. Then we’re going to meet over Skype once a month and discuss it. We definitely plan on keeping in contact with one another and I’ve already stayed in touch with nearly all of the women I met there.

To learn more about the HERS Institute, visit