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12 Extraordinary Ordinary Women To Learn From, In Honor Of International Women’s Day
March 8th is International Women's Day, and I think we can agree we've all learned a lot from women over the years.

12 extraordinary ordinary women to learn from, in honor of International Women’s Day

Women have long been relegated to the small print of our history. We would like to take today and honor women famous, infamous, and perhaps unrecognized for their work to change our world.  Of course, to do that fully, this would be an encyclopedia, so we only dare to begin this list.  Please tell us women we have omitted who, in your eyes, deserve to be honored on this day (and every day).

In no particular order:

Sara Goldrick-Rab // social servant

Sara is shedding light on the challenges of homelessness in our college student population.  Needs insecurity is a difficult topic, to say the least, and one long ignored. Sara combines research, service, and teaching to change lives.

Ellen Wagner // ed tech pioneer

Ellen has been an ed tech pioneer for many years, launching the Predictive Analytics Framework long before “analytics” was on everyone’s lips.  She changed the education discussion through collaboration, partnerships, and being ahead of the curve.

Shirley Ann Jackson // higher ed leadership extraordinaire

Dr. Jackson sets a new standard for higher education leadership as the head of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  She was the first woman to lead a research university, heading record-setting capital campaigns, increasing research revenue, and guiding student success.

Donna Shalala // Congresswoman

Just in case you thought retiring was what we all wanted, Dr. Donna Shalala proves that getting older just means doing more.  After leading the Clinton Foundation, and the University of Miami (not at the same time!), Rep. Shalala is 78 years old and a Congressional freshman – need we say more?

Emma Gonzalez // student activist

Ms. Gonzalez did not seek the spotlight, but was thrust into it when a gunman walked into her school and killed 17 people.  Since then, she has been a leading spokeswoman for gun control.  

Mary Barra // CEO of GM

A woman who literally takes the driver’s seat and goes full speed.

Madeline Albright // Secretary of State

At this point, it seems a matter of course that a woman should serve as America’s Diplomat.  Back in 1997, though, it was a first and did not happen without controversy. 

Serena Williams // THE Athlete

Perhaps destined for greatness, trained for it from birth, Serena has evolved into an American icon. First tennis player to win 23 Grand Slam singles titles in the open era, Serena leads in business, athletics, and philanthropy.

Elizabeth Taylor + Princess Diana // global philanthropists

Ms. Taylor and the Princess are on our list together for one reason only – their AIDS work.  It’s easy to forget that in the 1980s we had a President who would not even say AIDS out loud.  It’s easy to forget the absolute craziness that accompanied just the word, the fear, the prejudice, the shunning, the false beliefs.  These two women set out to change that.  And they did. 

Pat Summitt // women’s basketball coach

Coach Summitt was, perhaps, the first woman to change a sport, how it was reported, how it was played, and how it evolved.  Before Coach, who really ever watched women’s basketball? If you read anything about her, you knew that her work ethic would put a Marine platoon to shame.  She shaped the young women she coached, and the women she mentored, and the women who would coach after her.

Antonia Coello Novello // U.S. Surgeon General (1990–1993)

She was the first woman, and the first Hispanic, to hold the position.  Oh, and as if that was enough, she retired from that position and went to work for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Yuri Kochiyama // revolutionary civil rights activist

Deeply impacted by her forced relocation to a Japanese internment camp, and later, her friendship as an adult with Malcolm X, Kochiyama helped define American activism in the 20th century.  She began her advocacy organizing school boycotts to demand desegregated education for inner-city children in New York City’s Harlem. She spent the rest of her life advocating for Black, Latinx, Native American, and Asian-American communities. In the 1980s, Kochiyama and her husband pushed for reparations to the Japanese-Americans who had been incarcerated during World War II, and led to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

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