Purdue’s 11th president said she always tried to remember that no president has had 100 percent approval ratings, which is how she conquered tough situations.
President France Córdova said there will be times when people won’t believe in you, but that shouldn’t destroy your dreams. Her term as Purdue president ends on July 15.
“I think that you have to be consistent and focused and not back down when you are on a course because that takes away from making progress,” she said. “The times I’ve been most unhappy is when I’ve kind of waffled or backed down when it wasn’t really appropriate to do so.”
Lexi Highland, Purdue Student Government Vice President, said Córdova inspired her to follow with her dream. Highland, like the president, wants to work and thrive in a male-dominated field.
“A recent goal of mine is to become a film director,” Highland wrote in an email. “I’d say it’s more or less a male-dominated area, as far as spotlight movies go. However, I looked up a list of female directors and learned some of my favorite films had been done by women. It’s fuel to the fire.”
Timothy Sands, University Provost, enjoyed the different experiences he had under his first woman leader, especially watching a decision process within a largely male community.
“I do believe she was treated differently by some of Purdue’s stakeholders because she is a woman,” Sands wrote in an email. “It has been interesting to watch others interact with her and to try to understand that interaction from the perspective of gender differences.”
Sands said he learned a lot from a female leader, especially one with such knowledge about leadership and the challenges within an academic setting.
“Purdue has long been a male-dominated university, both in numbers and in positions of power and control,” he wrote. “Having a female president provided some balance. That said, her varied life experience has been arguably even more important to her effectiveness as a role model.”
Córdova graduated in less than four years from Stanford University with a bachelor’s degree in English. She later went on to receive her Ph.D. in physics from the California Institute of Technology. She used her doctorate degree in astrophysics to serve as the chief scientist for NASA. Córdova then became the Chancellor and distinguished professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California Riverside.
Susan Butler, the CEO of The Susan Bulkeley Butler Institute for the Development of Women Leaders and a former Purdue Board of Trustee member said it is beneficial to have women working with men. Butler said women and others of diverse backgrounds are important in organizations because of an assortment of inputs they bring to different situations.
“I think that people of diverse backgrounds bring different perspectives and the best solutions to the issues that everybody is working on,” Butler said. “We need diversity of thought.”
Butler, who was on the search committee for Purdue’s 11th president, said Córdova also knew the importance of this. She acted on it by filling more positions with diverse employees, including women.
She wanted to make sure women were represented in the pools of positions they were trying to fill,” she said. “Statistics say around 26 percent of college presidents are women. If you look at the senior leadership teams of an organization, it’s less than 20 percent women. Percentage-wise, there are more women in presidential roles.”
Moreover, Highland said Córdova did a commendable job serving as a role model for women in the workplace. She was especially impressed at how encouraging it was to have Córdova smiling up at her while she gave a speech at a Board of Trustee’s meeting.
“I remember the feeling of standing amongst Purdue’s leading official leaders and feeling so nervous and hoping I wouldn’t trip on my way up to the podium. It was wonderful though, seeing Córdova’s smiling face to hear an update of what Purdue student government was doing,” she wrote. “What was even greater was seeing the student-selected Trustee, Miranda McCormack, among the individuals. With some of her competitors for the position being male leaders, she ended up the victor.”
Sands said Córdova was always one to work “extremely hard” for the University and seemed to surprise him a lot too.
“She is always on the go and has an energy level that I cannot imagine trying to duplicate,” he wrote. “I have benefited greatly from her attention to mentorship as an important aspect of leadership. She has allowed me to participate in many situations, meetings and discussions that most provosts never experience.”