Ceilings are made to be broken

by Sara Woelfel

It’s only appropriate that Dr. Dorsey Kendrick, ’84, chose to focus her doctoral dissertation on the "glass ceiling" with an analysis of those barriers and obstacles that have impeded women from reaching their full potential. Not only has she herself shattered a few ceilings, but now in her role as president of Gateway Community College in New Haven, Connecticut, Kendrick is on a mission to help other people—women and men from all backgrounds and circumstances—break through the impediments of poverty, unemployment, inadequate transportation, and family challenges.

"Every day I come to work looking to see what can I do today to make this community better, make my students feel better about their experiences, or give them what they need to go out and compete in a marketplace in which they can be successful," said Kendrick whose own family struggled when she was young.

Throughout her life, Kendrick has relied on advocates and champions to point her toward her gifts and reveal the importance of education as a means of empowerment. As a girl, teachers often tapped her for leadership roles, recognizing her potential.

"I think that gave me the courage and tenacity to want to get a college education and give back to society what they gave to me. That kind of set the stage for the person I am."

Supported by parents who emphasized the importance of good grades and a college education, Kendrick chose to attend Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1966 and was one of the first three African Americans to enroll there, with the other two being men. She studied business administration, and again fell into a minority with only one or two other women in her business classes.

"I don’t really worry about being pigeonholed into what role people think I belong in. I’m always going to do what I think fits for me. So I am very assertive about that and relentless to accomplish what I start out to do."

 

 

Once she graduated, got married, and moved to Milwaukee, Kendrick began working as a business education teacher at the Opportunity Industrialization Center and then in marketing research for Marine Bank. She earned her master’s degree in management from Stritch, later serving as an adjunct faculty member and being named a distinguished alumna by the Stritch Alumni Association. In 1984, Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) hired her as the associate dean of business. She then received a promotion to become the dean of the school of business and eventually executive vice president, making her the highest ranking African American woman in Wisconsin higher education at that time.

Gateway Community College recruited Kendrick, who was appointed president in 1999 and has spent the last 16 years making her mark there, most notably through exponential increases in enrollment, the creation of a nursing program, and the construction of a $200 million campus.

Kendrick is aware that her success as a highly visible community leader is important not only to her but perhaps to a wider community. She takes that responsibility to heart.

"I want to lead this position based on my level of expertise, my knowledge and my skill, not because I’m a woman. So I have to be stupendous, exceptional and above average, and I do not go anywhere unprepared. I wear a nice suit, try to be articulate and sharp. Frankly that’s because I know that if I’m not seen in that way, then the level of respectability somehow diminishes for me as a woman, and particularly a woman of color."

She is conscious of her responsibility as a role model for those who will come after her.

"I think that’s part of our responsibility when we’re near the end of our career is to be able to share our experiences and insights with others so their plight won’t be as challenging and they’ll be armed with more knowledge than we were. I had to go through and find my way, so hopefully we can start making the process a little easier for the next generation of women."

Advice to today's women

"Become a lifelong learner. Never think that if you know something today, that it’s not going to be obsolete tomorrow. Always look for new and better ways of improving yourself, learn new and better ways of improving your job and always be ready to learn more. And be enthusiastic about the learning process."

"Education is your passport in trying to achieve the American dream, and that’s something that gives you acceptability, respectability and upward mobility opportunities."