‘Higher education is ready for female leaders’

‘Higher education is ready for female leaders’

Danielle Ripich, 70

President, University of New England

11 Hills Beach Road, Biddeford


Now in her ninth year as president of the University of New England, Danielle Ripich has been an integral part of UNE’s unprecedented growth, from the creation of a 10-year strategic plan to the construction of a new campus in Tangier, Morocco, last year.

“We live in a global society, and to prepare students in this century, I really believe if they are going to be an educated person, they need to have done something outside the U.S.,” said Ripich, who lives on the Biddeford campus.

Upon becoming UNE president in July 2006, Ripich initiated the university’s strategic planning process, resulting in 70 percent growth of student enrollment, particularly over the past six years.

“It’s really been an incredible journey for us,” she said. “We have almost doubled the size of the university in the past nine years.”

Before moving to Maine, Ripich served as the dean of the College of Health Professions, Medical University of South Carolina, and the professor in the Department of Neurology at the university’s College of Medicine. Prior, she served as the chair of the communications department, and as associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

She chairs the executive board of the Maine Higher Education Council and is a former president and board member of the Greater Portland Alliance of Congress and Universities.

In addition to UNE’s new campus in Morocco, at the American School of Tangier, the university’s expansion includes seven new buildings on its two campuses in Maine, as well as three new colleges.

Under Ripich’s leadership, UNE opened its College of Pharmacy in 2009 and College of Dental Medicine in 2012, which enrolled its first class in 2013. According to Ripich, the College of Dental Medicine is the only dental school in Northern New England.

Using a $10 million donation from the Harold Alfond Foundation, Ripich has also led the expansion of Biddeford’s campus, which includes the opening of the $20 million athletics and student life center. Ripich has also overseen the creation of UNE’s first research-only building, two academic halls, the George and Barbara Bush Center and Library, and a 300-bed residence hall.

But much of UNE’s growth is credited to the College of Graduate and Professional Studies, which houses UNE’s online programs.

“Last year, we had 5,436 online students, and just about an equal number of residential students,” said Ripich. “To build a modern university is a unique opportunity in New England. In higher education, you don’t get that opportunity often.”

Ripich, who has a doctorate in speech pathology from Kent State University and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Cleveland State University, has two daughters in South Carolina, a son in Ohio, as well as seven grandchildren ages 5-21.

Throughout the years, Ripich has received numerous awards and fellowships. In 2009, in recognition of her leadership in allied health education, the Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions named Ripich a Fellow.

Ripich recently spoke with Maine Women about her experience as the president of the University of New England and shared some of her advice for other women interested in higher education.

Q: How did you get into higher education?

A: My parents were teachers and the dinner table conversation was often about how to help students, and I began to see these as interesting problems to solve. I think I was always drawn to education.

Q: Did you have a mentor or an individual that was helpful to you?

A: Joe Routman, a colleague and friend, was a natural teacher and mentor. He encouraged me through many self-doubts. As women, we seem to have those quite often. My advice is finding someone who “gets you” and sees your strengths. It’s key in difficult times. I have sought out mentors. I’ve looked for people who have overcome obstacles to achieve. They have acquired the attitude and skills to make things work.

Q: What does it take to succeed in higher education?

A: I believe academia often attracts conservative people. You wouldn’t think that on the surface, but I think many academics are risk averse. The academy is one of the most stable institutions in our society. Given this, many academics have succeeded by being conservative and honoring the past. I think in today’s rapidly changing environment, academic leaders must be innovative and be willing to make changes to adapt to the needs of this new global world we all live in.

Q: What advice would you offer to women interested in your line of work?

A: I think higher education is ready for female leaders. We bring a sensibility and perspective that is uniquely suited to the competing demands of these jobs. Women are used to juggling lots of balls, personally and professionally. We are the multi-taskers, and that is what is needed to lead these complex organizations. If you don’t like a bit of chaos, you wouldn’t like my work. Take opportunities to lead. Don’t just do the committee work and offer to assist, make the extra effort to try being in charge and then lead. I see women doing a great deal of behind-the-scenes work for my university, but often it is men who offer to chair working groups and who are seen as driving projects.

Q: What is the most meaningful part of your work?

A: I think we all want to find meaning in what we do each day. For me, I am always touched by my students. Each one has a story that makes you want to help them. These are wonderful young people. Their optimism keeps me open. Their earnestness keeps me diligent. Their hard work makes me believe they can accomplish whatever they take on and these are the things that give meaning to my work.

Danielle Ripich has been the president of University of New England in Biddeford since 2006. Courtesy photo

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