Colleen Hanycz Opens the Doors to Higher Ed

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Colleen Hanycz uses her status as the first woman and first lay president of Xavier University to broaden access to education.

Photograph courtesy Xavier University

How are you planning to change education in Cincinnati?

As Xavier embarks on its next strategic plan, which we’re in the midst of building right now, one of the questions I have asked this community is, What does this region need Xavier to be in our next chapter? In higher education, we have a tendency to look inward when we are developing strategies and priorities and planning. As we prepare students for jobs and careers that don’t even exist right now, we can only do that well if we are looking outward rather than inward.

What are your insights into what the community might need?

As we come out of this pandemic, how that has shifted perceptions of work, what it means to work, what it means to be part of a career progression—young people are looking at that very differently. The young people who we serve coming out of this pandemic are completely different than the college students we served two years ago. They have suffered from this pandemic in ways that really are not even being fully identified yet.

Where were your previous presidencies?

Up until July, when I moved to Xavier, I was president for the past six years at LaSalle University in Philadelphia. Prior to that, my first presidency was seven years, beginning in 2008, at Brescia University College in Canada. I’m Canadian, and I was a law professor before being a president. [Brescia] was the only women’s college in Canada, and LaSalle is co-ed. All three of them are Catholic, so my deep commitment is to Catholic higher education.

What lessons do you bring from those experiences?

Education is, in fact, a common good, which means it cannot be limited in its access. If you believe education is a common good, then you are always looking for ways to help students and families lift themselves through education. Education cannot be something that is preserved only for those who can afford it or only for those that can envision what their pathway is.

As Xavier’s first woman and first lay person president, what insight does that give you into doing this work?

My own passion over the years has been in the area of girls and women’s leadership. That became a focus for me when I was leading the only women’s college in Canada. I always have formal mentees. [So far at Xavier,] I’ve heard from so many of our young women students saying, We’re excited that you’re here. It’s so great to have a woman as a president. It’s what we know as a community about diversity. When we see people in roles who are like us, who share identity characteristics, there is some encouragement in that.

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