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Women make history on stages big and small by lifting each other up

At the University of Washington, women have been making history since the University was founded. Throughout March, which is designated as Women’s History Month, we have a wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on the extraordinary depth and breadth of what the women of the UW have achieved, on campus and off, in the sciences and the arts, as changemakers and leaders, and at every scale.

As an institution, the UW now has a historic concentration of female leadership: women hold the senior-most positions on all three campuses, with Chancellor Kristin Esterberg leading UW Bothell and Chancellor Sheila Edwards Lange leading UW Tacoma. In Seattle, new Provost Tricia Serio serves as the University’s chief academic officer. Together, this marks first time in UW history that all four of these leadership positions have been held by women. As leaders in education, they are making their mark on a large and public stage, but there are many ways in which to make history, including ways that are intensely personal and carry deep significance for individuals and their families.

In her recent blog post, Provost Tricia Serio shared the story of her path to the Provost’s office as a first-generation college student. As she poignantly illustrates, her experience in higher education — from navigating the selection of a college major to pursuing a career as a biochemist — was shaped by her identities as a woman and as the first person in her family to attend and graduate from college. Her lived experience has had a profound impact on how she has approached her career as an educator and leader, especially in the critical areas of mentorship and encouragement.

Like Tricia, I would not be where I am without the support and mentorship of people who had faith in my ability. These mentors encouraged us to reject the sexist and biased stereotypes that were sometimes projected onto us by others. Now, from our privileged positions of leadership and influence, we feel a sense of responsibility to pass on the kind of mentorship and encouragement that empowered us to forge unconventional paths — so that girls and women in the future won’t see any kind of ambition as out of reach, no matter what their background. For both of us, the success of our students and proteges — and even the successes of those they have gone on to mentor — ranks among the achievements we are most proud of in our careers.

History is often presented as a collection of firsts, and the individuals who break new ground and change the world in doing so are certainly worthy of celebration. But this Women’s History Month, let’s also celebrate the ways that women’s progress and achievements often happen in less visible but equally important ways, handed down from generation to generation, as women lift each other up in service of a more equitable world.