Pamela Davies has been at the helm of Queens University as president of the prominent school for 16 years, just recently announcing she’ll be stepping down at the end of the next school year. During her time at the top, the school doubled its enrollment and went from a small liberal arts school to being considered a full-on university. In addition to her work on campus, off campus Pamela has had a huge impact as well, serving on a number of local and national boards – starting at a very young age. She grew up near the University of Missouri where her uncle was a professor, ultimately influencing her career path. Pamela says women are making strides when it comes to leadership roles — and says we can all be leaders, just by being mentors and role models. We’re thrilled to spend some time with today’s FACE of Charlotte, Pamela Davies.
How have things changed at Queens since you started there in 2002?
Many things have changed at Queens over the last 16 years. We are larger on virtually every measure — students, faculty, curricula/majors, campus, endowment. We are more diverse — racially, socially, economically, geographically. Last year’s entering class came from 37 states and 28 countries.
What do you want Queens University to be known for?
Students who are well-rounded and experienced beyond the classroom. At 6 months out, 98% of our students are employed or in graduate school. That is a statistic about which any university would love to boast. I think our success is directly tied to the breadth of experience our students get, which is made possible in large part by our location in Charlotte, NC, and the willingness of our faculty to get their students far beyond the shrub line of our campus and into the “real world” to have experiences that broaden the lens through which they see the world.
How does the school make sure that happens?
Queens is a small progressive university located in a vibrant and dynamic city that affords many opportunities to learn beyond the classroom, and we do our very best to capitalize on both. While we are grounded in the liberal arts, we offer a broad range of professional studies programs from business to nursing, from communication to education and beyond.
Our newest strategic plan — Queens 2020: The Yes/And Promise — is about enabling and ensuring that every student at Queens has what we call a Yes/And experience. Yes, they will receive a rigorous and challenging four-year classroom curriculum taught by highly qualified faculty AND they will have opportunities to learn beyond the classroom in significant and meaningful ways, e.g., international study made possible for every student regardless of economic limitations; required internships; community engagement experiences; mentoring opportunities, etc. They will plan, execute, reflect on and demonstrate their Yes/And experiences through a customized, personalized digital portfolio.
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You’ve had a lot of big accomplishments both at Queens and in the community. What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the incredible people we have attracted to Queens. From the Board of Trustees and other advisory groups to the leadership team to the faculty, staff and students, to the alumni and friends of Queens, we have a mighty village who works together to advance the university. Together we have worked hard to keep our university relevant during a time when higher education is changing dramatically.
You were named Charlotte Woman of the Year earlier this year. What did that mean to you?
This award is not for professional achievements, but rather for what you are doing to serve our community. Our motto at Queens is non ministrari sed ministrare – or “not to be served, but to serve.” It is not just a tagline that adorns our letterhead, but rather it is part of our DNA; it informs all we do as an institution. I seek to be a role model for our students in this regard, and to be recognized by the Charlotte Woman of the Year as having significantly contributed to our broader community communicates the value of such work to our campus community. I was very, very honored to receive this award.
There are still far fewer women in leadership roles than men. What needs to happen to change that?
It’s happening — more in some industries than others though. For example, higher education provides great opportunities for women; manufacturing, not as much. At the end of the day though, it is about education, and women are actually being educated at rates higher than men.
As to what we can do to advance women, be a mentor or a sponsor to a woman and help coach them on how to look for challenging assignments, develop relationships and tell their story in an effective way. Make sure you’re giving women in your own organization opportunities to advance. And remember – be a great role model as someone is likely watching you to see how you do it.
What challenges have you faced as a high-profile woman?
I was one of two female faculty (out of 35) in my first faculty assignment; when I became chair of my department, I was the only woman on the Dean’s Cabinet; I was the only senior woman administrator at Drexel when I was dean of the business school and only the 11th woman business dean in the country; I went on corporate boards at the age of 39 and at a time when there were very few women on boards. Even on non-profit boards, I was sometimes the only woman to serve, and I was the first woman to chair the board of the Charlotte YMCA in over 130 years. So I rose in profile at a time when women were scarce in positions of leadership.
Those were great opportunities for me, but they were not without some challenges along the way. Not only was I often the only woman in the room, I was often the youngest person in the room. Sometimes I did not feel as though I was taken seriously, so I had to push to have my voice heard. I also felt like my performance was a reflection on all women in some way and that I needed to perform at a high level to represent my gender well. You do end up being a role model at some level to people you don’t even realize are watching, and that is a big responsibility.
You have a lot going on. What do you do to practice “self-care”?
I go to the gym every morning that it is possible, which tends to be 4 to 5 times a week. That is a great way to start my day and grounds me for what lies ahead when I hit campus.
How do you balance such a high-profile role and getting quality time with your husband, kids and grandkids?
I’m fortunate in that a lot of my work is around relationship building, and therefore, I attend a lot of social events throughout the week. I am blessed to have a husband who is willing to join me in these activities and actually enjoys most everything we do. We don’t look at my role at Queens as a job, but more a life. And we enjoy that life very, very much.
As for my children, when they were in the home, I definitely arranged my entire life to be able to be there for them. If you were to ask them, they would say that mom never missed a play or a game or a field trip, etc. When I think back, I’m not sure how I managed that, but I did. I actually think it’s easier the higher up you are in the organization because you control your time more. My heart aches for mothers (and fathers) who do not have the work flexibility to be there in those ways for their children. As a leader, I make sure that everyone on my team knows that family comes first at Queens and that they have the flexibility to do what they need to be there for their children.
But when it comes to grandchildren, I can never get my fill. Our four children are in four different cities, and two of those families have our five grandchildren. It is difficult to find the time to visit everyone as much as we want. Actually, it was that situation that led me to announce my retirement effective in 2019. I must have more flexibility to see those sweet grandchildren!
What are some of your favorite things about Charlotte?
The beautiful topography and lovely climate … we live and work in Myers Park, which is always beautiful, but particularly so in the spring. The arts and culture for a city our size are really quite impressive. When we move out of the president’s house, we are going to move uptown for a little while to take advantage of all Charlotte has to offer. The sense of community – Charlotte is both a welcoming and a can-do city. You don’t have to have grown up here to make a difference. Newcomers are welcome to jump right in. We are not perfect, but as a city, I think we try to focus on the right things (e.g., social mobility, affordable housing, literacy) and to bring everyone together to support an important cause.
What is your best piece of advice?
Raise your hand for new and challenging assignments. Lean into new opportunities. You’ll learn new things, hone your skills and capabilities and get noticed for your initiative and talent.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what three things can’t you live without?
Porter – he’s our dog. He’s a rescue lab mix and the sweetest guy you’ll ever know. Breakfast – my favorite meal of the day. Exercise – it keeps me sane.
After leaving Queens, Davies plans to take a year-long sabbatical doing research and then will work as a professor at the business school and do some writing. She’s staying in Charlotte but plans to spend more time in Tennessee and South Carolina – where her grandkids are.
Thank you to Piper Warlick for these beautiful photos!
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