Pat Meservey, the president emerita of Salem State University, may have stepped down from her position, but she isn’t retired. After a decade at the helm of the 8,700-student strong North Shore university, Meservey is continuing her work as an advocate for education and women in higher ed.
Her legacy is cemented, especially when you consider Salem State’s progress during her tenure. In addition to the new residence halls and library built under Meservey, the students have made remarkable achievements. Graduation rates grew from 37 percent when Meservey took on her role in 2007 to 52 percent by 2016, with an especially high increase in the graduation rates of Latino students. With more than a third of Salem State’s 2017 freshmen identifying as students of color, the focus on graduation rates will continue to impact thousands of young lives.
“We see a terrible disparity in the graduation rates between white students and African-American and Latino students. It’s not that they’re unable to do the work, but frequently they’re coming in with deficits either from their K-12 experience or they don’t have the necessary financial resources,” says Meservey. “To see Latino students and African-American students achieve higher graduation rates [was rewarding]. We should see all students succeeding at the same rates. I was so proud of my team [and] that we were able to provide this support.”
Meservey originally planned on a nursing career, but once she received a position as a teacher’s assistant, everything started to click. Connecting with students came naturally to her and she enjoyed being around for their “aha moments.”
Meservey’s passion for students comes through when she speaks about the need for a level field in access to great education. “How important is equal opportunity? It’s essential for our society. If we’re able to provide education across all economic groups, then everyone is going to have an opportunity to succeed and that’s going to make for a better society,” says Meservey.
At Salem State, Meservey says that the administration’s greatest challenge was managing the complexity of the students that are coming into higher education in greater numbers than ever before. “[I thought] what would we be able to do for the greatest number of students at the most reasonable cost for the effort? What are some of the common needs? You end up with positive outcomes, which gives you access to more resources—which can then let you take on the next set of challenges for those students.”
Today, Meservey is a leader in education and a mentor to women pursuing deanships, positions as university presidents, and other careers in higher education leadership. According to the American Council on Education’s 2017 report, “only 30 percent of the nation’s college and university presidents are women.” While women are now earning the majority of all college degrees and becoming more prevalent in entry- and mid-level positions, there’s still progress to be made in reaching chief executive positions.
“I can take the knowledge that I’ve gained and guide and advise others that are coming up behind me—working with women at all levels of their career, mentoring women looking to become university presidents. How do we make their progress more efficient and effective?” says Pat Meservey. She adds that women are making great progress, particularly when it comes to stepping into leadership roles. Oftentimes there are gender biases both in the boardroom and in the classroom—according to Meservey, we need to be more aware and make sure that women are getting the same opportunities.
“It’s important to push yourself to take risks and be willing to face failure, not to limit yourself to that which is safe and certain but rather challenge yourself and stretch yourself to solve difficult problems.”
Learn more about other women who are leading the way for future generations.