Take the Lead

Sophomore Stephanie Augustine's Introduction

As a sophomore at Cedar Crest College, imagine my excitement when I learned my own President Carmen Twillie Ambar was nominated to receive the Take The Lead award. We sat on her couch in the very house that I had pointed out on every tour I gave to prospective students. In my afternoon visit, I learned so much more about Cedar Crest’s president and our college’s own personal role model for women’s leadership.

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, President Ambar was raised during the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement, where social and political unrest was still prevalent. Although not a Girl Scout in her youth, her parents instilled many of the moral and ethical beliefs of Girl Scouting, as well as a solid spiritual foundation. Both of her parents were deeply involved in education. Her father was a high school principal, and her mother was a faculty member at the University of Arkansas. While President Ambar was a child, her mother had to live six hours away from her family for one year in order to complete her PhD, leaving three young children in the care of her husband. Her parents’ dedication to education and especially her father’s support of her mother’s goal that President Ambar witnessed inspired her work in later life.

After earning all her various degrees and being a practicing attorney for a few years, at age 33, she interviewed to become Dean of Douglas College – a women’s college – at Rutger’s University. It was a big leap to lead an institution, and she was surprised to receive the job. For six years, she honed her thinking about what women could achieve in a single-sex environment, and it is there that she made her full commitment to women’s education.

This year, 2012, is when the incoming freshmen of her first year as president of Cedar Crest will be graduating, and she told me that she is going to miss them since they were “freshmen” together. In the past 4 years, however, she acknowledges that achieving her goals for the college has not been an easy job. While there was a foundation of women’s leadership at Cedar Crest, it needed modernization to fit a modern world. President Ambar says there are so many things on the to-do list that prioritization is the only key to achievement. She says that it is impossible to focus on one thing with relentless intensity – so many people and departments are each clamoring for attention. As president, it is her job to decide the single path that is best for the institution as a whole.

President Ambar’s dedication to women’s education does not come without knowledge of the challenges facing women in the workplace. First, she told me that “a certain segment of women entering the workforce are complacent. We still live in a world where women don’t make as much as men, [particularly] in Fortune 500 companies [and] women in the sciences.” She reminded me that “young women must be in driving mode – some doors still need a bit of a kick.” Second, President Ambar states that we must remember that the success women have achieved is a collective success, and that women who have become extremely successful have not done it alone, and should be helping other young women achieve their dreams. As a student, I appreciate that philosophy, since I am always searching for mentors and role models, and it was eye-opening that more seasoned leaders feel the same as I do.

When asked how she feels Cedar Crest College embodies the Girl Scout values of courage, confidence, and character, she responded that the entire mission statement of women’s leadership cannot be achieved without building students’ confidence, as so many courses and programs are designed to do. At Cedar Crest, students are encouraged to take risks, to stand out, and doing so builds their courage. Lastly, students here are expected to have a certain integrity, further reinforced by the student-run Honor Code and Judicial Board.

It’s not all business with President Ambar; she says she has three very exciting hobbies: Luke, Daniel, and Gabrielle, her four-year old triplets keeping her busy – as well as her husband, of course. But she balances her family life with her deep commitment to women’s education and leadership, qualities for which she admires Girl Scouts. Expanding and developing new academic programs and establishing a Strategic Women’s Leadership certification are just a small portion of her accomplishments at a young age. President Ambar truly follows her favorite motto: “Observe the masses, and then do the opposite. Walk your own path, to the beat of your own drum.” Everything she does is a role model for her students and other young women, preparing them to take the lead.