Empowering. Affirming. Gracious. Kind. Friend.
These were the most common words used to describe university doyenne Barbara Bader, who took her final bow last week at an annual reunion celebrating emerging women and minority leaders at FIU.
Bader, the founding director of the Educational Leadership Enhancement Program (ELEP) and mentor to many, is stepping down this month after 23 years overseeing the program.
Participants of ELEP (affectionately referred to as “Barbara Bader’s program” at FIU) describe the experience as “transformative.” The yearlong program began in 1993 as part of a statewide initiative to promote female and minority university leadership. It emphasizes career development and fosters relationships among university leaders through mentoring, professional workshops and conferences.
While participants choose individual mentors who are university leaders, Bader has informally served as mentor and friend to many of the more than 170 ELEP alumni over the years, keeping in touch long after they finish the program.
“Everybody can call Barbara about anything,” said retired vice president forStudent Affairs Rosa Jones, an ELEP mentor, “and she will make you feel that you are the only person she is focused on.”
Mihaela Plugarasu said participating in ELEP and receiving guidance from Bader helped motivate her to pursue a higher role in her department; and she was recently promoted director of strategy and communications at theChaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management.
“I feel very empowered to continue to tap and believe in my potential,” Plugarasu said. “[Bader’s] mentorship, her advice, her support, her creative solutions to all kinds of challenges and situations are the embodiment of leadership and grace.”
The program concludes with an annual reunion and luncheon—this year held on Women’s Equality Day—featuring a high-profile presenter who discusses challenges and paths to leadership. This year, ELEP participants met Florida Supreme Court Justice (and former Chief Justice) Barbara Pariente, the longest-serving Florida justice and the second woman to serve in that role.
Pariente spoke of her rise to the Supreme Court, a long road that began as a judicial clerk fresh out of law school in 1973 and led her through a career first as a lawyer and then as a judge. She discussed some of the difficulties she faced as a woman trying to make a name for herself in the field of law, including juggling a family and long work hours.
“The guilt was always there, and I think it’s always more for women,” Pariente said. “As much as I as I feel I’ve accomplished as a lawyer, it always felt like a juggling act, and I don’t know if that changes.”
Pariente spoke of the biases women often face as leaders, like the fact that speaking and acting assertively can be considered “bossy” and “controlling,” while the same behavior exhibited by men is considered strong leadership. She offered this advice to the women in the room: “You’ve got to know your audience. And take what you’re doing seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.”
Pariente also addressed the tendency for budding leaders to be perfectionists, reminding the audience that nothing is 100 percent perfect.
“You’ve got to be okay with the fact that you’re going to fail sometimes,” she said.
Bader named Elizabeth Bejar, vice president for Academic Affairs, as her successor. Bejar’s directorship will begin with the 2016-2017 ELEP cohort, and Bader believes she will take ELEP to new heights.
“I am so comfortable having the program be under Elizabeth,” Bader said. “The people who are going to be in the program in the future are going to have phenomenal experiences.”
“I don’t believe it’s possible to fill Barbara’s shoes, so I’m going to put on roller skates,” Bejar joked, explaining that she intends to change the game a bit—a lesson she learned from Bader. Her plans include encouraging more alumni involvement in the program.
Bader, who came to FIU in 1973 and retired in 2003, said directing ELEP has been the highlight of her career at FIU. “Twenty-three years [with the program], and I look around the room now at superstars who are not just colleagues, but friends.”
Though her time as director has ended, it won’t be the last time Bader sets foot on campus. She will soon advise a new retirement initiative led by Human Resources, and she always welcomes emails about promotions, new babies, marriages, advice and anything else her mentees need.