Bernadine Joseph, Stella Maris College

Observing Leadership in Action

United Board Fellow.Bernie Joseph 1In 2003, soon after she completed her placement as a United Board Fellow at Valparaiso University in the United States, Bernadine Joseph wrote that “new life experiences that will direct my career and life paths have taken shape.” Today, more than a decade later, she is applying her United Board Fellow experiences and leadership lessons to her role as vice principal of Stella Maris College, a Catholic women’s college in Chennai, India. In fact, she said more recently, “some memories of those experiences are so clearly in my mind that neither distance nor time can ever erase them.”

“What I still carry with me is the high level of professionalism I found at Valpo,” Dr. Joseph said. She was able “to observe leadership in action, as it were, orchestrated by my two women mentors.” These two associate provosts, one for student affairs and the other for academic affairs, outlined a comprehensive program for Dr. Joseph’s stay on the Indiana campus. This enabled her to discover how the wheels of administration turned, as she observed the work of each Student Affairs unit, joined departmental staff meetings, and interacted with people of diverse backgrounds.  “I could see, because I was there; the experience was mine for the taking.”

Dr. Joseph speaking at Stella Maris's College Day 2015.

Dr. Joseph speaking at Stella Maris’s College Day 2015.

At her second placement, at Ewha Womans University in Korea, she learned about ways to build leadership through the curriculum. At Ewha, “almost all aspects of education are geared toward changing women’s attitudes about themselves and their place in society.” That begins with the university’s name: the use of the word “Womans” is deliberate, she said, “a reflection of the intention to focus on the empowerment of every single woman who walks through the portals of the university.” Her conversations with former and then-current students indicated that the women’s studies course has been instrumental in redefining students’ attitudes, roles, and functions in relation to society.

Since her fellowship ended, Dr. Joseph’s roles at Stella Maris have progressed from head of undergraduates in the Department of English to head of postgraduates to her current position as vice principal.  These roles have given her opportunities to apply her own belief that clear communication is essential in the field of education. As Dr. Joseph wrote at the conclusion of her placement at Ewha, “One of the most important lessons I have learned here is that, in a work-related context, transparency and clarity are of the essence – these are crucial to building trust and confidence in a leader.”

(First published in Horizons in June 2015)