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Lisa Durham

Portrait of Lisa DurhamAssistant Dean for Community Engagement
College of Social Work

Q. Describe your career path to Assistant Dean for Community Engagement at Ohio State.

A. I graduated from the OSU College of Social Work in 1988 with my BSSW. I spent the next three years working in community mental health, where I learned a great deal about the most vulnerable people in our world, and the barriers they face every day. I moved on to work at the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging (COAAA), working in several roles in the area of social work. I love older adults so this was an excellent fit. I served as a case manager, a program director, and an administrator during the 16 years I worked there. It was a wonderful environment to stretch my wings, to make mistakes and learn from them, and to grow. I then had an opportunity to return to OSU in the College of Social Work as the director of field education. In the past eight years, I've had many opportunities to advance my career here, and have benefited from amazing mentors and colleagues. My role has grown over the last eight years and it has allowed me to work across campus and in our community to improve education and the lives of our students.

Q. How would you describe your leadership style?

A. I approach leadership from the perspective of a servant leader. I believe my role is to help those I work with have what they need not only to succeed, but to exceed as well. I enjoy helping others maximize their potential, take risks and feel supported. I have benefitted from the freedom of being allowed to try new things, follow new ideas, and be creative. I feel trust is critical in leadership, and I want to be trusted as well as trust those in leadership. I strive to be a person who is accountable as I make mistakes. I think as I grow in my career, I'm also able to keep the big picture in mind, and not get lost in the minor struggles. Really understanding what I have control over, and what I don't, helps me keep calm and carry on. I hope to communicate a positive and grateful attitude, and recognize staff for their hard work and accomplishments.

Q. What were the best career investments you've made along the way?

A. Getting my master's in social work was absolutely one of the best career investments I've made. It has opened many doors for me, allowed me to challenge myself in my career, and offered opportunities for leadership that I wouldn't have otherwise. Attending the Women's Place PPL program was also quite beneficial in helping me think about my future career, what strengths I bring to the table, and how to best utilize them. One of the most helpful investments has also been training in the Art of Hosting. The concepts and philosophies around hosting meaningful conversations resonate quite strongly with me. I believe everyone has something to offer, and creating a safe forum for discussions that allow us to reach new levels of understanding and creativity is very fulfilling.

Q. Any mentors or champions who supported your professional development?

A. Yes, of course. During my career at COAAA, I had a supervisor who really took me under her wing and helped me critically think about programming around mission and being an advocate. She gave me many opportunities I would not have today. And in my career here at Ohio State, our current dean has been a significant influence of my leadership skills and effectiveness. He has shown me how to always see the person in any situation, and not evaluate someone based only on a behavior. This has been incredibly helpful for me. He is clearly interested in my professional growth, and supports me in new initiatives and in high-level thinking and planning. He has been a great encouragement to me.

Q. How would you describe your career goals today? How have they changed over time?

A. As I look at the next eight to 10 years, my goals for my career are continuing to evolve. I have so many opportunities now, and I think increasing collaborations across the university hold particular interest to me. Social Work as a profession is so integral to the every day lives of people, but most don't know it. Helping to tell our story, starting with our students, our campus community, and the community at-large is quite energizing for me. I hope to be at Ohio State for the foreseeable future.

Q. What kind of challenges have you faced along the way, and how did you overcome them?

A. The balance of career and family is always a struggle and my challenges have ranged from working fulltime while having a young child, to going through graduate school and a divorce simultaneously, to being older and dealing with health issues. I have always had wonderful friends and family to support me as well as the ability to trust those I work for. Open and honest conversation about my challenges with those in leadership have helped me deal with difficult and challenging times in my life, both personally and professionally. Ultimately, I have a strong faith that I rely on, and that has made all the difference for me.

Q. When you think about serving in a leadership role as a female, do any unique experiences come to mind?

A. I have been quite fortunate in my career to be treated very well and equally. In a profession that is dominated by women, my experience has been a very positive one. In an administrative role at the university, I've been given many opportunities and appreciate them all. As a non-tenured woman in a leadership role, I likely don't experience the challenges of the academy as others do.

Q. What advice would you give to other women looking to reach similar goals?

A. My advice would be to take smart risks, find a mentor you trust, and be patient. Your career path is one planned but often not followed. Wonderful opportunities come your way that you were not looking for, and taking them can lead to a great journey. Have a great sense of humor, and most importantly, find time for those you love.

Q. What's next for you? Something you're looking forward to.

A. I have applied for a national leadership training program that I am excited about. I don't like to be idle, so any opportunity for growth and movement is interesting to me. Our college is very successful right now, and we have the opportunity to take it to the next level, and I'm thrilled to be a part of that. I'm also a grandma (Nona) and my world has been redefined by it. I am finding so much joy in my role as Nona and I intend to experience as much of it as I can.