Molly Ranz Calhoun
Associate Vice President for Student Life
Q. Describe your career path to Associate Vice President for Student Life at Ohio State (as in, the actual progression of positions through organizations).
A. I am a proud graduate of The Ohio State University in the College of Arts' Industrial Design (interior space design) program. In my junior year, I started as a student intern with the Office of Facilities Administration for Housing and Dining Services (a department within Student Life). When I graduated in 1986, they asked me to take a one-year temporary position, and then they asked me to go full-time. I accepted, but explained that I would only be around for three years because I felt that my future was in retail design … 29 years later, I'm still here. Throughout my nearly three decades at the university, I have always worked for the Office of Student Life. I have steadily progressed through the organization; in fact I have held nine different positions, all within our facilities areas and ultimately joining the leadership team as associate vice president in 2012.
Q. How would you describe your leadership style?
A. Transparent, authentic, direct and supportive. I think my team knows exactly what I expect, and that they have my full support. They also know that I am open to questions and suggestions. I intentionally surround myself with people who are different than me and have strengths that I may not have so that we can work together to make the best decisions. I learn A LOT from my team every day.
Q. What were the best career investments you've made along the way?
A. I've tried to surround myself with hardworking, team-oriented people with a strong sense of integrity. I've had solid mentors, peers and team members and firmly believe the saying that "you win with people." I believe strong relationships are the key to success, both at a personal level and for any given project.
Q. Any mentors or champions who supported your professional development?
A. I have been so fortunate to work with many strong leaders and mentors over the years. Each one of them has contributed something different and meaningful to my professional development. Bill Schwartz taught me the importance of being a good steward of student resources. Bill Hall taught me the importance of doing the right thing, knowing that it often was much more difficult than doing things right. More recently, Dr. J continually inspires me to focus on student development. Through her leadership and vision, I've seen more than ever, how physical spaces can positively impact student success and set the stage for extraordinary student experiences. We don't just build buildings, we create spaces that facilitate student interaction and growth.
Q. How would you describe your career goals today? How have they changed over time?
A. When I think back 29 years, I remember being very focused on MY long-term goals and advancement. I wanted to have impact. I wanted unique experiences and to grow in every way possible. Fast forward nearly three decades and my focus is still the same, but rather than putting MYSELF at the center, I am now committed to helping my team members establish and reach their goals and advancement objectives. I want to make sure that the people around me are setting themselves up for success in much the same way my mentors helped me.
Q. What kind of challenges have you faced along the way, and how did you overcome them?
A. Things have changed so much over the years, and I don't talk about this often, but looking back, I would say that being a female in a male-dominated field has been one of the most significant challenges. Many times I have been the only woman in the room, and having my voice heard and valued was sometimes a struggle. This is probably one of the main reasons that I've grown to be so transparent and direct, which has actually contributed to my success. Looking back, while this was a challenge, I think I was also able to inspire some positive change over the years; today I have many women on my staff and it's not unusual at Ohio State to have a woman in a position like mine. I also believe my presence at the table has demonstrated to those outside Ohio State that the university is committed to diversity in many different facets.
Q. When you think about serving in a leadership role as a female, do any unique experiences come to mind?
A. I would say one of the most unique experiences I have had is realizing that I could leverage my professional leadership skills as a mom. I had amazing opportunities as a young professional to learn strong leadership lessons, and when I had my boys, one day I realized that I could approach parenting in much the same way as I approached leading my team. Being a parent is about being a leader to your children: providing support and resources, guiding and advising, giving independence, setting expectations and structure, instilling values and creating a sense of mission. The best part of being a parent and a leader is when it all comes together and you find yourself beaming with pride around something your kids or staff have accomplished. I feel I was a better parent because of my job; and hopefully I am a better leader because of my children.
Q. What advice would you give to other women looking to reach similar goals?
A. Find strong mentors. Surround yourself with people who complement you and your skills, but they shouldn't all look and think like you do. Find a strong female mentor, but it's okay to have male mentors, as well. You want to have access to different perspectives, and you can't have that unless you have a diverse support network. Establish a network of people who are diverse in talents, and common in goals. I would also encourage them to find something outside of work that energizes them. They will need something to help keep things in perspective. For me, those things are running, golfing, photography and keeping up with my boys. Find the things (work and play) that you love, and do them with passion.
Q. What's next for you? Something you're looking forward to.
A. I am really excited to be a part of Ohio State's housing expansion projects, currently the work that is progressing in the North Residential District. I have been fortunate to be a part of teams that have created an extraordinary portfolio of facilities: the Ohio Union, RPAC, the Blackwell and new residence halls on south campus. When I started working at Ohio State, I was excited to be building "things." Now, in addition to the awesome spaces we've developed, I am equally proud of having a hand in the development of new leaders.
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Molly R. Calhoun