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Real-World viewpoints from leaders in our field

Interviews of Women Professionals

Sharing Real-world viewpoints

We are excited to bring you an amazing section dedicated solely to the pursuit of sharing real-world viewpoints from women in our field. Our goal is to interview women who have had either unique experiences or just plain more experience than you so that you can learn from their wisdom and apply it in your own daily work challenges.

Limelight Interviews

Our interview style will change with every chat so that we can keep it fresh.  We hope you will read our spotlight interviews and get inspired to submit suggestions of other women who we should interview.  Every one of you has something special to share so please let us know who you would like to hear from!

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  • 22 Jul 2019 10:38 PM | Anonymous

    What does your company do and why did you found it? 

    Global Citizen Year (GCY) is on a mission to make it normal for kids to take a year between high school and college. Our model offers leadership training for students from diverse backgrounds alongside deep, long-term immersion (10 months long) in either Senegal, Brazil, Ecuador, or India.  I founded GCY in 2010 to try create systemic change in our education system and make this bridge year an integrated part of how we think about a pathway to college.

    2. What's the biggest challenge you've faced as a founder and director? 

    Balancing my vision, ambition and aspiration with the reality of how hard it is to build something from scratch. I have learned to embrace the mantra of going slow to go fast, to grow deliberately from a strong foundation. If you are a big thinker, reality is just never fast enough!

    3. What is your proudest moment? Shining minute?

    I was very proud to see Tufts University take this model on as their own. I had lunch with the Provost years ago and he decided to launch a 1 + 4 model. Students do 1 year with GCY and then 4 with Tufts. It's the sign of a school that is ahead of its time. They have created incentives and pathways to help more kids see this as the greatest advantage they could have in the world. 

    4. Any particular mentor you had who you'd like to give a nod to? 

    Wendy Kopp, the Founder of Teach for America. Now she leads Teach for All, which is modeling the Teach for America model in 40 countries around the world. She has been a consistent source of support and guidance, clear-eyed feedback, warmth, and encouragement when I need it. She helps me keep my eye on the bigger picture. She has been honest and vulnerable about the early challenges of Teach for America. How it took a decade for it to get traction. This has given me patience and comfort. 

    5. Any advice to rising female leaders in this field?

    Think big. Think without constraints. 


    Abigail Falik is the founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year, and an award-winning social entrepreneur. Falik is driven by the conviction that talent is universal, but opportunity is not. Prior to founding Global Citizen Year, Falik applied her entrepreneurial instincts to innovative educational initiatives in the U.S. and around the world. She was an early team member at College Track, an organization focused on ensuring college success for low-income students, as well as a strategic advisor to Room to Read, an organization that helps build literacy skills in Africa and Asia. During her tenure at NetAid (later acquired by Mercy Corps), she designed and launched a flagship initiative to engage U.S. high school students in the fight to end global poverty. A recognized expert on social innovation and the changing landscape of education, Falik has been featured in Forbes, NPR, The Washington Post and The New York Times. In 2016, Fast Company named her one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business, and for her achievements as a social entrepreneur, she has been recognized as an Ashoka Fellow, a MindTrust Fellow and a Draper Richards Kaplan Entrepreneur. She currently serves on the advisory boards of World Learning, Teach for All and the Harvard Business School. She received a B.A. in international relations and an M.A. in international comparative education from Stanford University. She received her MBA from Harvard Business School.

  • 22 Jul 2019 10:37 PM | Anonymous

    What is your current title and where do you work?

    As an International Exchange Specialist at the Smithsonian, I work in the Office of International Relations, which is a central unit serving all 19 Smithsonian museums, 9 Research Centers and the National Zoo. We support Smithsonian-wide international activity, and in my role I facilitate international exchanges, acting as a point of contact for D.C.-based embassies, the State Department and other international organizations. 

    2. What was your dream job as a kid and why? If it changed, what led to that decision?

    I kind of loved being a student when I was a kid. Right out of college, I spent two years searching for the right professional fit, but more than anything, I felt like I wanted to be back in school or traveling! I eventually obtained a TEFL certificate and went back into a classroom to teach English abroad in Chile and Spain, followed by graduate school. I’ve worked in an educational/international setting ever since, on a career path that I didn’t realize existed when I was a kid! 

    3. Tell us about your first international experience and how that influenced your current career choice.

    The first time I left the U.S. was to participate in a two-week high school exchange program when I was 16. I lived with a Spanish family in Alicante, Spain—and the following semester my family hosted the Spanish exchange student who I had lived with. Spanish was one of my favorite subjects in school, and having the opportunity to immerse myself in the language was transformative. Language study had always been fun—and the immersion experience allowed me to apply what I had learned in a practical way. Although I didn’t realize it then, my love for languages and culture, and my appreciation for international exchanges would eventually lead me down my career path. 

    4. What was your first job in international education?

    The first step I took toward a career in international education was to become an English teacher in Chile. At the time, I saw it as a step away from the “real world” for some adventurous travel, but it ultimately led me to my current career. On returning to the U.S., I pursued a graduate degree in International Education at the University of Maryland and obtained a graduate assistantship in the International Student and Scholars office to support my studies. I’ve been working in the field ever since! 

    5. Describe a typical day/week at the office at your current job.

    The Smithsonian is a place of constant activity and excitement- and working in a central office, we are at a crossroads for all kinds of activity. Typically, I am either supporting international scholars, or coordinating/attending visits for international delegations. As an example, I work with the Department of State, International Visitor Leadership program (IVLP), and just yesterday they sent a group of Russian language preservation specialists to meet with representatives from the Smithsonian’s “Recovering Voices” program to explore efforts to preserve and document disappearing languages. I act as something of a matchmaker for 50-100 groups of international visitors annually, connecting them with Smithsonian colleagues and resources. Later that afternoon, I supported a colleague with a panel discussion on Cultural Heritage Preservation, which included various U.S. ambassadors discussing their experiences with facilitating preservation efforts in other countries. All to say that every week offers something new and exciting! 

    6. What do you enjoy the most about your job? 

    Who doesn’t love the Smithsonian?! I love that I get to work at such a unique organization that wears so many different hats- and in my role I have the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and learn so much about the sciences, humanities and more. 

    7. What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

    Working for a large and diverse organization with many moving parts, it can sometimes be difficult to navigate through various bureaucracies, especially since part of my role involves working with immigration policy. After all the red tape, it is always worthwhile to see successful international initiatives happen! 

    8. What has working in international education taught you about yourself and your own culture?

    Some helpful attributes for working in the field of international education include patience and empathy. Every time I work with international visitors coming to the U.S., I remind myself how it can be both exhilarating and exhausting to navigate through a new environment. Kindness from strangers can go a long way in a foreign country, and I try to recognize and integrate this into my work. 

    International travel and dialogue with foreign visitors to the U.S. also enables me to reflect on American culture and values. There are many things we share in common with other cultures, and many ways that we are different. I find that an attitude of openness and willingness to learn can only make us better global citizens. 

    9. Is there a value or principal from another culture that you have embraced and applied to your own life?

    Somewhere along the line, I went from being obsessively punctual to always running a few minutes behind schedule. It may have been the years I spent in the Spanish-speaking world, where sense of time is different than in the U.S. But I like to believe that it’s accompanied by a more relaxed attitude about life in general. In some areas of the world, relationships and work-life balance are more important than deadlines. I’ve tried to integrate this mindset in a way that works with my current lifestyle. 

    10. Do you have a career mentor or someone that you consult with about career growth? How has that person influenced your career growth? 

    I have been lucky to meet a few great friends, who are also career women who I look up to! One friend who is a few years ahead on her career path always seems to have the right guidance to give when I reach any hurdles. It’s also been extremely helpful to have professional networks like the Global Leadership League to create communities of like-minded professionals, and mentoring circles with action-oriented activities. Career growth is made easier by having a framework, resources and a community to guide the process. 

    11. Describe and experience that you consider your greatest failure. How did you bounce back from that? 

    My most difficult career experience was when I changed from one employer to another to do the exact same job. After a few years of developing my professional expertise under one employer, I was very confident in my ability to do the job. I did not anticipate the difficulty of doing the same job for a new supervisor, in a very different office culture. I stayed less than a year at the new job, and struggled the whole time. The important takeaway from that experience is that the people you work with are just as important as the job you have, and it’s helpful to ask about this during the interview process. 

    12. What’s one piece of advice that you would give your younger self in high school or college as it relates to your career?

    Stop worrying so much, and start enjoying the ride more! Each academic and career step will eventually flow into the next opportunity—It is so worthwhile to take time to live in the present. 

    13. What type of hobbies or activities help you balance your work/life experience?

    While I love my job, I also spend the majority of my week in an office and interacting over phone or email. Some things that help me balance that include regular travel (day trips, major international vacations and anything in between)- I am fueled by adventure. I also love the outdoors, and make sure to get outside regularly- exploring the many wonderful hiking trails around the DC area, jogging, or just enjoying a sunny day.

  • 12 Jul 2019 10:42 PM | Anonymous


    Associate Dean and Professor, School of Communications at Webster University


    1. What was your dream job as a kid and why?

    I wanted to be a dancer who traveled the world and I also wanted to be a scientist who would figure things out. As a scholar who studies the body in the workplace and consults on international education I have blended all of those into what I do today.

    2. What has been your leadership path?

    My path has been both average (a mathematical fact) and “not” normal (a socially

    constructed expectation). Average in that most women do not take a “normal” career path where they move through high school, college, entry position, management position and then c-level.

    My first pass at college ended 8-weeks into the Fall semester of my sophomore year when I decided that I really didn’t know what was going on in my classes. I dropped out and went to a secretarial school where I learned the “new” word processing technology, shorthand, and filing. After working as a secretary for 4 years I returned to earn my BS in Rhetoric, Marketing and Real Estate Finance and then my MS and PhD in Organizational Communication. As an assistant professor I volunteered for service opportunities that gave me a breadth of experience across the university including student affairs, human resources, finance, curriculum, technology and housing. After five years as an associate professor, the Vice President of Academic Affairs’ office created a position and invited me to apply. I was repeatedly warned not to take the position, since I was not a full professor, had not served as a department chair nor had I worked as an associate dean or dean. While all of these were true, the experiences and knowledge I gained as an Associate Vice President allowed me to understand the pressure points and opportunities that are part of a university. During this time, the Vice President asked me what I wanted to do next and I said, “Seems like international is going to be important” and I became the institution’s first Senior International Officer. I asked everyone and anyone, “Who do you read in international education, what organizations do you belong to, what are you worried or excited about?” I attended NAFSA, AIEA and ICCI. I quickly became involved in initiatives where I learned about internationalization while sharing my background in higher education and organizational communication. Using my planning and facilitation skills, I established a globalization taskforce at my institution, implemented the AIEA’s Senior Adviser Program, became a co-facilitator at the Institute for Curriculum and Campus Internationalization, and was awarded a Fulbright-Nehru International Education Administrators Award for India. After four years, I returned to faculty status to complete research projects on women in the workplace which allowed me to move to Webster University as a Professor and Associate Dean. As Associate Dean, I have used the knowledge I gained about university-level processes to work on college/school level issues such as assessment, course scheduling and advising across our domestic and international campuses. As women, we tend to make decisions or judge success against a normal or expected career path. The problem is that normal is defined according to what is possible for those who are in power….and today that is an unlikely trajectory for anyone. How many people can you name whose career path looks “normal?” Instead, I have always asked myself, “What can I learn from the opportunity in front of me?” and “How would I recover if it didn’t work out?”

    3. What skills do you use most often in your leadership role(s)?

    My academic area is organizational communication which means I have developed skills for identifying the meanings people hold and the processes by which they create or challenge those meanings. For example when working with higher education institutions on internationalization I work to identify what internationalization means (e.g., more international students, increased mobility, more international publications) and what processes are in place that support or undermine that meaning (e.g., international student services, transferable scholarships, international travel fund for faculty). I will then work to either shift the meaning or align the processes with the desired meaning. I also talk with and listen to every individual or group I can so that I know what matters to them. This allows me to put together what may appear to be divergent or unknown goals in a way that benefits multiple groups. For example, a conversation in a parking garage with an English professor, a meeting with institutional technology, a walk through of a building with a department chair, and lunch with a learning center director led to the development of a budget-neutral, retrofit for an award winning innovative classroom. Finally, I look for alternative venues to use my skills. I have excellent meeting facilitation and planning skills and have taken these into my academic research, administration, and service. While I may not be an expert in the subject area, my skills are often in high demand so I get to learn something new and provide a valuable resource.

    4. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership today? What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?

    There are two, entwined challenges that women will continue to face. First is the imposter syndrome and the second is the belief that women no longer face challenges in the workplace. The imposter syndrome is when you worry that someone is going to ask you an answerable question and discover that you are an imposter who doesn’t really belong. Overwhelmingly, women undervalue their contributions, self-depreciate or attribute their success to luck. One small act that can help change that meaning is how you respond when thanked for your work. Do not reply, “No problem” or “It wasn’t a big deal” because in that moment you diminish your contribution. Instead answer, “Thank you for noticing,” “I’m glad I could be of help,” or ‘You’d do the same for me.” In the US the latter plays off our cultural expectation that help should be reciprocated and opens a space to ask the individual to contribute to a future project. At the same time, women ARE imposters in the workplace but are increasingly being told that the struggle is over. Setting aside the pay differences, the workplace is still designed around the male body. In classrooms, my pregnant body could not fit into the desk. The workday presumes that there is someone at home taking care of the children, parents, laundry, vacation planning, or other non-work activities. Assertive, masculine communication is the preferred form of professional communication, yet women are sanctioned for using it. Professional consultants tell us to ask for opportunities and promotions, yet when women do so they are criticized for being too ambitious. Women must move past feeling like an imposter while simultaneously recognizing that the workplace defines them as one….all while being told that the fight is over, yet feeling that it really isn’t. Now, imagine these same challenges as we work across international borders and expectations. How do I, as a professional, value intercultural differences while working in a context whose very structure and expectations may challenge the idea of a woman as a professional? This is going to take some effort.

    5. You’ve written quite a bit on women’s issues in the workforce. In your opinion, what is the most important message, or advice for current and aspiring female leaders in international higher education?

    At the individual level, when someone compliments your work thank them and ask them to send you and your boss an email to document your contributions. I personally keep all of these in a drawer that I open and re-read on days when I feel overwhelmed. It reminds me that I have done it before and I, likely, can do it again. I also strongly recommend that women maintain a personal inventory of their skills, knowledge and activities to counter the imposter syndrome and to share when opportunities arise (Turner, Norwood, & Noe, 2013). Identify situations where your knowledge or skill might be helpful but not readily apparent. Is your institution building new residence halls? Could your background in international education help with the design? A new initiative for recruiting domestic students? What can your experience dealing with diverse populations contribute? According to Babcock and Laschever (2003), women undervalue themselves when asking for raises and opportunities. If you know what you have done, you are more likely to ask and be able to provide substantive reasons for your request. At the macro level, one of the most popular forms of leadership in the United States is Transformational Leadership. In Transformational Leadership leaders work with and inspire others. They demonstrate genuine concern for the needs and feelings of others and allow for innovation and creativity. In sum, the skills and behaviors of transformational leadership are the very skills and behaviors expected of women and the goals are the same as those set forth by leaders in internationalization. This means that right now, in this moment, the behaviors women have been told to develop, the educational goals of internationalization, and the skills recognized as effective for leadership are aligning. We can be successful transformational leaders by being “good” women leaders in international higher education. As leaders we can raise questions about what is or is not appropriate behavior as we learn together about cultural differences while inspiring others to think about how they work with each other (including us as women). As leaders in international higher education, we can recognize that when we value the practices of others we are simultaneously valuing ourselves as professionals even in a simple act of wearing a hijab. When confronted with a workplace that defines us as imposters, we can engage in thoughtful conversations about cultural values and global changes exposing the system while honoring the differences. We, as women in higher education internationalization leadership positions, are uniquely poised to identify shared goals, respect differences, celebrate small steps that lead to large successes, and honor the unique value each and every individual brings to a project.

    Relevant Publications:

    Babcock, L., & Laschever, S. (2003). Women don't ask: Negotiation and the gender divide. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

    Turner, P. K., & Norwood, K. (2014). The elephant in the room: Negotiating visible pregnancy in job interviews. Women and Language, 37, 41-62.

    Turner, P. K. & Norwood, K. (2014). 'I had the luxury...' Organizing breastfeeding support as privatized privilege. Human Relations, 67, 849-874.

    Turner, P. K., & Norwood, K. (2013). Unbounded motherhood: Embodying a good working mother identity. Management Communications Quarterly, 27, 396-424.

    Turner, P. K., & Norwood, K., & Noe, C. (2013). A woman with a plan: Recognizing competencies for ascent to administration in higher education. NASPA Journal About Women in Higher Education, 6 (1) 22-47.


    Dr. Paaige K. Turner has over 20 years as a researcher, faculty member and administrative in higher education. She has served as a director of graduate studies, interim director of women’s studies, associate dean and associate vice president. Dr. Turner received the Cheris Kramarae Dissertation Award (1998), Central States New Teacher Award (2000), the SLU Faculty Excellence Award (2003), SLU Star Award (2007), Presidential Citation for Service, National Communication Association (2007), Learning Happens Everywhere Award (2015) and is a four time finalist for the SLU Outstanding Teaching Award. She was the 2012 recipient of the NAFSA Region IV Dorothy Brickman Outstanding New Professional Award and a 2013 Fulbright-Nehru International Education Administrators Award to India. She serves on five editorial boards and has published over 30 book chapters and articles in the general area of organizational communication, specifically on topics of organizational socialization, customer satisfaction, midwifery and birth, breastfeeding and the body in the workplace. These have appeared in Management Communication Quarterly, Qualitative Inquiry, and Women & Language. She is an Associate Editor for The International Encyclopedia of Organizational Communication, past chair of the Organizational Communication Division of the National Communication Association, AIEA, Senior Adviser Program and a principal associate in Communication Resource Associates.

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The Global Leadership League was started by a group of women in the field of international education for the purposes of advancing women’s leadership skills, knowledge, and connections.


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