Academic Motherhood

 The legacy of Kelly Ward.

February 18, 2019

It has been about six months since I heard of the tragic news of Kelly Ward’s passing and I haven’t moved on. I keep finding myself wanting to reach out to her, and her close friend and colleague, Lisa Wolf-Wendel. They both have had such an impact on my work and the lives of women and mothers in academia throughout the world, whether through their seminal text on Academic Motherhood (with the other articles like this one article about academic motherhood and managing complex roles in a research university, or about college success, or about community college female faculty here). Their research has been essential reading for research and policy related to mothers in academia, helping to lay the groundwork for understanding the structural obstacles encountered across research institutions of all types.

Dr. Ward’s scholarship was integral for many of us, and especially those of us who chose to study and advocate for mothers in academia. I wrote my dissertation on doctorate student mothers and used their book as a salient text. But more importantly, the connection I made with Kelly was what truly stood out.

I took a chance and reached out to Dr. Ward to ask her interest in an awareness and community advocacy project, The Motherscholar Project, and she immediately responded with encouragement, support, and willingness to help. This was all without ever meeting face-to-face. She was willing to travel halfway across the country for a workshop to support doctorate student mothers (Lisa was too!). It was such a lovely example of how to interact and encourage others, and for me as a junior faculty, I was so touched.

The last time I talked with Kelly was through an email exchange in early July, when she eagerly agreed to be interviewed about best practices, policies, and structures for mothers in academia. She developed strong steps to support and provide necessary frameworks for thinking about how academia can be changed for the better. This last year held a lot of tragedy for me, so from there, I am working to find a way forward, refocus and engage with the powerful lessons. In thinking about Kelly Ward, I will work towards a couple of goals that I encourage others to consider as well:

  1. to find and hold onto the essential building blocks supporting social justice and equity, and

  2. to aim to emulate Kelly’s ability and example of creating meaningful connections with people far and wide.

Dr. Anna CohenMiller is a qualitative methodologist who focuses on issues of social justice and equity in education. Since 2010, she has been researching, creating international, interdisciplinary networks, and providing resources for mothers in academia, in particular, graduate students and early career researchers. To address issues of inequity, Dr. CohenMiller integrates traditional forms of academic scholarship (research and publications) with community-based initiatives. Examples include Founding the international Motherscholar Project (an arts-based campaign creating awareness, community, and empowerment for mothers in academia) and Co-Founding the interdisciplinary Consortium of Gender Scholars(an organization hosted at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan, to generate research designed to make meaningful change in various areas of society with regard to gender equality and the advancement of women). At the heart of her work are collaboration and communication, so feel free to reach out, [email protected] .


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