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Reading has always been one of my favorite activities. With my family in New Jersey for the 2019 school year, the drives, flights and train rides to visit provided great opportunities to read physical books and listen to audiobooks and podcasts. Teaching a course this past fall and a couple of writing projects also forced me to read a ton more than I normally do. The best part was realizing that one of my students, Eric V. Martin, was a co-author on one of the assigned readings (13 Ideas) for the course. This year I also read a broader range of books. Though I always enjoy reading within my academic disciplines and books on leadership, in general, I ventured farther out in 2019.

Audible as the 21st-Century Family Activity

I have never been a fan of memoirs, but I read several this year. Becoming by Michelle Obama was a family favorite. We listened to a great deal of it together, even hubby! Eventually, the kids put on their headphones, but they listened to a good chunk of it during our drives to visit family over the holidays. It is a beautifully written, uplifting narrative by our favorite first lady.

Another family favorite was Moving Forward by Haitian American Karine Jean-Pierre. This one I listened to with the kids in the car. (I have always been jealous of hubby, who reads routinely to the kids. Perhaps that is why I still hold on to the French and Spanish books that I used to read to them when they were babies and toddlers.) Karine’s story, in many ways, is our story and the story of so many immigrant families. The kids immediately recognized that and listened attentively, making comments about the things that suddenly made sense to them, asking questions and highlighting the things that I do that are stereotypically Haitian and embarrassing. They fell asleep at times but never reached for their headphones while Karine was narrating.

The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates was one that I asked the munchkins to listen to, and they did. I wanted them to understand the complex issues, cultural norms and structures that enable gender inequity to persist at home and abroad. I also wanted them to be informed about access to and the importance of health care and education for girls and women, to learn about female genital mutilation, and to begin to develop a sense of their responsibility for empowering girls and women and to serve as great allies. We paused several times to have great conversations on these topics. Our 13-year-old son, at one point, asked, “If cutting girls is such a pervasive problem, how come I am just learning about it now?” I was so proud!

My Faves

The books below are my top 15 this year. Listed in no particular order, they were the ones that were the most thought-provoking, interesting and empowering. Yes, there are a couple more memoirs in there! The authors are from a variety of industries and have had unique journeys. I found that each book, in its own way, helped to improve my effectiveness as president of my college or as a member of the various boards that I serve on.

  1. Educated by Tara Westover
  2. Imagine It Forward by Beth Comstock
  3. Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
  4. The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab
  5. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  6. Transforming the Urban University by Richard M. Freeland
  7. 13 Ideas That Are Transforming the Community College World edited by Terry O’Banion
  8. Story Driven by Bernadette Jiwa
  9. Community Colleges as Incubators of Innovation edited by Rebecca Corbin, Ron Thomas.
  10. Competing on Culture: Driving Change in Community Colleges by Randall VanWagoner, Debbie L. Sydow, Richard L. Alfred
  11. American Higher Education in Crisis? by Goldie Blumenstyk
  12. Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream by Sara Goldrick-Rab
  13. The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
  14. The Gig Academy by Adrianna Kezar, Tom DePaola and Daniel T. Scott
  15. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo


Toward the end of 2019, I added podcasts to my regular listening repertoire. They are shorter than books and great for shorter distance driving. Rocking the Academy by Roopika Risam and Mary Churchill and The View From Venus (also by Churchill) are two fun ones that I listen to regularly now. Mary also just launched ExperiencED. Haven’t listened to it yet, but I know I won’t be disappointed. There, is of course, a suite of podcasts from Katie Linder Coaching. Just the inspiration, strategies or kick in the pants I need when I start to lose steam.

Lastly, I recently integrated Mindfulness by Shalini Bahl into my routine. I recommend it for first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. (To really get in the groove, light up some Yankee candles about half hour before you start listening.)

Maximizing Time Together as Working Mom

Being a woman executive with children means that I get to spend less time with my family than I would like. I think a lot about the shrinking number of years that they have left with us before they head off to college. When they were little, I took them to many work events. These days they text me their social plans while asking for chauffeur service. Finding opportunities to stay connected and have different experiences has helped me to see the bright side of their growing up. We can talk about meaningful issues and laugh.

Extended time to read and reflect is the one thing I miss about being a commuting mama. I will admit that leaving my munchkins to return to Massachusetts was often hard, and when I missed them the most, I would listen to the silly “Die Muffin Die” song that my daughter liked a year ago. (I will never get that song.) She tells me now it’s so passé and that she listens to other things. We’ll see what the new year brings!

Yves Salomon-Fernández is president of Greenfield Community College in Massachusetts. She writes about women’s issues for Inside Higher Ed’s “University of Venus” from the perspective of a Generation Xer, a mom and leader of color. Her Twitter handle is @PrezYves.

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