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Mary Poppins Was a Very Wise Woman: Insights for Effective Leadership in Academia

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.885.1 - 24.885.11



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Paper Authors


Janis P. Terpenny Iowa State University

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Janis Terpenny is department chair and Joseph Walkup Professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering at Iowa State University. She is also director of the Center for e-Design, an NSF industry/university cooperative research center (I/UCRC). She is a Fellow of IIE and of ASME, and a member of ASEE, INFORMS, Alpha Pi Mu, and Tau Beta Pi. She serves as an associate editor for the ASME Journal of Mechanical Design and for the Engineering Economist.

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Mary Poppins Was a Very Wise WomanWhile progress is modest, the number of women entering leadership positions in academia and inindustry is rising. Many are watching to see just how women perform, and last, in leadershippositions. Several speculate, and rightly so, that to be effective leaders, women cannot emulatetheir male counterparts, but must recognize and utilize their unique talents and skills. Womenand men are different. Surely their leadership styles and methods will be varied.For many years, I have used the Disney character Mary Poppins to describe a hypothesis that Ihave seen ‘proven’ time and again - that to succeed in leadership, indeed in life in general, onemust be aware of and appreciate what motives oneself and others. What makes you/othershappy? Where is your passion? Why choose to do this rather than that? Time and resources arelimited. Why should I collaborate or work with you versus choosing to so something else?This paper will provide a brief review of the literature on academic leadership and associatedgender differences. It will then expand upon what Mary Poppins states very simply - “Aspoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Now in her third year as an engineeringdepartment head, the author will share examples of how this statement has been applied toeffective leadership and collaboration, and resulted in not only a happy workplace, butemployees (faculty and staff) who are demonstrating exceptional performance as measure byincreased enrollments, remarkable student retention rates, rise in research productivity, increaseddiversity, and more). Analysis and evaluation of survey data will also be provided.

Terpenny, J. P. (2014, June), Mary Poppins Was a Very Wise Woman: Insights for Effective Leadership in Academia Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22818

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