Throughout the 2019 season, the Minnesota Lynx, in partnership with Rasmussen College, will be honoring inspiring women who have made incredible contributions in many different areas while motivating, encouraging and lifting up others through personal and professional leadership. At 2019 Back to School Night, the Lynx recognized Joan Gabel, the first female president of the University of Minnesota and a champion of educational equity.
Joan Gabel’s career has gone through several twists and turns, but now she has found herself in a position to make a massive impact for students in the state of Minnesota, across the country and across the globe.
Gabel didn’t start her career thinking she would end up in higher education. She started out as a lawyer but was recruited out of private practice to work on a project on emerging research questions in risk management at Georgia State University. That switch ended up being extremely impactful.
After moving up through the ranks at Georgia State, Gabel became the Dean of Business at University of Missouri, then provost of the University of South Carolina, then accepted the job to lead the University of Minnesota. While there, she hopes to cultivate a diverse, inclusive and exciting environment for students.
“We are by charge and by definition and by mission in service to everyone in this state,” she said. “Because of the kind of state we are that has the national and global impact, if we want to do what we’re charged to do which is elevate Minnesotans and engage in discovery that impacts the state of Minnesota, then by virtue of that work, the country and the world, we have to do so through the most optimized and maximized set of voices that we can possibly hear.”
Building a university that is diverse in many ways is more than just a talking point for Gabel. She sees it as a core feature of the U of M’s mission. Without a set of voices from different backgrounds present on campus, it is impossible to cultivate the best environment possible on campus.
“It is through that effort of hearing those voices that we expand the knowledge base and create the best opportunities for our students to then do the same as the next generation of leaders. If we don’t then our impact is limited, and we’re not supposed to limit our impact, we’re supposed to maximize our impact.”
As the first female president of the U, Gabel hopes that she can serve as an example for other women who are striving to achieve other ‘firsts.’ She also hopes to show that she was the best person for the job. Gabel sees that attitude reflected in the Lynx organization as well.
“I think the best thing about the Lynx organization, broadly, is it shows that the best people for the job are doing the job, and that this is not an either or,” she said. “It’s a successful, impactful winning organization led by the very best people who happen to be women.”
Seeing women in high-profile positions of leadership is important. That is true of education, athletics and business. There is a natural partnership between the University and the Lynx because of this. Of course, Lindsay Whalen got her start in Connecticut and then with the Lynx before moving on to head up the women’s basketball program at the U. Gabel understands the importance of stories like that.
“It allows people to see themselves reflected in things they want to achieve,” she said. “Anyone who puts their mind to something can do what they want to do, and they should see no limits.”