Dr. Maria Gallo
Dr. Maria Gallo’s parents like to joke that their daughter went to school and never left. She has dedicated her career to higher education, having spent the past 20 years involved in universities, most recently as the University of Hawaii’s dean of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. That career grew more impressive when she became president of Doylestown-based Delaware Valley University on July 1. The 13th president of the university, which was established in 1896, she is the first woman to hold the position.
Gallo’s love for education began as a student at Cornell University. Despite not growing up in a rural area, Gallo had a passion for crops and science, which she pursued while earning her bachelor’s at Cornell. Studying with mentors who she credits with fostering her love of agronomy and crop science, she developed a yearning, she says, to “feed the world,” and make a difference. She went on to earn a master’s and Ph.D. from North Carolina State University. During those years, she also developed a desire to continually educate herself, which led her to pursue a career in higher education.
Delaware Valley University’s values of embracing diversity and global perspective drew Gallo to the position, she says, noting that it’s expansion from a college to a university will hopefully help her and the faculty in their pursuits.
As she emerges as president, Gallo’s goal is clear: to deliver the best education to students; to provide cutting edge experiences that will make students successful in work environments, as well as personally; and to focus on educating the whole person, not just the student. Gallo sees a number of problems facing the world and recognizes that it will be up to members of this and future generations to tackle those challenges. She sees a real opportunity on college campuses to train and educate young people to recognize global problems and make local impacts.
Her goals are fitting in that she will become a leader in both the official sense, as well as in gender equality. The announcement of Gallo’s appointment came in February, with the university citing a unanimous decision by the board of trustees. While it is a milestone for Gallo and the university, being the first woman in 120 years to hold the office demonstrates the disparity of women in leading roles in education and executive positions across the nation. Last year, CNN reported that less than five percent of S&P 500 companies have women at the helm—24 in total.
That trend is startling similar among universities, though not quite as stark. A 2012 study by the American Council on Education found that 26 percent of university leaders are female, a fair increase from the 10 percent of women in leadership in 1986. While gender equality is making slow progress, it’s still a long way off from striking a true balance.
Gallo says of her presidency, that as the world changes, we should be blind to categories and instead look at everyone as an individual. Still, she is cognizant that she now serves as a role model, and in that respect, she is proud knowing that women can look to her and see that women can do whatever they set their minds to.
It’s an issue she further addressed in March, shortly after the announcement that she was the forthcoming president. Gallo took to Bustle, a female-centric digital news platform, where she penned a first person essay about breaking the glass ceiling and inspiring young women. “It’s exhilarating to know that I’m the first. It will be my career accomplishments, supported by those who love me, that will break this 120-year pattern – and, after me, there will be many more women.”
Despite being the first woman in the role, Gallo wants to steer her presidency towards enhancing education. “One of my favorite quotes is from Nelson Mandela, and he said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’” It is a statement that Gallo believes in deeply, and one that has pushed her to help other students discover their own passions for learning. And in her own way, she is changing the world, even on a small scale.