Then and Now: Female Leaders in the School of Kinesiology, Recreation & Sport
- Kristen Woolbright
- Thursday, March 23rd, 2023
Just over 100 years ago, in 1920, women were given the right to vote in the United States with the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That same year Josephine Cherry was named the first department head of WKU Physical Education. Cherry, daughter of Henry Hardin Cherry (founder of WKU), served as head for two years. Following her departure in 1923, three women consecutively served: Jean Culbert (1924), Nell Robbins (1925-1926), and Elizabeth Dabbs (1926-1930), but for eighty-eight years following (1920-2018), thirteen men held the position.
In 2001, the department was renamed the WKU School of Kinesiology, Recreation & Sport (KRS), and in 2018, Dr. Paula Upright was named director. Upright still holds this role and recently shared her achievements as a female director in a commonly male-dominated position.
*Dr. Paula Upright pictured with portraits of KRS Department Heads
What does Women's History Month mean to you?
The opportunity to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of women. It also provides the chance to educate about the many accomplishments of women that can go overlooked.
Growing up, was there someone in your life that inspired you to become who you are today? Who was it, and why?
My mom and grandmother. My mom was a quiet warrior, the strongest person I know, but my grandmother was louder and more opinionated. She never hesitated to speak up. I hope I am a combination of both. It’s so important to listen to understand, be bold and speak up when necessary.
How have you witnessed or experienced the roles of women change in society over the past decade(s)?
I’ve seen so much progress, especially in my chosen field of sport. When I was young, I played on baseball teams with the boys because of a lack of interest and opportunity for young girls, but around this time Title IX started changing things and I ended up earning a scholarship to play college basketball. Even so, there were usually only several 100 people in the stands and limited resources. But just this past week I watched the USA women’s soccer team play in the SheBelives cup in Nashville, and Caitlin Clark hit a game-winning shot for Iowa, all in front of thousands of fans and on national television. This month is a time to recognize and celebrate women's progress, but also to recognize there is still much work to be done. Fair pay, representation, and respect for women in sports and other fields are a work in progress.
Why is having women in leadership positions so essential?
The most obvious answer is that women now makeup much more of the workforce and should be represented in leadership. Women are great role models for other women and men in our changing workplaces. Women bring a diverse and equitable perspective. I also believe women value teamwork, can multitask, and are great communicators.
What advice would you give to the next generation of women?
Be proud and confident but ask for help when you need it. Admit when you’re wrong, be willing to learn new things, and always say thank you. Always take time for your physical and emotional health. Find a mentor.
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