Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Power outage rocks campus
Power outage rocks campus
Jack Brandt September 13, 2023

Madame President


“I figured life out,” said Provost Pareena Lawrence. “There’s a term from India, it’s sort of like ‘a fixer’ or ‘someone who manages to fix things’. I always used it as a term for myself because I managed to figure things out and patch it together; it was always patched together.”  Listening to Dr. Lawrence reflect on the steps she took to become Provost of Augustana College and soon President of Hollins University, it is clear that opportunity for students is utterly invaluable.

Dr. Pareena Lawrence will be Hol. Photo by Lu Gerdemann.
Dr. Pareena Lawrence will soon become President of Hollins University. Photo by Lu Gerdemann.

Growing up in North India as one of two daughters, Dr. Lawrence felt a distinct push to become more than what her gendered society told her she was. “The expectation was that your daughter would get married and have a family of her own. I would hear people tell my parents ‘why don’t you try for a son’ as if daughters were deficient in some way,” said Dr. Lawrence.  “And it really hurt me that, you know, we didn’t matter. I always thought to myself ‘I’ve got to be more than just a girl’.”

As Provost of Augustana, Dr. Lawrence oversees what seems to be some of the most important resources for students like CORE, study abroad programs, the library, learning commons, and the art museum. “Dr. Lawrence has had to navigate Augustana through some murky financial situations. The changing demographics of our prospective student base, uncertainty about and loss of MAP funding, a national recession, and a contentious national election all have required a steady hand,” said Dr. Jakielski, chair of faculty council.

While all academic resources are important, Dr. Lawrence feels especially passionate about the CORE department considering how student focused it is. “I never had research or internship opportunities just because I wasn’t connected. Somehow I managed to make it in life. I didn’t want students whose parents were well connected to always get the internships and the students who didn’t have access to the same opportunities to sort of just languish,” said Dr. Lawrence. “So the whole idea of CORE is that there is a central place— even if you don’t know what you want to do— they will help you figure it out. It’s sort of nice to know that it’ll continue on. It’ll even get better as it grows and matures, so I’ll watch it from afar.”

Homework, social lives, work, personal struggles, and extracurricular commitments all blend and compile a heaping mound of stress personalized for each student. Often the stress is enough to distract students from the aspects of Augustana for which one should be thankful. CORE and the workshops it provides, academic advisors for Greek Groups and sports teams,  and the learning commons are only a few of the resources put into place so that a student is never fending for themselves. Each serves as a tether to sanity as well as opportunity, something  Dr. Lawrence can’t stress the importance of enough.

Dr. Lawrence attended an all girls’ high school where she feels she really grew into herself and learned to have the self-confidence that would prove to help her later on. And with her move to Hollins University, an all girls school, Dr. Lawrence will have a chance to pay all of the growth back and inspire the next generation of women.

In order to attend college, students in India must take the national exams which will place them in schools according to their scores. Dr. Lawrence scored well and was placed in one of the best universities in India, the University of Deli. “You get placed in not only the university but also the field. So, it’s not what you want to study, it’s about your score. The best option was biology, but I got the second option which was Chemistry and I did not like it,” said Dr. Lawrence. “I sat through my first week of classes and said ‘Dear God, this cannot be my passion. What am I going to do’.” In this school system of such strict ranking order, it is not possible to move up the scale, but, while rare, it is possible to move down the scale of majors. After sitting in on an economics class, Dr. Lawrence felt the subject click. “I went to the principals and said I wanted to be placed in Economics and they thought i was crazy, but then I went into India’s best Economics school which is Deli School of Economics. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do because nobody had a path,” said Dr. Lawrence. “You don’t have advisors like you do here. You have your parents, but my parents didn’t know this path so they couldn’t give me any advice.”

As she tended to do, Dr. Lawrence followed her interest in Economics regardless of her career questions. Some of the friends she had made from other parts of the country were expressing interest in studying overseas and her curiosity and knack for finding out information led her to apply to many schools including Purdue, where Dr. Lawrence got her masters. “I didn’t have a passport and nobody in my family had ever traveled overseas— I had to figure things out on my own. This was before the internet or email so we had to actually go to the U.S. embassy to look at all of the school brochures,” said Dr. Lawrence. “Again, a lot of it was just listening to people and asking questions and just managing to figure it out.”

Her father, with full belief in the impossibility of it all, promised her that if she somehow managed to get a full scholarship that he would provide a plane ticket. After the news of her success and her full ride to Purdue University, Dr. Lawrence’s family had what she called ‘a tribal council meeting’. “All the men in the family, so uncles, everyone, they convened in my family home to decide if I was allowed to go overseas after I had gotten a full ride, and  the answer was no because it was too risky which I can understand, but I cried nonstop. My father finally relented and kept his promise,” said Dr. Lawrence.

Dr. Lawrence’s field was in international development, but international agencies, after the 1993 recession, weren’t hiring. Her focus shifted to an academic job at the University of Minnesota Morris where, within months, she fell in love with teaching and it remained so for 17 years. She traveled with students all over the world, including back to her roots in India, to do field work and learn about different cultures, until she became the division chair in order to make a more structural change. “I then moved on to Provost role at Augie because, yes, I can make an impact in the classroom, but I can make a bigger impact as Provost,” said Dr. Lawrence. “What’s exciting about Hollins is the focus is on the next generation of female leaders and that speaks to me and my experiences.”

Congratulations to Dr. Lawrence for her new position as President of Hollins University where she will undoubtably inspire the next generation of women.

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