Alumna profiles women leaders in higher ed

Content_CED_Lisa Takami
Lisa Mednick Takami

College of Education alumna Lisa Mednick Takami is out with a new book that shares the life experiences, secrets of success and barrier-breaking moves of women executives in higher education, all designed to inform and inspire new generations of leaders — female and male.

“Women in the Higher Education C-Suite: Diverse Executive Profiles” features interviews with 11 successful presidents, CEOs and executives in public and private universities. They include Cal State Long Beach President Jane Close Conoley and new California State University Chancellor Mildred Garcia.

Takami is a product of the CSU and of The Beach. She earned her doctorate in educational leadership from the CSULB College of Education in 2017, overcoming her own challenges while being a wife, mother of two, full-time administrator and doctoral student at the same time.

“The book is really intended to be a professional learning volume for aspiring leaders and also as a source of inspiration,” Takami said. “The stories that are told are very honest and from the heart.” 

The women featured come from very diverse backgrounds and hold very diverse executive positions, but share many commonalities, Takami said. 

Many were first-generation college students, trained in psychology and benefited from significant mentors and strong family support, Takami said. They were very intentional about their professional development, she said, and encourage others to do the same.

What struck Takami about President Conoley at The Beach was how she draws on her psychology background and how she managed through COVID and the racial reckoning that happened after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. 

“I love the part of her chapter when she said (paraphrasing), ‘You know, we would try to start with easy problems, maybe what we would call low-hanging fruit, but there were none,’” Takami said. “… When you’re leading at that level, at a major urban university, there’s always something. And our job as leaders, managers at any level, very often is to listen, to understand and to problem-solve. And I think she’s very, very good at that and that’s why she’s had such a successful tenure.”

Takami also highlighted Conoley’s description of how she realized that she can’t, and it’s not her job to, help everyone. It’s her job, Takami said, “to bring the best talent to bear for the benefit of students reaching their highest educational and workplace aspirations.” Conoley offers advice to readers interested in pursuing a college presidency, discusses what imprint she’d like to have on CSULB, and reveals what she’s learned and what she’s most proud of accomplishing during her eight years as the first woman leader of the university.  

“Dr. Conoley has always prioritized collegial relationships, and she emphasizes the importance of verbal and written communication,” Takami writes in the “What Can We Learn?” section of her chapter on Conoley. “Her background in psychology and the influence of significant mentors taught her to seek stakeholders’ meaning whether their words were welcome or rough…”

Takami’s book was released in mid-October and quickly rose to #1 on Amazon for Business, Diversity and Inclusion, she said. It’s in its second printing after the first sold out.

Takami herself has 15 years of higher ed administration experience. She’s currently special project director at North Orange Continuing Education, the standalone, non-credit campus of the North Orange Community College District. 

Takami has been profiling CEOs and senior leaders for the journal Women in Higher Education since 2014. During the pandemic she researched the marketplace and found a substantive book on women leaders in higher education hadn’t been written in 20 years, and so she needed to write one.

A book launch and signing will be held for Takami 5:30 p.m.-7 p.m. Jan. 3 at Beach Shops, the university bookstore. RSVP here: