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  • It’s Women’s Work
  • Jenny Zorn

As I contemplated how to focus my comments this evening, I reflected on how my predecessors have approached their presentations. Some of the APCG presidents and their presentations were larger than life. Some of their presentations were more personal reflections on their lives as geographers, others were thoughtful on their research careers and the directions they went and were going in their research, and some used their expertise to develop a separate research piece or archival exploration of the organization. It became evident that I could do whatever I wanted. Hence, I've approached this with a little bit of inspiration from many of the previous presidents.

My earlier research focused on women in the paid labor force. So I plan to take a look at where we are today in terms of the status of women in the paid labor force, how higher education looks in terms of gender, and my personal experience that brings me to my perspective on the role of women in higher education today.

Education was always important in my household. I come from a modest and humble background. My brother, sister, and I are first-generation college students. Growing up in our household, school was always the priority. Today, when you enter my childhood home, displayed on the coffee table in the front room, visible to all who enter, is a record of what made and makes my parents most proud. Framed in careful calligraphy is a listing of their children with their higher-education degrees, progressively from B.A., M.A., to Ph.D.: Tim Zorn, B.A. (their oldest child), Amy Zorn, M.A. (their second child), and Jenny Zorn, Ph.D. (their last child). Growing up through the Depression and then the second World War, my father's mantra was "They can never take away your education. You will always have it."

My parents also valued exploring the world. Each year, we vacationed in inexpensive campgrounds that fit our minuscule budget. One year, we departed Ohio and camped across the country on a 6-week excursion to California and back. A few years later, we did it again, following a different [End Page 14] route. Thus, the seeds were planted for my career in geography and education. Today, my husband and I take our children on similar excursions (Figure 1).

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Figure 1.

Bryce Canyon National Park Ranger.

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Table 1.

College Education by Gender, 1970 and 2000.

I imagine each of you could reflect on what exactly brought you to this point in your career. I NEVER would have imagined myself where I am today: southern California, a Ph.D., a professor and associate provost. Sometimes the links that brought you here are obvious, other times they are subtle inspirations that have guided you, and many times you probably found yourself seemingly stumbling onto the path on which you now find yourself. You may be an energetic, engrossed college student; a new, dynamic faculty member; an old, withered faculty member; or a blind, heartless administrator. But, we're all here under the umbrella of higher education.

So let's look at what's happening in higher education today. Over the past 30 years, the number of both men and women who are attaining high school and college degrees has continually increased. It used to be that men attained the degrees at much higher rates than women. This gap between men and women in attaining college degrees has steadily shrunk during the past 30 years (Table 1).

In 1970, 8.1% of women earned college degrees while 13.5% of men earned [End Page 15] them. This 5.4 percentage point gap shrunk to a 3.3 percentage point gap in 2000 when 22.8% of women and 26.1% of men had earned college degrees (U.S. Census Bureau 2005). Today, more women than men are enrolled as students on college campuses. More than 56% of college students are women, and that percentage is still growing. So the gender gap in educational attainment will continue to shrink in the foreseeable future...


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