UMaine higher education program honors Susan Iverson with distinguished alumnx award

Susan Iverson, a professor of higher education leadership at Manhattanville University in Purchase, New York, is the recipient of the 2024 Dr. Sue Estler Distinguished Alumnx Award from the University of Maine’s graduate programs in higher education. 

A photo of Susan Iverson
Photo courtesy of Susan Iverson.

The award is presented annually to a higher education alumnus whose accomplishments embody the spirit and legacy of Estler, who served as a faculty member in higher education at UMaine from 1997 to 2009, as well as the university’s director of equal opportunity from 1986 through 1997. She passed away in 2019 of pancreatic cancer.

“Sue Estler’s professional experience, as director of equal opportunity and with Title IX, provided inspiration for the ways I approached professional and scholarly work related to women’s advancement, sexual violence prevention and policy, and other gender-equity matters,” says Iverson, who earned her Ph.D. in higher education from UMaine in 2005. “Her modeling of advocacy and activism, coupled with her good humor, warmth and integrity, has been fuel for my own raised consciousness about and commitment to social justice.”

Iverson was a student in courses taught by Estler, who also served on Iverson’s dissertation committee. Iverson says Estler pushed her to understand the historical underpinnings and context surrounding complex theoretical concepts and ideas. She says her entire doctoral program was transformative for her career.

“I’d been a long-time higher education administrator and assumed I would stay on that trajectory when I entered the program. However, the opportunity to teach graduate courses, the mentoring I received in research and the advising that pushed me to deepen my thinking from various theoretical lenses led me to take a professional fork in the road and pursue faculty rather than administrative positions,” Iverson says. 

Today, Iverson serves as a mentor and inspiration to her students through her teaching, research and commitment to equity for all. In her research, she uses a historical lens to document or analyze contributions of women and other minoritized groups to higher education. 

She has co-edited two defining books, “Feminist Community Engagement: Achieving Praxis” and “Reconstructing Policy Analysis in Higher Education: Feminist Poststructural Perspectives.” UMaine professor of higher education Elizabeth Allan was a co-editor of the latter volume as well.

During her career, Iverson has received numerous awards that speak to her accomplishments, including a 2011 Research and Scholarship Award for commitment to women’s issues from the American College Personnel Association, Standing Committee for Women; a 2010 Cultural Diversity Award, presented by the Ohio College Personnel Association; a 2009 Professional of the Year award from the American College Personnel Association, MultiRacial Network; and a 2006 Outstanding Dissertation Award from the American Educational Research Association, Division J (postsecondary education).

“Through her career Dr. Iverson has championed the work of applying policy discourse analysis to inform theory and practice to support women and historically marginalized populations in the diaspora of higher education,” says Aaron Tolbert, who nominated Iverson for the award.

Tolbert, who earned his Ph.D. from UMaine in 2017 and currently serves as assistant vice president for academic affairs at Hartwick College, also notes that Iverson’s career includes 10 years of student affairs administrative work in Massachusetts and Virginia, as well as tenured faculty roles at Kent State University and Manhattanville University. He says that her success aligns directly with the award criteria of enhancing positive campus climates for minoritized populations. 

“I served with Dr. Iverson on a dissertation committee and can attest that her dedication, focus and leadership continue today with the same rigor and value that have marked her celebrated career,” says Tolbert. “Indeed, Susan embodies the qualities that all students of Dr. Estler, including myself, have come to respect: her trenchant vision, her defined standards and her sincere care for her students’ growth.”

As a teacher and role model, Estler changed the course of many students’ lives for the better. She was a tireless advocate for equity and inclusion of minoritized individuals and served as a leader for LGBTQ+ rights initiatives throughout Maine and beyond. In the higher education program, Estler was fond of teaching Higher Education and the Law, History of Higher Education, Higher Education Policy and Politics, and Organizational Theory for Higher Education. A college athlete and sports fan, Estler’s book with Laurie Nelson, “Who Calls the Shots: Sports and University Leadership and Decision-Making” explored structural, legal, cultural and market forces that impact university decision-making relative to athletics.

Contact: Eunice Opare, Graduate Assistant in Higher Education,