Although there are many people who have worked with President Susan J. Hunter during her three decades at the University of Maine, Susan Gardner, director of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and the Rising Tide Center and professor of higher education, has been working with her for 11 years.
The relationship started when they worked together on the National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant, when Hunter was working as Provost. Gardner served as the co-principal investigator (PI), while Hunter served as the PI. As Gardner explains it, the purpose of the program was “to recruit, retain, and advance women faculty in the STEM fields. When we were funded, the ADVANCE program here at UMaine became known as the Rising Tide Center.”
Being females in the STEM fields, they were part of a minority and both were familiar with the difficulties they could face.
“As a woman scientist in STEM fields herself, Dr. Hunter intimately knew the various issues facing women on our campus and nationally. She was a stalwart support of the work we did with the Rising Tide Center and continues to support and champion it,” Gardner wrote.
While many would consider being the first female president to be President Hunter’s greatest accomplishment, Gardner would beg to differ.
“While many may point to the fact that Dr. Hunter is the first woman president of UMaine as an impressive achievement, I think that statement reflects more about UMaine’s status and less about the many wonderful things about Dr. Hunter that makes her a great president,” Gardner wrote.
Gardner further explained, “President Hunter is a great leader who also happens to be a woman; she would be a great leader even if she were UMaine’s 100th woman president. I think her greatest accomplishments as president have been her ability to lead authentically and with vision.”
Part of this success was thanks to her knowledge of the state of Maine as well as of the university, but Gardner also spoke of Hunter’s familiarity with the people and establishments as both helping her be an efficient leader.
“She was uniquely positioned and experienced to do this and do it well,” she wrote. When asked to describe Hunter in three words, these two words did not come up. Instead Gardner chose authentic, grounded and funny.
She explained that Hunter is grounded, giving her an authenticity that allows her to interact in the way she does, but she is also able to talk about those who have helped her achieve what she has, as mentors and inspirations. As can be seen in conversations with her, Hunter does not mention herself often when talking about her leadership and accomplishment, but instead brings up those who have helped her along the way. Gardner also wrote of the great sense of humor that Hunter has.
“Not all leaders have these traits and, when brought together, make her such an inspirational leader,” Gardner wrote.
In addition to being inspirational, Hunter also has a number of achievements from her time at the university, but more specifically her time as president.
“She has done what others before her have never done: brought in the largest contributions to UMaine from donors, raised enrollment to record highs, and increased research capacity, “ Gardner wrote.
She was sure to mention that although Hunter may not have played an active role in all of these achievements, she helped to lead and direct the team that was able to, as a leader does.
“People function the best in organizations where good leadership exists. She has facilitated the successes that UMaine has experienced,” Gardner wrote.
From their years working together, Gardner has seen Hunter’s work in many different positions as she as ascended through various roles at the university. And although her time as president is coming to a close, that does not mean Hunter will leave completely.
“I’ll still go to the rec center and the Collins Center, and I’m still going to live here,” Hunter said. “My husband and I bought a house out on Pushaw Lake, and because we’ve lived here for so long, we’re not willing to just move out of town because most presidents do, but I’m also not going to be sitting in the Union every day having coffee.”