Elevating women in higher education to new levels of personal and professional success

August 13, 2019 | Columbus, OH




›››››  2019  ‹‹‹‹‹
By Wisr


HIGHER is a series of free professional development summits designed to equip women in higher education administration with the tools, relationships, and confidence to thrive personally and professionally. These one-day experiences take a step towards diversifying leadership in higher education.

While women tend to find equal representation in lower-level managerial roles, top positions in higher education leadership fail to represent the movement toward a more diverse and inclusive future. It’s time for that to change.

Women In Higher Ed-01

Presidents at US colleges and universities

All women (30%)
Women of color (5%)
Men (70%)



The opening workshop will have you reflecting on key themes, turning points, and people in your career. After discovering what those experiences reveal about your values, a partner exercise will help you reimagine how you can be your best self at work, at home, and everywhere in between.




Hear from women who hold senior leadership positions about their personal journeys. What did they wish they’d known at key milestones in their careers? What advice would they give to their younger selves? Learn how these outstanding women overcame barriers to reach where they are today.




After uncovering the biggest barriers women face, this interactive session will empower each attendee to design a plan for reaching their next major goal, whether it's an individual career ambition or a program for creating change on campus. 










"I can't believe this was free. Well organized, thoughtful structure. So many opportunities to engage and hear from one another."
"Overall very enlightening and empowering. Great atmosphere. Beautiful place and easily accessible. Also, this being free is insane and amazing. Why wouldn’t someone want to come?"
"Perfectly organized, well-thought out activities, opportunities for networking, and inspiring conversation. Thank you for this great opportunity!"
"Great opportunity to meet other women in higher ed and network and problem solve. Thank you."
"I was truly impressed with this summit and I will encourage all women in higher ed to attend!"
"It was so inspiring to be among fellow women in higher education who have faced some of the same issues I am facing and learning from them."
"This opportunity allowed me to connect with other people who share some of my identities to talk about important issues that affect us and that is so important for us all to do!"




Gail Marsh  

Chief Strategy Officer at The Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center 


Appointed in 2018, Gail Marsh serves as the vice president and chief strategy officer for The Ohio State University. In this role, she leads major strategic initiatives, strategic planning and implementation and a comprehensive Strategy Management Office for one of the largest, nationally recognized public research universities.

Gail brings more than three decades of experience as a Buckeye. She has served as senior associate vice president in the Office of Health Sciences and as chief strategy officer for Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. Her efforts have taken the medical center from a $700-million organization to a $3.4-billion enterprise, adding significant central Ohio job growth (10,000+) and economic impact. She serves as president of several affiliated entities that build healthcare relationships and serve to improve the health of populations across Ohio and the Midwest.

Gail brings a strategic, operational and financial skill set to her work, with balanced attention to strategic growth and return on investment all while advancing the critical missions of research and education. She teaches strategy development at the graduate level in the Fisher College of Business, and most recently led the development of a seven-year strategic plan with the board and university leadership that positions the healthcare enterprise for future growth and impact.

Gail graduated from The Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree in Health Information Management and a master’s degree in Healthcare Business Administration. After an internship at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a fellowship at the UCLA Health System, she joined the Wexner Medical Center. Following 18 years in hospital operations, she moved to the medical center corporate level, overseeing strategy, outreach and business development across all three mission areas, as well as in the Health System, The James/Comprehensive Cancer Center, College of Medicine and OSU Physician enterprise.

During her tenure, she has spearheaded the growth of these entities and helped develop the Biomedical Research Tower, Heart and Lung Research Institute, Ross Heart Hospital, Brain and Spine Hospital, along with outpatient development in Upper Arlington and Gahanna, neighborhood health clinics and the Ohio State Sports Medicine Institute. She has grown the network of regional hospital partnerships to 40+ hospitals and 30 telehealth partners.

Gail is widely recognized for identifying talent and advancing the careers of many individuals. She founded the Women’s Leadership Connection at the Wexner Medical Center, which aligns professional growth opportunities with the values of the university. She was instrumental in the development of the Spirit of Women Park on the Ohio State campus, and she is involved in the Fisher College of Business MBA mentor program. In 2017 she was recognized as an Ohio State Glassbreaker and received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Public Health. In 2014, she joined a bipartisan congressional women’s fly-in to the White House to discuss issues impacting women and minorities. In 2012, she was named a YWCA Woman of Achievement for her work in eliminating racism and empowering women. Later that same year she was named one of Ohio’s Most Powerful and Influential Women by the National Diversity Council.

Gail works with the YWCA on the Women at the Table (WATT) initiative to increase the number of women serving on corporate boards, and is an active corporate member of Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD). Gail’s memberships have included The United Way Women’s Leadership Council and Flying Horse Farms Magic Makers. She has devoted time to serve on numerous boards, including the board of governors for MedFlight of Ohio, The Ohio State Health Network Board and MedCare Medical. Since 2003, she has been a member of Columbus Rotary and joined the BioMedical Steering Board of TechColumbus/Rev1 as well as the Governor’s Choose Ohio initiative. In 2018, she was appointed to the OSU Foundation Board.

Ms. Marsh is married to Clay B. Marsh, MD, Vice President and Executive Dean of Health Sciences at West Virginia University. They have 3 children, Rachel, 25 (Ohio State College of Medicine – Med III), Cameron, 23 (Swarthmore College, PA) and Matthew, 19 (Loyola University Chicago). The family resides in Upper Arlington.


Debra Merchant  

Vice President for Student Affairs at University of Cincinnati


Debra S. Merchant, JD, Vice President for Student Affairs, is responsible for the development and implementation of university-wide programs designed to support the student experience outside of the classroom. As a member of the Provost’s senior leadership team, Merchant provides leadership toward student residential life, engagement, leadership, identity development, advocacy and multicultural programming. As the Senior Student Affairs Officer, Merchant is a member of the President's Cabinet, the Executive Oversight Committee for University Compliance, and the Athletics Advisory Committee. Merchant offers a unique perspective given her breadth of experience that includes UC’s number one priority – students. In her role, she collaborates with colleagues across the campus while continuing to advance the “students-first” philosophy.

Before coming to UC in 1998, Merchant held various professional positions providing advocacy for students with disabilities, organizational development and strategic planning. She received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Learning and Behavior Disorders from Morehead State University and the University of Kentucky, respectively. She is also a graduate of the University of Kentucky, College of Law. Prior to attending law school, Merchant was a special education teacher in a public elementary school.


Kate Volzer  

Co-Founder & CEO at Wisr


As a former first-generation college student, Kate is extremely passionate about improving educational outcomes for college students across the country. After working in Admissions and Career Services for the University of Chicago, Kate became interested in how technology can be used to support student outcomes. She returned to Northeast Ohio as VP of Business Development at DecisionDesk before founding Wisr in 2016. Wisr improves student and alumni engagement outcomes by facilitating alumni- to-student coaching and alumni-to-alumni career networking. In 2017 Wisr was recognized as most innovative education solution by Global Silicon Valley & Arizona State University.

Kate is heavily involved in Cleveland’s entrepreneurial community as the Chair of the JumpStart Leader’s Council. She has been recognized by WYCA Cleveland as a Distinguished Young Woman and Crain’s Cleveland as a Notable Woman in Entrepreneurship. Kate was a captain of the varsity volleyball team at the University of Chicago, where she received her BA and MBA. She was born and raised in Hartville, OH, and now resides in Rocky River. When she’s not working on building Wisr, Kate is probably spending time on Lake Erie, playing with her dog, or enjoying good conversation over a glass of wine.

Date, Time, & Location


The summit will take place on August 13, 2019 from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM in Columbus, OH. We'll gather on Ohio State University's campus at the Drake Performance and Event Center

Materials & Meals


We provide all the materials you'll need in addition to a light breakfast, a catered luncheon, and an afternoon snack. Gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan options will be available.



The agendas for HIGHER summits vary to accommodate the special programming unique to each, but most follow the same general format:

8:30 AM — Check in

9:00 AM — Welcome and kickoff

9:30 AM— REFLECT Workshop: gain insights and map your future development through a personal inventory of your defining experiences

11:00 AM — Break

11:15 AM — INSPIRE Speaker Session: learn what senior leaders wish they'd known at key milestones in their careers

12:00 PM — Lunch and networking

12:45 PM — Introduction to resources

1:00 PM — INSPIRE Speaker Session: learn what senior leaders wish they'd known at key milestones in their careers

1:45 PM — Break

2:00 PM — ACT Workshop: identify solutions for the top challenges facing women in higher ed through an interactive workshop

3:20 PM — ACT Workshop: design an action plan for reaching your next big career goal

3:50 PM — Resources and feedback

4:00 PM — Closing remarks



Who is HIGHER for?  ▼

This is an event for ambitious leaders, aspiring bosses, and community-builders. We welcome women in faculty and staff positions across all departments to join us. Due to high demand, we can only offer seats to women who are currently employed at an institution of higher learning. HIGHER attendees represent a variety of higher education institutions, including liberal arts colleges, research institutions, community colleges, and everything in between.

Can I invite my colleagues?  ▾

Yes! In fact, several leaders at a past summit used the event as an opportunity to reconnect with and invite peers they’d met at previous conferences, bond with new team members, and strengthen relationships with leaders across their campuses. To ensure you get the most out of the day, we recommend that your team's VP or Director joins for the day. Anyone who wishes to attend is required to register.

Can I attend HIGHER more than once?  ▾

Our goal is to reach as many women in higher education as possible to support them in reaching their professional goals. To help us do that, we ask that if you'd like to attend again, you bring a colleague or peer at another institution who has not attended before.

Will this feel like another big box conference?  ▾

Absolutely not. We believe that the most impactful development experiences come when you have the chance to build relationships with everyone in the room, talk candidly about the challenges that are keeping you up at night, and brainstorm solutions together. You can’t do that if there are 500 people in the room. Each HIGHER summit is intentionally capped at 50 attendees to allow for that close-knit, collaborative environment.

How much does it cost to attend?  ▾

We believe that women benefit greatly from coming together to share their experiences and lessons. To make HIGHER as accessible as possible, attendance is free for all registrants. Your registration includes programming, resources, and meals for the day.

What motivated Wisr to launch HIGHER?  ▾

As a (female-led) company, Wisr spent a lot of time reflecting on the state of higher education leadership. Based on our interactions while bringing Wisr to market, higher ed isn’t reflecting the kind of diverse and inclusive future the world aspires to have. In our work, we consistently see equal representation of women in individual contributor or lower-level managerial roles, but more senior leadership positions often don't reflect that diversity. Women in higher ed administration are facing barriers to rising the ranks in their institutions, and we wanted to do something about it.

Can you deliver HIGHER specifically for women at my institution?  ▾

Yes! We offer HIGHER to institutions interested in a private professional development for their female faculty and staff. If you're interested in learning more about this offering, email Kate Volzer.