In May 2021, Storbeck Search founder Shelly Weiss Storbeck was honored with the 2021 American Council on Education (ACE) Donna Shavlik Award. Shelly was selected for this award alongside Betty Turner Asher, Jean Dowdall, Jan Greenwood, and Narcisa Polonio – all leaders in executive search.
According to ACE’s statement on their nomination, “Collectively they have shaped the higher education executive search process and significantly contributed to women’s equitable representation across the leadership pipeline.
“This is very meaningful to me and so humbling,” said Shelly. “ACE and Donna Shavlik are synonymous with supporting women in leadership roles. I’m standing on the shoulders of giants!”
ACE President Ted Mitchell said, “Together, these five women have supported, promoted, and sustained a generation of women leaders to positions of importance and prominence. Thanks in no small part to their efforts, we are indeed 'moving the needle' when it comes to women in the highest ranks.”
ACE established the Donna Shavlik Award in 1999 to commemorate the long and outstanding service of Donna Shavlik, former director of ACE's Office of Women in Higher Education. Presented annually, the award honors an individual who demonstrates a sustained commitment to advancing women in higher education through leadership and career development, campus climate, and mentoring.
Past recipients have included college presidents, senior campus administrators, and leaders of education-related associations and foundations.
Sharon McDade, former director of the Emerging Leaders Group and the Fellows Program at the American Council on Education, hosted two conversations with the five winners.
Part 1, “Meaning Lessons, and Hope,” allowed the award winners to relate personal trajectories, lessons learned, and their optimistic visions for the future – along with a collective conclusion that much work remains to be done.
In Part 2, “Changing Landscape of Executive Search,” Shelly, Jan, Narcisa, Jean, and Betty shared candid observations about the evolution of executive search in higher education since their early days in the field.
Shelly, who was one of the first women to serve as chief of staff to a college president, noted that a key ingredient to success in college and university executive search is “having work experience that is campus-based, because it means you’ve lived and worked in that setting and understand it.”
Another lesson she has learned in executive search: “Do the right thing, and the honorable thing, and the business success will follow.”
It is also important, she noted, to “help younger women imagine themselves in these senior leadership roles” – which can be a challenge when women are preoccupied with work and scholarship demands and familial obligations early in their careers.
When asked how the COVID-19 pandemic affected executive search, Shelly highlighted the use of technology. “The knowledge we gained about its benefits and limitations,” she said, “will help us be better at what we do.”
“What is your dream for executive search in higher education?” Sharon asked the five award recipients.
Shelly responded with a challenge: “We are seeing so much change in Washington, D.C., in terms of women in leadership roles, and I think that higher education should be leading the charge.”
“Most campus-based constituencies are on board with this,” she said, “but my view, at this stage, is that the boards still need work, in terms of thinking about leadership. Board members still talk about things like 'executive presence' or using the golf game to make connections, for example. There’s a switch that needs to be flipped there, to make sure that women are brought in, taken seriously, and that there is ample representation. My dream is that instead of Washington leading the charge, we have higher education leading the charge in terms of opportunities for women.”
Sharon concluded with these words of praise for the award winners:
"You have connected to hundreds of women aspiring to leadership, through your presentations and informal advising. The number of women for whom you have provided support in and outside of searches is probably in the thousands if not the tens of thousands. Thank you for your decades of service to higher education, for each of you breaking the glass ceiling in so many ways for women in higher education, for assisting so many women through leadership development and mentoring programs, and for your advocacy for women in countless searches. Shelly, Jean, Betty, Narcisa, Jan, congratulations on your selection for the Donna Shavlik Award in 2021!"