Feature Leadership

Ask an Alpha Chi: Marsha Kelliher

In honor of our seven founders, we get to know one Alpha Chi Omega through seven questions.

When Marsha Kelliher (Alpha Mu, Indiana University) became the 24th president of Simpson College in 2020, she also became its first female president. Read on to learn some of her lessons in leadership.

Marsha with the Simpson College mascot

Q: What does it mean to you to be the first female president of Simpson College?

At first, I didn’t think that much about it other than hoping that it reinforces that hard work and not gender is what matters. But the other day when I was standing in one of the formal rooms with portraits of prior presidents, it hit me, “I’m the first female,” and then I had to laugh because my next thought was, “And the last thing I want is a portrait of me hanging on a wall somewhere!”

Q: Why is it important that we have women in leadership roles?

Looking back, all the most significant mentors in my life have been males – from professors to the partners at law firms to presidents at colleges where I’ve worked. While my male mentors have been extremely supportive, there are just some issues that they didn’t have to deal with. I’ve been fortunate to have strong women as friends and colleagues and am grateful for being able to talk through challenges and opportunities with them. I think being a widow adds additional complications to the role. Hopefully other women look at me and say, “If she can do it, so can I!”

Q: What was your path to your current role?

I was a president at a private college that was non-residential in Michigan and had planned on retiring from that position when the Simpson opportunity presented itself. Based on where I was with my life and history of being at religiously affiliated institutions, I saw this as a nudge from God. I believe that having a religious affiliation allows colleges and universities to fulfill their mission in unique ways. Simpson is a Methodist affiliated institution, and I’m Methodist. Simpson is located in Indianola and I grew up in Indiana…OK, that is a bit of a stretch. And I was missing getting to know students, faculty and staff in the way that a residential setting provides. Having just recently lost my husband who was the love of my life, this felt like an opportunity to redefine where home is and to grow into a presidency with broader responsibilities.

Q: What advice would you give to a sister interested in following in your footsteps?

It doesn’t matter what the job is, what matters is how well you do it because the effort you put into doing it right is a reflection of you. Know your weaknesses, be aware of your blind spots, and surround yourself with people with the skills and talents you don’t bring to the organization and give them the resources to do their jobs. Last but not least, what I learned from my father was when things are going well, give credit to the team, and when things crumble, take full responsibility.

Q: What is one skill or trait that defines you?

I have a very corny sense of humor and love puns! Laughter is so important and helps you keep perspective. If you can’t laugh at yourself and find some humor in the most absurd situation as well as the most common, well, I can’t imagine what that would be like.

Q: Why did you choose to join Alpha Chi Omega?

Honestly, it was the great food and cute guys who served dinners. What kept me there were the wonderful women, our amazing house director, and the joy and creativity that filled the house that seemed almost magical.

Q: What does our tagline “Real. Strong. Women.” meant to you?

There are so many negative and false stereotypes about sororities and the women who join them. The women from our house are doing amazing things, they are leaders in the business and nonprofit communities, and they are making a difference in society. They define what it is to be “real” and to be “strong” and continue to inspire me.

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