Pareena G. Lawrence became the 12th President of Hollins University in July 2017. During the same summer, the book she coauthored, Life Histories of Women Panchayat Sarpanches from Haryana, India, was published. The book considers stories of elected women leaders in villages across India. Her life, research, and professional accomplishments have elevated and continue to support women in her community and around the world.
Lawrence grew up in India. Her childhood was filled with a lot of rules and things she couldn’t do, and the only reason she wasn’t allowed to do them was simply, “because she was a girl.” The fact that women were so confined in her society sparked her eagerness for change.
“Changing the world and rules seemed wrong became a passion of mine at a very young age,” she recalls.
After she finished college in India, at the University of Delhi, she followed her friend’s lead and applied to some grad schools in the states. In the education department of the US embassy, she looked through pamphlets of colleges and wrote to them asking for applications. She found that continuing her education in America would be the best option for two reasons. The first was that she heard a PhD in America could be finished in a more reasonable time frame than in India. Second, she was surrounded by family in India that, sooner or later, were going to start to push her towards marriage, and she wanted to have her education completed before thought of marriage.
Two years she after she graduated from her University in India, Lawrence started at Purdue to work towards her PhD. She decided to take an education job while there was the hiring freeze in her intended field, international development. She planned to go back and apply for a job in that field after the hiring freeze was lifted. However, Lawrence found that education was the perfect place to put her passion for change. She thought her impact would be larger through higher education. She explains, “The most important thing for me to do was to help prepare [this] generation to be change agents of the world.”
Her last job before coming to Hollins University was the Provost, Vice President of Academic Affairs, a Augustana College. When asked why she took a job with Hollins, President Lawrence recalled her time at an all-women’s school she attended in India.
“The whole idea of ‘of course I can do anything’ and self-confidence came from that all-girl environment,” she explains.
This feeling stuck with her throughout various career positions in her life, so when she was offered the job at Hollins she already believed in their mission.
“I strongly believe that this education we have at Hollins and the environment we have is transformative,” Lawrence says. She also believes that, at an institution like Hollins, the students strive to be the best they can be and the support systems give them a chance to believe in themselves.
President Lawrence is a big believer in the importance of a liberal arts education, not just for women, but for all genders. To her, it works so well in a women’s institution because people are willing to take more risk in a place they feel safe and supported. For more information on President Lawrence and her accomplishments, visit www.hollins.edu.
Written by Lilith Turman