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Impactful Women of Brockport: SUNY Brockport President Heidi Macpherson embodies female leadership

SUNY Brockport President Heidi Macpherson, Ph. D., became the first female president of the college in 2015. She is just the seventh president in the college’s history. The position she currently holds is just her second in higher education in the United States. Getting to this point has seen many twists and turns, but at all of them, Macpherson was doing what she loved.

Macpherson is from Minnesota and graduated from St. Cloud State University in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing. She went to study abroad in the U.K. during her time as an undergraduate. The trip was only expected to last six months, but ended up changing the trajectory of her life.

“I went over [to the U.K.] and I actually met the man who would become my husband,” Macpherson said. “That was what partly took me back to the U.K. After I graduated from college, I went back on a six-month worth visa just to see if that was going to be my future. It turned out it was my future, so I spent 22 years there.”

When she was a resident in the U.K., Macpherson completed her Ph. D. in North American literature at the University of Newcastle. She then got her first job as a professor shortly after, teaching American literature, women’s literature, creative writing and drama at the University of Central Lancashire. At the time, Macpherson thought this was what she was going to be doing the rest of her life.

“When I was a sophomore in college, I decided I wanted to be an English professor,” Macpherson said. “The only thing I wasn’t sure about was where I wanted to specialize; whether it was going to be in Shakespeare or contemporary American literature. I had every expectation I would be a professor for the rest of my life. I miss it. I love teaching. It’s one of my favorite things to do.”

Her time in the classroom lasted from 1995-2007, as Macpherson was appointed the Dean of Humanities at De Montfort University. She earned an additional promotion at De Montfort because of her confidence in her own ability to do any job.

“In my own career, I have always been very happy with the position I’ve been in,” Macpherson said. “But once I feel like I’ve got that job down, I have looked one level up. When I was the head of department, I was looking at the deanship saying, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’ Once I became a dean, three years in I was looking at the next one saying, ‘Maybe I could make the leap.'”

Macpherson made another leap in 2012, this time back to the United States, where she took a job as the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. She worked there for three years before accepting the position as the president at SUNY Brockport.

Since coming to Brockport, Macpherson has placed an emphasis on the community. Whether it’s helping the college becoming more sustainable or working with one of the many groups she volunteers her time at, Macpherson has helped shape the greater Rochester community since her arrival in 2015.

“We want to be a college that is engaged with our community,” Macpherson said. “To me, that is so central to our identity as an institution that serves others. How can we serve greater Rochester? How can we serve greater Brockport? I think we do a really good job of that, both with internships and what we do with faculty and staff that have interests in nonprofits and other areas.”

The SUNY Brockport president currently serves on the board of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and Roc the Future Board of Conveners, as well as serving as the chair of the Rochester Area Colleges Presidents Network. However, Macpherson’s time working with the Willow Domestic Violence Center was the most impactful for her.

SUNY Brockport President Heidi Macpherson, Ph. D., won the 2020 ATHENA Award, recognizing her as a leading businesswoman in the greater Rochester area. (Photo courtesy of David Mihalyov)

“That’s important because it’s not just about making sure people have a safe place to go, but it’s also about changing societal attitudes,” Macpherson said. “It’s about educating young women and young men about appropriate relationships, when to be concerned when something seems to be wrong and offering a safe haven for people who need it. For me, not only is the board an incredibly wonderful board of caring individuals, but the work that we do can literally save lives.”

Though her ascent to the top of the ladder was not necessarily one littered with hardships, Macpherson still relishes in the fact she can be a role model for young women who want to be in her position when they’re older.

“There shouldn’t be anything that stops you from doing what you want to do as long as you put the hard work into it,” Macpherson said. “It’s not easy work, but nothing worthwhile has ever been easy. The reality is, there are many opportunities that are available to women and as long as you choose wisely with the people you surround yourself with, you’ll have the opportunity to be supported in the work that you do.”

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