Profile By: Carol B. Vande Kerkhoff
As the visionary behind the Women’s Archive Project (WAP) at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), Dr. Susan Naramore Maher’s contributions to the campus and her profession are innumerable. Inspired by the many women who started their education at UNO, Dr. Maher wanted to honor those women who negotiated barriers to achieve their dreams of a higher education. Dr. Maher emulates the drive and desire needed to challenge the status quo and carve a place for herself in the world.
Attending college was never optional for Dr. Susan Naramore Maher. Even though her mother was a homemaker, she instilled within all of her children the importance of higher education. Dr. Maher’s mother came from the family who founded Oberlin College, the first college in America to admit women, and she herself earned a teaching degree in special education. However, these progressive ideals often clashed with the traditional roles society expected of women and with the path Dr. Maher’s mother eventually chose. Dr. Maher acknowledges that her mother was quite happy as a wife and mother, and she wanted that same happiness for Dr. Maher. Growing up in a conservative but loving family, Dr. Maher recalls, “I had a mother who really felt strongly that I should be thinking about marriage and children and all of that… my mother envisioned that
Since reading the seafaring adventure story Treasure Island, Dr. Maher knew she wanted to be an English teacher. Written by Scottish writer Louis Stevenson, this novel captured Dr. Maher’s attention as a young girl, spurring a profound love of literature. According to Dr. Maher, it was “the first time [she] had ever imagined [herself] into a story,” and something clicked. From then on, reading and writing became Dr. Maher’s passions along with drawing and painting. The one caveat to Dr. Maher’s teaching career was her strong dislike of the education classes she had to take. However, because Dr. Maher was committed to controlling her path, she dropped education and majored in English. After completing her undergraduate degree, Dr. Maher chose to attend the University of South Carolina for graduate school. She studied nineteenth century British and American literature and graduated
In 2005, Dr. Maher served as Chair of the Department of English. Within a very short time, Dr. Maher’s enthusiasm and progressive leadership created a collaborative atmosphere that her colleague, Dr. Bob Darcy, asserts “did not exist before” (E-mail). One of her first directives as Chair was to organize a department retreat—the first ever—to tackle “questions relating to curriculum, mentoring at all levels, and the department’s new strategic plan” (Darcy). According to Dr. Darcy, “This retreat revealed early to members of the department Sue’s leadership style and the characteristics of the departmental culture she hoped to create: inclusiveness, equity, innovation, vision, and developmental self-reflection” (E-mail). Although she only taught one class per semester, Dr. Maher’s responsibilities as Chair were not only numerous but vital to the success of the English department. Faculty members describe
Dr. Maher’s exceptional work on behalf of the English department and the University has not gone unnoticed. In 1997, Dr. Maher earned the University Excellence in Teaching award, which came with a $1,500 scholarship. This award was “established in 1969 to recognize superior efforts, dedication and exemplary conduct in the performance of the University’s first task—the education of its students” (“Excellence”). That same year, Dr. Maher won the Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award in Arts and Sciences, which honors distinguished teaching in the classroom. In 2007, students and colleagues nominated Dr. Maher for the Mary Ann Lamanna Award for Excellence in Women’s Studies. This award “recognizes extraordinary service” to the UNO Women’s Studies Program and “can involve teaching, research/creative activity or service” (Kahdahl 1). Dr. Maher was recognized in all three areas. This award was especially humbling for Dr. Maher as
As UNO prepared for its Centennial Anniversary in 2008, Dr. Maher found herself on a taskforce with friend and colleague, Dr. Deborah Smith-Howell. As they leafed through archive pictures stored in the UNO library, Dr. Maher was awed by the multitude of photographs from early in UNO’s history that showed women studying and learning. In the early 1900s, women lived in a culture that discouraged their attendance at college. Dr. Maher was fascinated with the documentation that showed women furthering their education despite social mores. That is when the idea came to her—what if, during this spirit of commemoration, we honor those women who regularly negotiated barriers in order to achieve their dreams of a higher education? Originally, Dr. Maher envisioned one hundred profiles—one for each year of UNO’s history—believing this was an innovative way to highlight the history of
In July of 2010, Dr. Maher accepted a position with the University of Minnesota-Duluth as the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. (University of Minnesota Duluth) Although leaving UNO after nearly twenty years was bittersweet, Maher looked forward to new challenges. As Dr. Maher advises, “Expect to have a varied and unpredictable career path in this globalized world and know that knowledge of all kinds of things is probably your best ticket to a successful future.” Besides her duties at Duluth, Dr. Maher is currently working on a book titled Deep Map Country: The Literary Cartography of the Great Plains that is set to be published in early 2014. The book analyzes nonfiction writers of the Great Plains and the central and north plains, from Loren Eiseley and Wallace Stegner to modern writers William Least-Heat Moon, Julene Bair,