President Chopp Discusses Overcoming Challenges in USA Today's Modern Woman Magazine

Rebecca Chopp
"Some of fearlessness is about trusting in your own capacity—believing that you can figure it out, knowing that you have the ability to step forward," President Rebecca Chopp told Modern Woman.

USA Today 's Modern Woman Magazine: Shaking Up the World of Higher Ed

Rebecca Chopp is a woman of many firsts. She was the first in her family to go to college. She was the first female provost at Emory University, the first female dean of Yale Divinity School and the first female president at both Colgate University and, since 2009, Swarthmore College.

But Rebecca's earliest years could not have predicted a lifetime of trailblazing. As a child, she suffered from a severe speech impediment and did not speak until she was in third grade. Because of her disability, she learned to read at a very young age. She consumed words and ideas voraciously. And she wanted more.

But higher education wasn't a priority in her family or something many young woman did in Kansas in the 1960s. Still, she found a way. She majored in theology, served as the minister at a church at just 19 and eventually attended seminary and graduate school.

"For me, it was really about access to opportunities and about people who believed in me," she says. "Doors opened for me, and I walked through them."

After move than 30 years in education, she is most proud, she says, of being able to pen doors for other people—especially women, minority students an first-generation college students like herself.

"I have worked hard to make sure everyone as a place at the table," she says.

Rebecca has faced her share of challenges, from bishops and congregants troubled by a female minister to male students saying they couldn't learn from a woman. But, she says, the positive stories far outnumber the negative ones.

"Maybe I've just forgotten the obstacles," she says. "Maybe that's a good thing: Remember the people who've helped and be one of those for others."