Women’s History Month: Reflecting on the Inspirational Women in my Life

Close up of hands, boy holding hands with older woman
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When I reflect on Women’s History Month, I am overcome with gratitude for the incredible women in my life. Notably, my step-grandmother, Virginia Jacob, played a tremendously powerful and pivotal role in my upbringing. She served as an example and inspiration. To date, her positive influence heavily informs my personal and professional choices.

My step-grandmother earned her Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree in the 1920s. She was one of the first women at Columbia University to receive a medical degree. After graduation, she became a family practitioner and served the medical needs of her hometown community of Rye, New York for the remainder of her life. In addition, my step-grandmother was one of six sisters who were all accomplished women from musicians, writers, to artists.

My mother, Betsy Zukoski, pursued an education and earned a BA in biology at Mount Holyoak College. She was interested in a Master of Science degree in Biology when she met my father. Back then, the culture of the post-war years launched the baby boom, and my mother’s plans of getting a master’s degree ended. She went on to have four children, three of whom were daughters. I am her only son.

My mother always felt constrained by the post-war values but made sure that her daughters were not. My sisters Heidi, Robin, and Ann all graduated from college. Heidi received a Master of Science in Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley, Robin received her law degree at Stanford University, and Ann obtained a Ph.D. in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University. In addition, my sisters are not only living strong professional lives, but all of them are outstanding mothers as well.

The legacy of amazing women in my life continued after I got married. My wife, Barbara, built a successful online company that she maintained during the pandemic.  She has two sisters, one who is a high school chemistry teacher with a Ph.D. in Chemistry, and one who built the rockets that landed the Martian rover.

My point is that throughout my life, I have been surrounded by incredibly talented and capable women. I have seen firsthand how opportunity, or lack thereof, can affect the trajectory of a woman’s future. This insight greatly influenced my role as an administrator at the University at Buffalo where I hired the school’s strongest dean candidates, most of which were women. When I left UB, more than half the deans were women. I don’t mention this for personal praise, but for the public perspective that I simply hired the best candidates–who happened to be women–and I’ve continued to do that at USC. The expansion of opportunity for women greatly enriches our society. We all benefit from recognizing talent and promoting opportunities for our mothers, sisters, aunts, and daughters.

Notably, it is important that we fully support women in all aspects of their choices from raising children, creating a family, and supporting the formation of the family unit. There is much joy and value in family. As we wrap up Women’s History Month, let us remember we need all the talents and capabilities of women. Let us celebrate and support them all.

 –Charles F. Zukoski, March 28, 2022