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From left: OSU Foundation President Blaire Atkinson, OSU Alumni Association President Ann Caine, OSU Provost Jeanette Mendez and OSU President Kayse Shrum.

Moving OSU Forward: Newest OSU leadership team forging a path for women in higher education

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Media Contact: Mack Burke | Associate Director of Media Relations | 405-744-5540 |

Over the past three years, the Oklahoma State University campus has seen immense growth and change, including a new leadership team that is unique in higher education. From the president and provost of the university to the presidents of the OSU Alumni Association and the OSU Foundation, OSU is being led by an all-female team.

Through a new university strategy, an increase in student recruitment and retention, increased donor support and a strong focus on alumni relations, OSU is poised to become the nation’s preeminent land-grant university. OSU President Kayse Shrum said she is grateful for the opportunity and for the visionary leadership both in the aforementioned roles and across the university.

“I took an opportunity and it ended up leading me into leadership roles early on,” Dr. Shrum said. “Don’t wait and pass up an opportunity. If you want to do it, do it.”


Shrum’s late mentor, Isabell Baker, once asked her, “How do you expect women to know how they’re going to practice in their career and how they’re going to manage life if they don’t have anybody who can actually understand what they’re going through?”

Dr. Kayse Shrum
Dr. Kayse Shrum

Shrum took that to heart, and it became part of her mission as a leader to remain true to her identity so others can feel comfortable doing the same. That is the advice she gives when asked what a leader is.

“Be really comfortable with who you are,” Shrum said. “And don’t try to be anything different than that. Because if you take on a leadership role, that is the identity of a leader. Whatever it is that you did to get there, that’s what you need to continue doing, because when we’re true to ourselves, that’s when we’re able to lead people. People want to connect with somebody who’s authentic.”

Shrum began her time at OSU as a student, earning her doctor of osteopathic medicine degree from the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine. She later returned to her alma mater as a faculty member in the medical school at the OSU Center for Health Sciences in 2002.

That decision set her on a path that would take her all the way to the president’s office in Whitehurst Hall.

“We do have unique challenges as females, but I’ve never wanted to focus on or talk about these obstacles because I think that they get a stronghold when you validate them,” Shrum said. “So, I always see them as opportunities to either prove someone wrong or to get better myself.

“As a woman, I certainly don’t want to be discriminated against. But I don’t want to be hired just because I’m a female, either. I really try to focus on my own performance and in doing the best I can to be the best team member I can.”


A first-generation student of a single mother, attending college was a long shot for Dr. Jeanette Mendez, and the idea of being in her current position — OSU provost — seemed an absolute impossibility.

Jeanette Mendez
Dr. Jeanette Mendez

Mendez studied at Santa Clara University where she earned a Ph.D. in political science and government. She joined OSU in 2005 as a visiting faculty member. That visit turned into a 12-year stint teaching political science, followed by multiple administrative roles at OSU before Mendez became the first female dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Now, Mendez is blazing a trail for people with similar stories, inspiring the next generation to dream big.

“I think representation matters. In terms of political science, that’s really what I spend a lot of time studying,” Mendez said. “We want faculty that look like us, we want members of Congress that look like us, we want to be able to see that someone like us is achieving these different accomplishments at different levels.”

Mendez is committed to upholding the university’s core values of respect and equality for all Cowboys. She said she hopes to continue reforming general education and promoting representation for women and underrepresented students in higher education.

“I think it’s opened the door for female students to think, ‘Oh, there’s a career path I didn’t really know existed.’ And I think faculty and staff are saying the same thing,” Mendez said. “When you see women as your department head or in your dean’s office, or as provost or president, you see yourself in that leadership. Representation matters.”


Named president of the OSU Foundation in 2020, Blaire Atkinson has worked many years to get to her current role.

Blaire Atkinson
Blaire Atkinson

She began a career in the private sector but returned to her alma mater in 2011, spending seven years serving in a variety of roles at the OSU Foundation before being appointed the first female president of the OSU Alumni Association in 2018.

When she was first approached to take on the new role, her friends and peers were hesitant to advise her to take the job.

“I have three kids, and they said ‘How are you going to balance that? Are you sure you want to do that?’” Atkinson said. “But, I had a friend at the time who said, ‘Hey, I need to talk to you. If you’re interested in that job, take it. Do not let anyone say that you’re not going to be a good mom … You can figure it all out if you want it. I know you can.’ And that just gave me the encouragement to say, ‘OK, I’m going to do it, too.’”

The Oklahoma native has been steeped in Cowboy culture for decades. The daughter of two OSU alumni, she followed in her parents’ footsteps and earned her bachelor’s in business administration from OSU.

Atkinson sees the female representation among OSU’s leaders as a sign of progress, both for the university and for women in general.

“Women want to be educated, we want to contribute to society. We want to make an impact and make a difference,” Atkinson said.

She truly believes in the OSU mission and is proud of the progress that has opened new opportunities for women to serve at the highest levels of university leadership.

“Never in a million years did I expect to be here doing this,” she said. “I would have never dreamed that or never thought that, and now, in this role, that’s part of what drives me. “I feel so passionate about land-grant universities. I’m an example of that. Never in a million years, did I think this would be my story. And I think it’s all because of a land-grant that gave me these opportunities and helped me to get a job here.”


OSU Alumni Association President Ann Caine has built her career through a focus on education and leadership, which comes through strong relationships.

Ann Caine
Ann Caine

A graduate of Kansas State University, Dr. Caine earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and her master’s in special education. Caine then earned a doctorate of education from OSU.

Caine has served in almost every role in the education system from teacher and principal to administrator. She was the first female superintendent in Stillwater and understands what it takes to be a strong leader from those years working with students and faculty.

“Truly, it’s all relationships,” she said. “When you think about what I’ve done my entire career, it is relationships with students, their parents and faculty.”

Now, Caine is focused on building those same strong relationships with OSU alumni.

Caine was appointed president of the OSU Alumni Association in 2022 and is leading the university’s efforts to grow and connect with a network of hundreds of thousands of alumni across the globe.

“We’re here to serve,” Caine said. “We want everybody engaged back into OSU when they graduate. That’s our job here. I want them to be proud of not just OSU, but that they’re a member of the Alumni Association.”

Caine said the reason for the OSU leadership team’s success is rooted in everyone’s ability to work together. Their personalities blend well, and their relationships are free of power struggle.

“We’re a team,” Caine said. “And all four of us are here leading our organizations for the good of OSU. Regardless of our gender, we’re all just here to do the best we can. We each play a role and understand that we have value and bring something unique to the table. “Because all four of us understand that, have open conversations and respect for each other, we thrive.”

Photos By: Gary Lawson, Phil Shockley and Chris Lewis

Story By: Haley Simpson | STATE Magazine

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