Ohio University president Lori Stewart Gonzalez  (photo © Ohio University / by Ben Siegel)
Ohio Life

Lori Stewart Gonzalez on Being Ohio University’s First Female President

When she took the college’s top office in 2023, the longtime educator became the first woman to helm Ohio University. 

Lori Stewart Gonzalez made history on July 1, 2023, by becoming Ohio University’s first female president since the school was founded in 1804. She grew up in the small Appalachian town of Mount Vernon, Kentucky, where her father — a first-generation college student — instilled in her the value of education and the importance of giving back.

“He was a great supporter of people throughout the community, and education was one of his life’s passions,” Gonzalez says. “I think I inherited that from him for sure.”

Her father’s push for her to pursue an education eventually led Gonzalez to a 35-year-long career in public higher education, starting as an assistant professor and working her way up to her current position — a background that made her a well-qualified candidate to lead Ohio University.

“I think people were also pleased that I happen to be a woman,” Gonzalez says. “Diversity in leadership is always important.”

We talked with Gonzalez about her approach to leadership, connections between her hometown and Athens and her passion for public higher education.

How did you develop your leadership style?
I think leadership is about always looking inward to see what your strengths are. I’ve done that throughout my career, and I think it comes from something as fundamental as enjoying being around people, believing in the transformational power of higher education and working to support those people who bring that experience to our students.

What similarities have you found between your hometown and Athens?
What I see, no matter where you go in small towns across Appalachia, is a pride of place. That spirit of being proud of where you’re from and wanting to take care of it is something that resonates across all of Appalachia. We have such strong roots in family, in our history, in our music, in our culture, in the foods we eat and in the quilts we make. Part of my learning curve has been seeing where the cultures differ a little bit.

Why is public higher education a focus for you?
I think it’s the way we level the playing field. We give our students a chance to come in and provide them support so they’re successful. We educate the workforce for the future. We can give opportunities to students who are talented and passionate and brilliant but might not otherwise have a pathway toward higher education. That’s really important for me as an individual. That’s when my individual passion can meld with my passion for the work.

For more information, visit ohio.edu