Hard-Working. Passionate Learner. Leader.

photo by Justin Barr

By Diane Kline

Whether Beth Stroble is talking about her childhood or her career, the word “hard-working” creeps into the conversation. Her focus and drive have led to many achievements, starting as a high school English teacher in rural Illinois, and eventually taking her to the helm of Webster University, where she has served as president since 2009.

Only 30 percent of university presidents overall are women, making Stroble’s accomplishment even more impressive. She is the first person in her family to graduate from college, and then go on to earn two masters degrees, and a Ph.D.  During her career, she’s held various academic positions, including professor, dean, provost and COO at several institutions.

A self-avowed “eager beaver,” Stroble always needs to be learning something new. She’s even joined the handbell choir at church just to challenge herself. She and Paul, her husband of 34 years and a United Methodist minister, have an adult daughter Emily, who is studying Asian culture.

Stroble’s life proves her belief that no matter where you start out, you can end up in a different place—and she shares thoughts about how she got there.

My mom began as a bank teller and rose to bank president

This was in the 80s and she didn’t have a college degree. Her poise, presence and competency were recognized. She gave me practical advice, especially about the resistance she met being a woman in banking. One time, I visited the bank wearing blue jeans. She made it very clear that reflected badly on her because she was a leader. To this day, I heed that advice.

My first husband’s death was a tragedy—and also a gift

I was married to my first husband, Jim, for five years when he was diagnosed with cancer. His treatments and surgeries were at Barnes, one and a half hours from our home in Vandalia, Illinois. I would work during the day and then stay overnight at the hospital, only to drive back to work in the morning. It’s a life habit to depend on myself, but I had to learn to let others help. When Jim died, there was such loneliness, and I asked God to use his death to help me sort things out in my life.

The best way to influence people is to let them come to their own conclusions

I learned about leadership as chairman of the curriculum committee at the University of Louisville. You have to depend on many other people and hope that differences of opinions will make the group stronger. I arranged for us to spend time together and read things in common so that ideas came from sources other than me, but they reflected the direction I wanted.

People need to see that you’re calm and in control

I learned this early when working as a waitress during college. In the kitchen, there’s tension, conflict and anxiety, but in front of the diners, it had to look like we have everything under control. That’s how I approach my work. I stay calm, and if I’m facing something beyond what I know how to do, then I figure it out.

Don’t give them a reason to say “no” to you

In my academic career I’ve had many roles. My advice to women I mentor is don’t give anyone a reason to say “no” before they meet you. Get experience in whatever is lacking – maybe budgeting, raising money or managing people. Find a way to get it on your resume.

My husband calls me the “Crusader Rabbit”

I have limitless energy, and once I’ve decided something is important, I’m dedicated to the mission or the task. Becoming president at Webster University came with a steep learning curve and I thought, “How quickly can I come up to speed?” Every university is at a defining moment, and it’s a big opportunity for us to find a path that mixes tradition with innovation.

You can exceed all expectations of what people thought you were capable of doing

Affecting students is the affirmation of my career, of my life. And it fuels me to keep at it. I hope the students I’ve taught or worked with would say I helped them realize their potential. But I haven’t realized mine, yet. I do not feel done.