Women in Online Higher Education Leadership Roles: Strategies for Professional Development and Success

As the public and private roles of women evolve in all parts of the world, women are taking up leadership responsibilities at new levels and in new fields. The path to leadership roles is a result of women aspiring to senior positions; acquiring new skills; possessing keen problem-solving abilities, and capably managing multiple roles both at home and in the workplace. The challenge for women leaders is not to simply establish a presence in the so-called “man’s world”—it is to overcome the challenges that prevent them from gaining recognition for their leadership skills and abilities and creating a successful niche in a professional environment.

Although a number of women are rising to senior positions in the field of online higher education, there is a wide range of internal and external forces to which they must attend to ensure their continued success. This presentation will explore several of the forces driving change in online higher education and the leadership challenges for women in this field. In particular, the presenters will discuss professional development programs and customized online learning leadership institutes that assist women leaders in aligning their skills with their aspirations. An analysis and discussion of data collected in collaboration with the OLC-C/Penn State Institute for Engaged Leadership in Online Learning (IELOL) regarding the experiences of female participants will be included.

This webinar maybe of interest to higher education professionals interested in learning more about women’s leadership in online higher education, including challenges faced by women leaders, and opportunities and strategies for women to overcome those challenges and assume leadership positions in online higher education.

By attending this webinar participants will acquire:

  • Increased knowledge and understanding of the current higher education environment and the role/representation of the women leaders in higher education
  • Increased understanding of the particular challenges confronting women leaders in higher education and strategies for overcoming these challenges
  • Increased understanding of the importance of professional development and mentorship programs for women leaders in online higher education, and ability to identify such opportunities
  • Ability to connect with women leaders in online higher education with similar professional interests
Speaker Bio


Dr. Shanta Goswami Varma has over 20 years of experience in National and International Higher education in academic administration. Areas of expertise include online teaching and learning; program development and implementation; marketing and outreach; faculty development (online learning); regulatory and accreditation requirements; curriculum and instruction; partnership building; recruitment and retention. Her research interests include e-learning; social media; faculty development; cultural disparity, perseverance and success in workplace. Dr. Varma has taught under graduate and graduate courses for Interdisciplinary Programs at the Center for Distance Learning at Empire State College and at The University of Houston – Clear Lake (UHCL). www.uhcl.edu/onlineprograms



Renee M. Cicchino

Renee M. Cicchino is a Sr. Instructional Designer with the Teaching, Learning, and Technology Center. Although her primary focus is supporting faculty in the development of online and hybrid courses; she manages special projects and initiatives for the TLT Center. Renee is a Quality Matters Master Reviewer; a graduate of the Institute for Engaged Leadership in Online Learning through Penn State and the Online Learning Consortium (formerly the Sloan Consortium) and earned a Certificate in Online Teaching through the OLC.

She stays current with online and hybrid course trends by serving as a Mentor in the Online Teaching Certificate Program (OLC) and serves on several external online and hybrid course review committees for Quality Matters. Since 1994, Renee has taught both face-to-face and online courses for the Department of Communication and the Arts at Seton Hall and she also taught communication courses (online) for Thomas Edison State College.

In addition to her academic interests, Renee is a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer, Emergency First Response Instructor and avid diver. She teaches the scuba diving courses through the Department of Educational Studies at Seton Hall University.



Elizabeth (Liz) Ciabocchi

Elizabeth (Liz) Ciabocchi currently serves as Vice Provost for Digital Learning at St. John’s University in Queens, NY.  From 2002-2014, Liz served in the Office of Academic Affairs at Long Island University, most recently as Associate Vice President for Online Learning (2013-2014). She also served as Academic Dean, Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, New York Campus (2001-2002), and as a faculty member and administrator at the New York College for Health Professions in Syosset, N.Y. (1993-2001). Liz holds an Ed.D. in Higher & Postsecondary Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, a D.C. from New York Chiropractic College, and a B.S. in Biology from the University of Scranton. She also holds an Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Teaching Certificate (Administrative Track) and completed the OLC Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Learning (IELOL) in 2010. In her current role at St. John’s University, Liz leads the Office of the Provost’s academic initiatives in the development of digital learning strategies and programs of study offered in fully online and blended formats. In addition, she provides leadership in the use of technology associated with on-campus instruction; oversees the Office of Online Learning & Services; co-chairs the University Assessment Committee, and serves as a member of the Middle States Steering Committee.  Liz is active in a number of professional organizations focused on higher education, and frequently presents at professional conferences on her research interests, including blended/online program development, assessment of blended/online learning, higher education institutional leadership, and women’s leadership in higher education.