Lauded for her role as a teacher, advisor, mentor, and leader over her decades-long career at WSU, Vicki McCracken was named Faculty Woman of Distinction for the 2021 academic year.
Out of nearly 100 nominations, six women were honored at WSU’s Women of Distinction awards ceremony on April 16. Now in its 15th year, the annual event honors the achievements of women throughout the university.
McCracken has produced more than 80 peer-reviewed publications, and consistently receives glowing teaching evaluations from her students.
“Vicki has significantly distinguished herself in her academic work and over her amazing 37-year career, she has been and continues to be an outstanding role model for women,” said André-Denis Wright, dean of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS).
Growing up in Indiana, McCracken considered herself a “big jock.” She played competitive volleyball, swam, and ran marathons. She said if times were different, she would have liked to attend her alma mater as a collegiate athlete.
“Title IX was just getting started then,” she said.
As the first woman hired as faculty in what was then called WSU’s Department of Agricultural Economics in 1984, McCracken earned the respect of her colleagues – all men – in part through sports.
“I dominated them in racquetball and volleyball,” she said.
In the early 1990s, McCracken and a few CAHNRS colleagues signed up for a flag football game against WSU students through the university’s recreation center.
“I remember Vicki being a beast, and very quick,” said Lagene Taylor, publishing coordinator for Extension. “We got our rears handed to us, but it was fun.”
Named the associate director of the Agriculture Research Center in 1994, McCracken said that even in the ‘90s, people would frequently walk into her office to ask for staff members, assuming she was a clerk.
“Traditionally, women have often been secretaries or administrative assistants in academia, rather than leaders,” she said.
Because there were no other women in leadership at the time to lean on for mentorship, “I made the decision that I wanted to be a role model and mentor for women, students and colleagues of mine from that day forward.”
McCracken has held multiple leadership roles at CAHNRS, serving on multiple boards and committees at the state and national level.
Jill McCluskey, director of WSU’s School of Economic Sciences, said McCracken brought a different perspective to the department, which made it better.
“I am thankful for the example she offered, which helped me and the other women faculty who have followed,” she said.
McCracken currently serves as CAHNRS associate dean and director of WSU Extension, and said she is proud of how the partnership between the college and Extension has continued to evolve.
“We are working with farms big and small through our Food Systems program, tackling opioid abuse and mental health issues through our Youth and Families programming, and working to improve broadband access for rural families,” she said.
“I’m proud of the work we’re doing across all our Washington counties and excited about new possibilities.”
While her career serves as an example to all women of how far they can go, McCracken said there is still progress to be made because “there are still decisions being made that second guess the role a woman should play.”
If she could give her younger self advice, McCracken would say: “believe in yourself. Others believe in you.”
“Think big,” she added. “Think about what it is you want to do, and do it because you want to do it, not because someone else wants you to do it.”