Women’s History Month: Honoring the female leaders of CAHNRS

Head shots of Wendy Powers, Luz Maria Gordillo, Leslie Edgar, Nancy Deringer, and Vicki McCracken, superimposed over silhouette profiles of women's faces in various shades of pink. Behind the silhouettes is a black and white photo of the WSU Pullman campus.

In many realms, including education, women must work at least twice as hard to achieve the same success as their male counterparts. Women have not always held positions of leadership in academia, and even today, the balance remains skewed. According to the American Association of University Women, about 30% of college presidents are female, and women only represent about 30% of college boards of directors. 

Within Washington State University’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS), women have consistently broken barriers. A recent sign of progress is illustrated by the CAHNRS executive leadership team, which currently includes five women:

  • Wendy Powers, Cashup Davis Family Endowed Dean
  • Vicki McCracken, Extension Associate Dean and Director
  • Luz Maria Gordillo, Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence
  • Leslie Edgar, Associate Dean for Research
  • Nancy Deringer, Interim Associate Dean of Student Success and Academic Programs

Read on to learn how these women are using their leadership positions to support CAHNRS and foster a more Resilient Washington:

Responses have been edited for length.

Wendy Powers, Cashup Davis Family Endowed Dean:

Wendy Powers stands in a wheat field with blue skies behind her.
Wendy Powers (Robert Hubner/WSU Photo)

“I work across the spectrum of programs, personnel, and stakeholders to support the work of CAHNRS in contributing to a Resilient Washington. 

CAHNRS builds a Resilient Washington by training and empowering a qualified and adaptable workforce, stewarding the natural resources of the state, improving access to safe, affordable food, and supporting communities, families, and individuals to thrive regardless of what they may face.

I function as an advocate and champion for the work of CAHNRS and as a connector for CAHNRS to partners and resources to help achieve the goals of the people of Washington.”

Vicki McCracken, Extension Associate Dean and Director:

Portrait of Vicki McCracken outdoors in a woodsy setting.
Vicki McCracken

“In my almost 40-year career as a faculty member and in leadership positions, I have been a role model and mentor for women students and faculty and staff around the university. Many of our stakeholders are former students of mine. They know that I was committed to their success when they were students and trust my intent in my current position.

As Extension associate dean and director, I help guide what Extension does and how we allocate resources to support a Washington that can ‘navigate the unpredictable and pivot the unexpected.’

We are creating a culture of communicating about the impacts that we have and the public value of investments in our programs.”

Luz Maria Gordillo, Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence:

Formal portrait of Luz Maria Gordillo standing in front of wood paneling.
Luz Maria Gordillo

“As a leader in a traditionally underrepresented field, I challenge the status quo and advocate for inclusive practices. This sets a tone for the entire college, demonstrating that diverse voices and perspectives are not only welcome but essential for thriving in a complex world.

By fostering a diverse and inclusive community, we cultivate a generation of diverse problem-solvers equipped to tackle complex challenges like climate change and food security. We also empower communities that have been historically underrepresented in agriculture, natural resources, and related fields by providing equitable access to education and research.

I believe CAHNRS can play a vital role in building a more Resilient Washington, one where everyone has the opportunity to contribute and thrive. This is the legacy I strive to leave as a leader in this important field.”

Leslie Edgar, Associate Dean for Research:

Formal portrait of Leslie Edgar standing in front of wheat and grasses in a planter.
Leslie Edgar

“I support Dean Powers and the Resilient Washington initiative through the support of our fundamental and applied sciences.

As an agricultural and science communicator, I work closely with multiple audiences to assist with leveraging our regional and national voice to showcase our science that feeds the world.

With a background in production agriculture and trained in agricultural leadership, education, and communication, I work closely with our CAHNRS researchers and college and university leadership to showcase our researchers and their science. As an agricultural, human, and natural resources advocate, I am blessed to work alongside other strong leaders to promote and leverage a Resilient Washington.”

Nancy Deringer, Interim Associate Dean of Student Success and Academic Programs:

A head shot of Nancy Deringer.
Nancy Deringer

“As a female leader, I want to see all students succeed and everyone to discover and understand the outstanding value of CAHNRS.

In the rapidly evolving landscape of education, our foremost commitment is to ensure that every student has equitable access to opportunities, knowledge, and skills essential for success. Whether one’s interests lie in agriculture, human, or natural resource sciences, there is a welcoming space for all within CAHNRS. We provide a diverse array of immersive, hands-on learning experiences aimed at equipping our students with the expertise and capabilities not only to excel in their chosen professions but also to confront and overcome the complex challenges of both today and tomorrow.”