Donna Shalala – Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison

In every community, whether large of small, there are people who lead in their community in easy and difficult times. [Donna Shalala]

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 4.56.43 PM        Donna Shalala was the first woman to head a Big Ten school, but she may be better known for holding a cabinet position. Shalala was the longest serving U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).

After earning a bachelor’s degree in history, Donna Shalala spent two years in the Peace Corps. She says she wanted to “save the world,” a sentiment many in her generation can recognize. She also wanted to “see the world.” The portion of the world she saw was a mud village in Iran where she helped build an agricultural college.

She returned to the United States to earn her Master’s and doctorate degrees from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She remained in academics, teaching and later serving as President of Hunter College. She then served as Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, all while engaging in public service.

In 1993 Bill Clinton tapped her to serve as Secretary of HHS. She was the first Arab-American to serve in a Cabinet position. During her tenure she managed reform of welfare programs, improved the FDA’s approval process, and improved food safety systems. For children, she provided health insurance to millions, expanded Head Start and improved child immunization rates. For women, she established shelters and created mortgage credits. For all, she expanded AIDS research and supported anti-discrimination legislation. The Washington Post described her as “one of the most successful government managers of modern times.”

President George W. Bush also recognized her expertise and selected Shalala for the Commission on Care for Returning Wounded Warriors, asking her to co-chair the panel with Senator Bob Dole. President Bush awarded her the Medal of Freedom.

Now President of the University of Miami, she draws on her experience as HHS Secretary and teaches a course on the American healthcare system each spring semester. She has numerous awards and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2011.

Many of us wish we were taller, so that we might engage men eye-to-eye. Donna Shalala, at only five feet tall, shows that a women’s stature need not be an encumbrance.


On-Line Biographies: and

An Interview:


        Is managing well a form of leadership?


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