Talking Women in Higher Ed and Tech with Loni Bordoloi Pazich

Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Loni Bordoloi Pazich, Program Director at The Teagle Foundation.

Photo courtesy of Loni Bordoloi Pazich.

1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession? 

I have my dream job now working in philanthropy but I didn’t even know the sector I work in existed until well after college. The world of foundations was completely invisible to me until I happened to work as a research assistant at the USC Center for Urban Education, where virtually all the work we carried out was funded through grants. I realized that foundations play an important role in shaping research and policy agendas. 

It was an aha moment for me to see that there are different ways in which you can have an impact. As an undergraduate, I had spent a lot of time working directly with low-income high school students to help get them ready for college. I conceived of impact as providing direct support to those who needed it. As a graduate student, I came to deeply value research as an avenue for having an impact: it gives you a more sophisticated understanding of the factors driving inequities and points to what can be done to address them. And I also started to see, dimly, that you can have an impact through philanthropy by supporting the activities, research and advocacy that help bring about change.

2.  What is your current greatest professional challenge?

Right now I am focused on expanding access to a four-year college degree, especially for students who begin their higher education at a community college. 

I grew up in India, which has a radically different higher education system and it’s special  that the American system allows you to start at an affordable community college and then move on to complete the baccalaureate at another institution. The norm for American baccalaureate degrees is to have two years of general education, which has intrinsic value in and of itself by allowing students to find areas in which they have interest and aptitude before they commit themselves to an area of study. 

Transfer from community colleges has a lot of problems, and getting it right is important to the distribution of opportunity and social mobility in America. Community colleges as a sector enroll the most undergraduates in the country and are the primary entry point to higher education for low-income students and students of color.  I am focused on figuring out how to have an impact with relatively modest resources so I am excited that the Teagle Foundation is joining forces with Arthur Vining Davis Foundations to build transfer pathways from community colleges to independent colleges. Our goal is to build pipelines to the liberal arts in 20 states over the next five years.

3. What inspires you most about your work?

Everyday, I get to talk to people who are passionate about teaching and learning. Everyday, I learn something new from them. 

4. How does your gender identity inform your work?

One of the first things I noticed when I started working in philanthropy is that the ranks of programs officers are staffed by females. I think this is really important because program officers play an important role in prospecting and developing grants, so their perspectives do shape the applicant and grantee pools and the distribution of philanthropic resources. It’s exciting to know this work is being carried out largely by females. With that said, it’s still important to keep in mind that the ultimate decision-makers, at mega-foundations especially (presidents and board chairs), are predominantly male, and there is a discrepancy in the racial/ethnic makeup of the people who make the grants versus the intended beneficiaries of those grants, and that needs attention.

5. How can philanthropy support gender equity?

By paying attention to diversity in grantmaking (asking, “who benefits?”) and modeling parity in how the foundation sector as a whole is staffed, philanthropy can support equity.

6. In the next ten years, where do you see gender equity movements taking us?

In the context of philanthropy for higher education, something that we are going to have to reckon with is that enrollments at the undergraduate level and at the graduate and professional level, including law school and medical school, are now majority female.  This will have major implications for the professions in the next 10-15 years. One upside is the #MeToo movement. I happen to think this could not have happened without women increasingly represented in the professional ranks collectively saying that sexist and abusive behavior will no longer be tolerated.  

With that said, the future of work will probably be dominated by technology and that pipeline of talent remains firmly male-dominated. Professions that are dominated by women (think teaching and nursing) tend to be undervalued; I sometimes wonder if the tech industry would be treated with less reverence given some of its unintended destructive aspects if it weren’t so dominated by men. Just as it has been distorting for American society to have higher education dominated by men, which it was until the 1970s, the reverse is also probably true, and we need to think about that, just as we need to keep in mind that it’s important for women to be represented in the new frontier of the economy.

More on Loni Bordoloi Pazich:

Loni Bordoloi Pazich is a Program Director at The Teagle Foundation specializing in institutional initiatives. She joined the Foundation in 2014. Previously, she served as research associate with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California. She teaches at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. She holds a Ph.D. from New York University and M.Ed. from the University of Southern California, both in higher education, and a B.A. in English from the University of California Los Angeles.

This interview has been minimally edited.

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Author: Julia Travers

I often cover innovations in science, the arts and social justice. Find my work with NPR, Discover Magazine, APR and Earth Island Journal, among other publications. My portfolio is at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.

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