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April 6, 2018
Dr. Laurie Bernotsky – The Women of West Chester
Dr. Laurie Bernotsky – Executive Vice President and Provost at West Chester University
Years in Business: Twenty-Two
A woman who has influenced you: Dr. Madeleine Wing Adler, the first (and only so far) woman president of West Chester University
As an undergrad, Dr. R. Lorraine (Laurie) Bernotsky was a driven straight-A student. “As a first-generation college student, I believed there were only two acceptable majors—pre-law and pre-med,” she says. “I started in pre-med, but when I got a C-plus in organic chemistry, I set my sights on law school.”
Later, she realized that was a goal, not a calling. “In my senior year, my advisor asked me why I wanted to go to law school—and beyond believing it was what I had to do, I didn’t have a good answer,” Laurie says. “He encouraged me to consider graduate school and told me he thought I could be a university faculty member.”
She earned a graduate-school spot at Oxford University, but it was a challenging experience—academically and personally. “I’d spent very little time outside of Pennsylvania, and I was not prepared for Oxford’s tutorial educational style,” Laurie says. ”I had to work very hard to catch up to my fellow students, who were more at ease with this style of learning. I also didn’t have much money, only what I could save while working on breaks between semesters.”
"Know that you are more talented than you think."
Though it would have been an easier path to move back to the U.S. to complete her studies, Laurie persevered. “Oxford was the best educational experience I ever had and I credit my time there with giving me the ability to think on my feet in my work today,” she says. After completing her doctorate, she was offered a faculty position at West Chester University.
Now as the executive vice president and provost, she encourages students to realize their true potential. “Especially for first-generation, working-class women, know that you are far more talented than you think you are,” Laurie says. “There are not many moments in the lives of these young women to reinforce this notion, and it makes a difference in how you view yourself compared to your middle-class colleagues who have parents and grandparents who are college graduates.
“First-generation students have grit and resilience and a work ethic that will serve them well,” she continues. “It’s a matter of believing you are good enough to be where you are, when more often than not, everything about your prior socialization tells you that you’re not.
“Remember that your career is a journey, rather than each job being a destination in and of itself,’ Laurie sums up. “Stick with doing the work that motivates you to be your best and that serves others.”