Margaret Ellibee: Takes on Big Job

Margaret Ellibee’s career path started when her parents decided to retire to Heber Springs.

Ellibee, a Wisconsin native, had recently graduated from Iowa State University in Ames. She followed her parents to Arkansas and soon had a job teaching vocational agriculture to sophomores and seniors at Stuttgart High School.

From Stuttgart, Ellibee got a teaching assistantship in Fayetteville at the University of Arkansas’ agricultural education program. After receiving her master’s there, she went on to the Iowa Department of Education as an agricultural education consultant.

“I was responsible to 100-some-odd secondary vocational aged programs in the eastern part of the state,” she said. “My boss, who was the state director, saw something in me. He said, ‘You need to look at possibly becoming a leader.’”

Ellibee said she was able to branch out and covered policy, legislation, budgeting and different aspects of career and technical education outside of agriculture.

Soon, Ellibee returned to school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison for a doctorate in administration.

“I focused it on curriculum and instruction,” she said. “It was tremendous. It was great fun, a great learning experience. I was very fortunate to be involved in national research.”

After that she bounced from Oklahoma to Wisconsin in several administrative jobs, and her entry to higher education came when a friend suggested she apply for a vice presidential position at Waukesha County Technical College in Pewaukee, Wis.

That position was her springboard into her new job as president of 12,000-student Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock, the fourth-largest institution of higher education in the state behind only the University of Arkansas, Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Since succeeding Dan Bakke in August, Ellibee has also become involved with the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Pulaski Tech

She said technical and community colleges are an important part of the higher education model.

“As a technical college, we have a dual role,” she said. “We’re here to provide a quality, rigorous educational experience for students who wish to go on to a four-year institution, and provide a quality, rigorous educational service for people wanting to go directly into the world of business, the world of work. We have a great balance of that here.”

Ellibee said she’s proud of the college’s employees and its students, the latter of which she said come from all walks of life.

One of Ellibee’s challenges will be working out the increasingly important role of online courses at the college level. Pulaski Tech has both solely-online classes and classes that blend on-campus and online elements, which Ellibee counts as strengths.

“I think there’s a role for both of these in the future,” she said. “I think it’s to the college’s advantage offering either-or, or variations of that, in the future. Really, it’s giving that option to the student in the way the student’s going to learn best. Not every student learns the best online.”

Ellibee said she is working with Pulaski Tech to help students understand both how financial aid works and how they might stay out of debt due to loans.

“Since we have open admittance, students might come in and start taking classes, then don’t succeed, then they have a student loan, and have debt and no degree,” she said. “What we want to do is flip that and give them the tools and expectations and say, ‘All right, you have a student loan. This is what you have to do to succeed here at Pulaski Tech, and in doing so, we’re going to work with you and provide support services to get you through successfully.’”

The challenge of financial aid is exacerbated by the state of the college’s financials; by Ellibee’s calculations, Pulaski Tech is dramatically underfunded by the state.

“That’s a challenge,” she said. “We’ve got so many students who have a tremendous amount of need, and we’ve got to be able to meet those needs with the quality that they expect, and the quality that our businesses and industries expect of us and what our communities expect of us.”

Credits Mentors

Ellibee said her career path wouldn’t have been possible without the mentors, both male and female, that populated her life.

“I think, being a leader, a woman leader, that I wouldn’t be sitting here today if it hadn’t been for those mentors, if it hadn’t been for those experiences that started in Stuttgart, Arkansas,” she said. “I think it’s incumbent upon us, as leaders, that we carry on the tradition of excellence that our mentors gave to us, that we give back and we do what our mentors gave to us. They gave us gifts that are just invaluable. That’s what I have to do, and what I want to do. I don’t even give it a thought. It’s just what we do.”

(Return to Women of Influence)