As most of you know, the president of a university is inclined to wear many hats – and Dr. Francine McNairy wears them well, figuratively and physically.
As president, Dr. McNairy placed an emphasis on academic programs which has resulted in three new master’s programs: emergency management, nursing, and social work, which is a joint program with Shippensburg University and is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania and only the third in the nation.
Dr. McNairy also implemented and expanded Millersville University’s first-year experience program, which has shown a positive correlation with student retention.
As a lover of traveling, President McNairy has been highly involved in the Global Education programs at Millersville University.
“I have always dreamed of visiting Africa and I plan on going one of these days [when I retire].”
Dr. McNairy is an active member of the Lancaster community and serves on three boards: the Lancaster General Medical Group, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education, and the American Association of Colleges and Universities Presidents’ Trust for Liberal Education.
Under her reign, the university created the Civic and Community Engagement and Research Project which serves as the primary force to cultivate, focus, and coordinate civic and community engagement research among faculty, students, and staff.
“Dr. McNairy cares deeply – they can finish that sentence anyway they want to; about students, faculty, the community – she cares deeply about all of it,” says Debra Herlocker, Senior Associate.
In addition to her achievements within the Millersville and Lancaster communities, Dr. McNairy has been a shining example for students and faculty alike. She has been named Outstanding First-Year Advocate by the National Resource Center and was a finalist for the Lancaster Samaritan Center’s Ethics in Business Award in 2009. She has also received The President’s Martin Luther King Jr. Award from Edinboro University, was awarded the Heritage Award; Celebrating Women Who Maximize Their Potential by the Urban Connection of the Capital Region, she was one of eight women selected by Governor Ed Rendell as a Distinguised Daughter of Pennsylvania in 2006, and she was selected by the Pa. Commission for Women for profile in their book, “Voices – African American and Latina Women in Pa. Share Their Stories.”
But when it comes time for events on campus, President McNairy sheds all but one hat – her president’s hat, more affectionately called “The Francine Hat.”
This versatile black creation was designed for Dr. McNairy by her favorite hat maker, Christine Moore, a designer out of New York City who does the occasional trunk show in downtown Lancaster.
President McNairy began her hat collection long before she came to Millersville University and was overjoyed when she found Christine’s hats.
“Growing up in an African American community, ladies never thought of going to church or shopping without a hat. I was raised the same way. Wearing a hat is a sign of respect and it’s also a crown. Back then, you worked hard all week and on Sunday, you wore your crown of beauty for church,” she said.
There’s a famous book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry titled “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats” that discusses the African American customs of wearing hats. The book echoes what President McNairy says – wearing a hat is more than just fashion; your hat speaks long before you can even utter a syllable.
“When I wear my hats, they lift me up. I feel good about them and myself. I wear my hats because I want to send a message that when one has a profession, they must always look their best because you’ll never know who you might meet,” says Dr. McNairy.
Her first hat was created for her first homecoming as president of Millersville University. It’s black and gold like our school colors and was a big hit.
“When it rained or snowed, I wouldn’t wear it and people yelled out during the parade: ‘Where’s the hat?’” says McNairy.
Dr. McNairy also has other hats including a brown with leopard sash that she wore for the opening of the Visual and Performing Arts Center. “As soon as I saw it, I knew this is what I wanted to celebrate the opening of the Winter Center. I wanted something a little showier,” she said.
Her favorite color is red, so there was no surprise when she revealed two lovely red hats. One is her favorite hat to wear to church and the other is her “Kentucky Derby Hat.”
“This is my favorite hat. I’ve never worn it out, it’s a little much for church and going out in general but when I go to the Kentucky Derby, I’ll have my hat,” said Dr. McNairy.
As for Dr. McNairy’s retirement bucket list, the Kentucky Derby is on there, along with traveling to Philadelphia and also to Pittsburgh to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, President McNairy’s favorite football team. She also hopes to visit Africa and possibly work in a school reading to the children.
Dr. McNairy will surely be missed once she retires in January and has just one request for those of us she’ll be leaving behind: “I am so thankful to have had this opportunity; it was a special gift to be your president. I want for you to reach the highest level you can achieve and help somebody else along the way.”