Sister Joan Lescinski made history in 2007 when she became the first woman president of St. Ambrose University in Davenport. Only the 13th president in the university’s history, she recently was named as the 2011 Athena Award recipient by The Women’s Connection and the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce. Before joining St. Ambrose, her academic career took her to colleges in Indiana, Missouri and New York. A native of Albany, N.Y., she has been a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Louis, Mo., since 1965.

Q: What did it mean to you to be chosen as the 2011 Athena Award recipient?

A: Honestly, I was stunned — and deeply touched. Being chosen as one of six Athena Award honorees was an honor in and of itself, as I found myself in the company of outstanding women leaders. I accepted the award on behalf of all civic and business women leaders in attendance that day, fully aware of the collaborative nature of leadership and excellence. The Quad-Cities is my home and it is my privilege to both lead and serve in this fine community.

Q: What more should the Quad-City community do to develop — and retain — young female leaders?

A: I believe that leadership can be fostered and nourished, and that women have been an untapped resource for leadership. All of us must dedicate ourselves to mentoring our young women, to seeing their potential, offering our encouragement, and then serving them in very real ways by teaching, listening and supporting. We must always remind ourselves that we would not be where we are without that very kind of vision and support. And of course we must then encourage our young leaders to do the same for their “next generation.” As an organization, The Women’s Connection is serving a very important role in this kind of work, and even the Athena Award can serve to shine a spotlight on the possibilities that exist for young women.

Q: How do you think your own role as St. Ambrose University’s first female president impacts the university’s young women students? And for that matter, the male students?

A: It is my sincere hope that in some small way, my role as the university’s first female president is opening the minds of our young women students, giving them pause as they consider what opportunities might lie ahead for them. The learning and growing that is a part of a St. Ambrose education lays the foundation for our students’ lives. I believe, too, that all of us who work at the university have the unique privilege to embody the institution’s values: service to others, work for peace and justice, and striving for excellence. As president I am here to serve all our students, male and female, traditional and non-traditional, undergraduate and graduate. I believe that male and female students alike are best served in a world where opportunities exist fairly for all.

Q: What do you gain from your interaction with St. Ambrose students? Tell us about the monthly dinners you hold in your home.

A: Spending time with St. Ambrose students is a true delight. I always enjoy my time with them whether at my own home, in the classroom or elsewhere, because they are tangible evidence for why we work at St. Ambrose University. They are, in other words, our reason for being.

Q: Fill in the blank: “At the end of a perfect day … ”

A: I most like spending time with friends and family.