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Inspiring and Raising Up Women

June 3, 2021

Among the many roles President Mullen has played during her 15-year tenure at Houghton College, perhaps one of the most significant but less noticed has been that of a purposeful and dedicated mentor to women leaders. Over the years, Shirley has, with quiet intentionality, guided a host of women leaders on their journey to become confident influencers who balance courage and humility with the aplomb that she herself models so well. Shirley recognizes that she has been entrusted not only to lead the College with skill, discernment and exceptional wisdom but also to equip, nurture and foster capable women leaders who will have a significant impact within their current and future spheres of influence. The grace with which she draws out the gifts and talents of each woman is artful and encouraging; she notices and names the strengths and capacities she sees in others while simultaneously inviting each woman to recognize and live into her own unique aptitudes and abilities. By eliciting the perspectives and insights of each person, Shirley affirms the worth and value of each individual and their contributions while also bringing to the surface the vast range of creative insights needed to fully understand any given situation and to move ahead with a plan of action that reflects the best thinking of every collaborator. Shirley is the epitome of a selfless leader; she gives of her time and attention—above and beyond what would be expected of an extraordinarily busy executive leader—and invests deeply, personally and intentionally in others for their own growth, enhancement and advancement and for the flourishing of the College, the community and the Kingdom of God. President Mullen: For your intentional investment in the growth and development of women leaders across all of your spheres of influence, we offer our inexpressible thanks and gratitude! Blessings to you in your retirement; may you continue to pour into others in this new season as you have done so faithfully to this point.

Cathy Freytag
Associate Dean of the Faculty

Shirley had a vision for offering exceptional hospitality to our campus guests while also reaching beyond our campus to be good neighbors through positive engagement with our broader community. She encouraged and empowered me to use my gifts to help bring that vision to life, and I could never have imagined the fulfilling career at Houghton that her confidence in me fostered.

Phyllis Gaerte
Director of Community and Alumni Engagement

President Mullen has encouraged me to have confidence and a voice. She has allowed me to be part of leadership groups to learn how to think and process for the good of the whole and not just our individual areas. She trusted me, even as a Director, to help guide decisions and be a contributor of ideas. Her willingness to be open helped me grow.

Marianne Loper
Director, Student Financial Services

President Mullen has become a mentor to me in countless ways. Her challenge to reimagine and enlarge my role in a way I hadn’t envisioned was the prompting I needed to push out of my comfort zone and find a voice that I’d never fully utilized before. I am so grateful for how she has poured into me and how she modeled it every day with graciousness, sincerity, kindness, patience and wisdom.

Betsy Sanford
Chief of Staff

Shirley’s ability to communicate and cultivate space in the courageous middle has modeled for me and many of my colleagues how to listen for understanding and lead with the Truth and the Grace that comes from our Triune God alone. I believe that, because of her leadership and the mentoring she’s provided me, I am better prepared to join my faculty and staff colleagues to remain engaged in this important work at Houghton College and beyond.

Sunshine Sullivan

Sunshine Sullivan
Associate Professor and Chair of Education

As SGA President during my last two years at Houghton, I had the privilege of getting to meet with President Mullen every other week. These meetings had such an impact on me as a leader. President Mullen exemplified leading with grace, intellect, faith and care. My best memories of these meetings are the humbling experience of her praying for me, of being sent away with books, and of seeing her care and passion for Houghton College and especially its students.

Joanna Friesen ’17

One of the things that I will always carry from Dr. Mullen’s leadership is how she wields her courage and faith. I would not have come to Houghton had we not run into each other at a church in Indiana, and she chose to see it as a Providential encounter and pursued a further conversation with me. Getting to serve under a female president has led me to never question my own seat at the table of leadership.

Nuk Kongkaw ’11
Director, Mosaic Center

I am so thankful for the mentor and kinship I had in President Mullen while a student at Houghton. She consistently supported me in positions of leadership and lifted me up with words of affirmation throughout them. Best of luck, President Mullen, in your retirement!

Hannah Sievers

Hannah Sievers ’20

Shirley taught me so much in the five years I was privileged to serve under her leadership. Perhaps the greatest and most important was how to strike the tender balance between humility and confidence as a leader. I saw her navigate challenging situations using this artful space, and it was beautiful. Shirley believed in me, not only as a leader on her team, but as a woman and as a friend. She has served Houghton faithfully in one of the most tumultuous times in Higher Education, and, as an alumna and former employee of the college, I cannot offer high enough praise.

Sharra (Durham ’94) Hynes
Associate Vice President and Dean of Students, Baylor University

Women in leadership often feel the pressure to be all things to all people, to be the Superwoman in every room. Shirley urged me to nuance my ideas of God’s call in liberating ways, to listen for God’s call to serve a particular community rather than to be the perfect ideal of a professor, leader, etc. She modeled for me, in concrete ways, what it looks like, instead, when a gifted woman leads out of her specific strengths and builds effective partnerships with those whose gifts complement her own.

Sarah Derck

Sarah Derck
Associate Professor of Old Testament; Chair, Department of Biblical Studies, Theology and Philosophy

One of the most impactful things I learned from President Mullen was the importance of what she deemed “placeholders.” Being someone who had always been passionate about many causes, Shirley recognized within me the tendency to want to do it all despite never having sufficient time. So, Mullen encouraged me to have placeholders in my life—little things like checking the news or having coffee with friends, playing piano for five minutes a day or reading a book for fun—so that, no matter how busy I got, I would hold onto all of those pieces of my heart and the things in the world that mattered. Even if one certain vocation took up most of my time, I would still be a person who valued knowing what was going on in the world, a person who valued the relationships in my life, good music and learning. President Mullen taught me about placeholders, but really, her largest impact on me was that, despite her insanely busy schedule, she always had a placeholder for mentoring me.

Olivia Flint

Olivia Flint ’20