Lifetime Achievement Awardee

Helen Astin

Helen “Lena” Astin’s interest in psychology, gender, and career development began at an early age. In her memoir, The Road From Serres: A Feminist Odyssey, she recounts walking through her neighborhood as a small child, asking other children questions from the Stanford-Binet IQ test. She began tuning in to gender discrimination, particularly around career choices and development, when her own parents discouraged her from pursuing architecture or physics because they were “male occupations.”

Born in Greece in 1932, she endured the occupation of World War II and subsequent Greek Civil War before arriving by boat in New York in 1951. Learning English at the same time she was studying, she quickly earned her undergraduate and Master’s degrees in psychology before pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Maryland. A groundbreaker even then, she was just the second woman to be conferred with a Ph.D. in psychology from the university. While there, she met her life partner and frequent collaborator, Alexander “Sandy” Astin.

Astin’s early career included a number of different positions where she simultaneously utilized her training while managing a young family — an experience that reinforced for her the inherent societal bias in notions privileging male workers and career trajectories. Her 1969 book, The Woman Doctorate in America, documented and debunked these notions. Coinciding with the women’s movement in the U.S. and her move to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1973, her work began gaining traction. At UCLA she co-created the Higher Education Research Institute and co-founded the Center for the Study of Women. Her research and 14 books on women and leadership and her passion for addressing gender disparity in leadership opportunities and career development impacted a generation of women in higher education. Her legacy continues to influence and shape work in the field today and infuse it with purpose.

Atlanta Conference Plenary