May 19, 2023
A friend congratulated Caren Standfast when she was selected to be the next dean of Culver Girls Academy, telling her: “You will have an opportunity to leave your legacy at CGA and I think that is one of the most unique opportunities one can be gifted.”
Standfast said she is grateful for the legacy Mary Frances England, who served as dean of the school from its founding in 1971 until 1984, and M. Lynn Rasch ’76, who started working at Culver in 1980 and has served as dean since 2014, have left as a strong foundation for CGA to build on.
“Dean England built the ship. Dean Rasch has since filled it with a great crew that has built a wonderful program. It's a big legacy to be built, and Dean Rasch has given me pointers on how to steer the ship,” she said.
Standfast succeeds Rasch as dean on June 5.
Leadership Experience at Culver
“Caren brings a variety of leadership experiences to Culver including serving in our Mathematics Department, most recently as senior instructor, since July of 2020, and previously as a math and computer science instructor from 2013–2018,” Doug Bird, Ed.D. ’90, head of schools, told students and parents in announcing her appointment.
Additionally, Standfast was the recipient of the Ralph N. Manuel Award, which is presented annually to a staff member who best exemplifies the ideals of Culver in the opinion of the student body. She also was selected for the Dicke Chair of Technology Education.
"Mrs. Standfast is a kind, understanding, amazing and humble teacher. She is a teacher whom you will feel approachable and comfortable around and is always an adult you can trust,” said Anna Xu, CGA ’24, a current student of Mrs. Standfast. “She listens to the opinions of the student body. She will be a great leader as a dean, who cares about students and brings more students’ input to campus.”
“There should be nothing here I don’t remember.”
When Standfast was talking about the reason she chose to apply for the dean position, she mentioned a poem, “Looking for the Gulf Motel,” by Richard Blanco. Blanco is looking for a hotel where he has vivid memories of family summer vacations and recalls what it means to call some place home. In the poem, Blanco keeps repeating the line “There should be nothing here I don’t remember.” This line resonates with Standfast because she thinks there is tradition and culture that people remember and make CGA how it is today.
“Culver is steeped in tradition,” Standfast said. “When I was researching about the dean position, I found that the things that people remember about CGA are its foundations. Without those foundations, CGA would not be CGA.”
Standfast said when she asked Rasch for advice, she told her to maintain the important traditions the have been built at CGA.
“Her advice was the traditions that CGA has built, meaning the trail blazers that have come through, have already fought certain fights to get certain things in. Don't step back,” Standfast said.
Standfast said those include the tradition that CGA is a place for women to learn leadership together as women, and preserving hallowed events such as the Dean England Day ceremony and the Crest ceremony.
In addition, preserving the relationships between the CGA students and school leaders and faculty and among CGA students is another piece that Standfast considers as significant. When students think of CGA, “It’s not the structures of the buildings that they will remember, it’s the mannerisms and passions of mentors they remember of great detail.”
“I’ve learned that beyond the uniform and buildings of CGA lies a legacy of love, compassion, and mentorship that we must not forget are the pillars of building relationships,” Standfast said, “I aspire to embody love, trust and inspiration.”
Ultimately, Standfast thinks that along with preservation, innovation is an essential piece to the dean position as well.
“If you look at the history of CGA, it reinvents itself every generation. So I think innovation is an important piece to this position as well,” she said.
So innovation and preservation of the legacies are essential for the future of CGA, she said.
Leadership Structure in CGA
Standfast said that CGA has gone through many iterations. At first, the daughters of faculty came only to academic classes. Nevertheless, as girls went through this, they felt that they needed their own leadership system, so they established Culver Academy for Girls. It later evolved to Culver Girls Academy, separate from Culver Military Academy, with its own prefect leadership system. As research showed females are communal, the leadership structure in CGA is more relationship based.
“And if you go back to the very early days of Emily Jane Culver, her vision involved entrepreneurship and service,” Standfast said.
Standfast thinks that CGA has captured the two entities of entrepreneurship and service through the years.
Vision About the Future of CGA
“I am excited about leadership, but more specifically, women as leaders,” Standfast said. “So there is no other position more exciting than to think about molding female leaders for the future.”
As Standfast was reading a script from Dean England, it talked about how the role of modern woman in the 1970s fell somewhere between those who believed women belonged in the home and women on the other side who hated men and marriage.
“So, my question is, who is the modern woman today that we are building our programming for?” Standfast asked.
Standfast said she read “Through the Labyrinth: The Truth About How Women Become Leaders,” by Alice H. Eagly and Linda L. Carli, that describes the metaphor of the glass ceiling, an invisible barrier that makes it nearly impossible for women to rise above a certain level. The book says that the glass ceiling still exists in some areas, but for many women today getting ahead involves navigating a labyrinth.
“I think that would be more for me to research and vision, what does the labyrinth look like for the modern woman?” she said.
“We Are In This Together”
Standfast said the CGA system is set up to be hard and challenge students, but she believes it’s under those conditions that students learn the most.
As a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Standfast said she recalls the poem “Laws of The Navy.”
“On the strength of one link in the cable, dependenth the might of the chain. Who knows when thou may’st be tested? So live that thou bearest the strain!” was the stanza that stuck with Standfast.
“You are the key link in any team and if you are not pulling your weight, the whole thing might go down,” Standfast said. “It is important to understand that you bear some weight too.”
Even though it might not be comfortable and might hurt in the moment, it is for greater good, she said.
“So, I think it is important to know that we modeled CGA after the real world and the real world is hard,” Standfast said. “But it’s important to know that we’re all in this together. I might not make the right decision sometimes, but I’m hoping that the community around me supports me and supports CGA moving forward.”