When asked about her own achievements, Dr. Robin White invariably veers into conversation about her school, Great Oaks Institute of Technology and Career Development, its students, or about the legions of professionals who surround and support her efforts every day.

White, the president and CEO at Great Oaks, bases her success on the achievements of those around her. “Anytime you get in a position like this, the work is a compilation of so many people working together,” she insists.

White is an advocate for all her students, particularly women who’ve encountered barriers that threaten to keep them from a satisfying career. “We know that if people are going to earn family-sustaining wages, they’re going to need to go on to continue their learning after high school,” she explains.

To that end, she’s supported many student support programs, from ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) to ABLE (Adult Basic Literacy Education). Also, since coming to Great Oaks in 1997, White has helped to grow a program now called Health Careers Collaborative, through which students learn skills they can use in the fast-growing field of health care. Under White’s leadership, the program secured foundation funding from the United Way and has become a national model that was recently praised by the Ford Foundation.

But it’s the students, not the programs, who inspire White. “I’m motivated when I see their eyes light up,” she beams. “It was so cool when a student in the first class of our licensed practical nursing program e-mailed me when she passed her state boards. I’m just thrilled for these kids.”

Although education is traditionally a female-dominated career, few women have supervisory roles. White noticed that the people who were filling available administrator roles at the school were not internal hires. To address the problem, White established a leadership academy to encourage the school’s young professionals, particularly women, to be involved in leadership roles. The leadership academy is now a master’s degree program through Xavier University.

White sees it as her job to encourage those who show promise as leaders. “We’re committed to reminding people they can do it and to not be afraid to throw their hat in the ring,” she says.

Since White took the helm at Great Oaks in 2003, graduates continuing their education after high school have increased from 21 to 46 percent. Also, a program White started to allow high school students to take college credits on site has increased from 65 students in 2004, the program’s first year, to 251 this year.

White is also a member of the Workforce Policy Advisory Board and the Ohio Advisory Committee on the Transfer of Adult Career-Technical Programs. She is on the board of trustees of the Economic Center at the University of Cincinnati and the steering committee for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Leadership Cincinnati program.

“You spend so much of your time at work,” she says. “My dream is that everybody finds dignity in their work, and they know they’re making a contribution.”