Virginia Lee Lussier, M.A. '72, Ph.D. '73

Virginia Lee Lussier headshot

An academic with more than 40 years of experience in higher education was inspired to give back as a result of the role the Department of Government and Politics played in launching her career.   

Virginia Lee Lussier, a professor emerita of political science at the California State University at Northridge, has made another substantial gift to the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences (BSOS), from which she received her master’s degree in 1972 and Ph.D. in 1973.

Lussier most recently gave $1,040,000 to BSOS to establish the Dr. Virginia Lee Lussier Endowed Professorship in Behavioral and Social Sciences, and the Dr. Virginia Lee Lussier Current-Use Professorship in Behavioral and Social Sciences. The $40,000 portion of the $1,040,000 bequest will ensure that the faculty support funds can be immediately accessed while the endowed funds are invested.

The new professorship is designed to provide BSOS faculty members—with a preference for faculty members in the fields of international relations and comparative politics within the Department of Government and Politics (GVPT)—with two to three years of financial support for their scholarly and programmatic endeavors.

Lussier’s previous gift, given in 2018, resulted from her generous donation of a family home on Long Island to the University of Maryland. The sale, handled with the assistance of the University System of Maryland Office of Advancement, created two endowed gifts for international relations graduate students in Government and Politics. 

One travel-focused gift enables students to engage in conferences and professional development opportunities. The other gift provides graduate student research support—such as summer stipends, training grants, and funds to cover data collection costs—to aid students in developing a paper of publishable quality related to their dissertation.  

Lussier’s motivation to provide these financial gifts came from her very positive experience, and the opportunities she was given, in GVPT. Her prime support came from GVPT Professor Emeritus Jonathan Wilkenfeld, for whom she worked as a graduate assistant from 1969–1971, and who served as her doctoral dissertation supervisor.   

“Prior to Maryland, I had a very traditional undergraduate and graduate educational experience, one where you went to class, but rarely interacted with professors outside the classroom environment,” said Lussier, going on to explain that Wilkenfeld came to Maryland as an assistant professor in 1969. She said he had a very different graduate student experience, one in which he was accustomed to a nurturing, highly interactive working relationship with faculty. He brought that approach to Maryland, she said.  

“Jon was an excellent mentor. He introduced and trained me in the quantitative skills of political science, and encouraged research and publication. Our joint undertakings led to several publications, including one on Middle East conflict published in the prestigious Journal of Conflict Resolution,” Lussier recalled. “He also encouraged research and publication involving my Latin American area studies. Jon had a very significant impact on my development as a political scientist.”

GVPT also provided Lussier with several additional opportunities. In summer 1970, with UMD support, Lussier traveled to the University of Michigan to attend the Inter-University Consortium for Political Research, an experience that Lussier said helped hone her statistical and quantitative skills.

In 1971, Lussier was selected as a Maryland Fellow. Shortly thereafter, her name was submitted to fill a graduate student position on the U.S. Commissioner of Education’s Advisory Committee on Accreditation and Institutional Eligibility.  She was selected.  

“That experience resulted in my learning a great deal about accreditation and then, over the years, it resulted in my serving on accreditation teams evaluating institutions in various parts of the U.S.,” said Lussier.

As Lussier was beginning her final year at Maryland, and writing her dissertation, she asked the UMD Chancellor, Charles Edward Bishop, whether she could spend some time shadowing him to learn about the various responsibilities of university administrators. This led to a yearlong assignment as a special project assistant in the UMD’s Office of the Chancellor.  

This experience in the Chancellor’s Office resulted in connections that led to Lussier’s first professional career appointment as Assistant Director of the Project on Academic Collective Bargaining, funded by Carnegie Corporation and sponsored by three higher education associations in Washington D.C.  

This project, based at the Association of American Colleges, provided those in higher education with information, consulting services, and research results on collective bargaining. This experience, which included visits to college campuses, greatly increased Lussier’s knowledge of academia.

Lussier’s experience working for UMD’s Chancellor showed her how much she enjoyed the challenges and the solving of problems faced by university administrators. During her career, she went on to work for provosts at Delaware, Rutgers (New Brunswick), and Saint Louis universities, as well as serve as associate dean at both Saint Louis University and California State University, Northridge (CSUN). At most of the universities, she held academic rank and taught, as well as held full-time administrative positions. 

Along the way, Lussier coordinated multiple conferences on issues related to women on several campuses; supervised the Rutgers-New Brunswick Division of Continuing Education and provided oversight for continuing education and summer sessions campus-wide; served as University Coordinator for Saint Louis University’s Student Outcomes Assessment Program; and administered CSUN’s Judicial Internship Program. She also co-authored two books—Women’s Lives: Perspectives on Progress and Change and Women, the Arts & the 1920’s in Paris and New York—and wrote a multitude of articles, papers, and grants.     

In addition to her UMD master’s and Ph.D. degrees, Lussier, a first-generation college student raised by a single mother who spent her early years in a multi-ethnic Los Angeles neighborhood, earned a B.A. from Washington College, an M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, and an Executive M.B.A. from Rutgers. Lussier was also a Fulbright Scholar in Bolivia. 

Because of her childhood concern about the needs of those around her, and because of their support for the intellectual and skills development of students and university employees, Lussier is particularly proud of two of the grants she coordinated, which were awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.  

The first was for $550,000 for 1990-1992, to establish a Workplace Literacy Project for Rutgers University and two New Brunswick hospitals. The project served close to 600 employees at these institutions through classes and tutorials in reading, mathematics, English as a Second Language (ESL), and critical thinking.  An additional grant for $125,000 from the New Jersey Department of Education extended this literacy project to the Camden and Newark Campuses of Rutgers.  Based on these programs, Lussier co-developed a Workplace Education Center at Rutgers, New Brunswick to provide reading and writing improvement opportunities and ESL communication skills to university employees working in Physical Plant, Dining Services, and Housing Divisions.

The second grant, for Step Up to College, was $2.6 million for California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and its partner, Glendale Community College, in 2001-2006 to enhance the college-readiness of Hispanic students and to prepare them to graduate from college with baccalaureate degrees. The project funded curriculum development, created high school writing centers, provided English and math workshops for high school and college faculty, supported field trips and weekend stays to various Los Angeles area universities, among other activities. 

Over the years, this project substantially increased the number of Hispanic students admitted to CSUN and other colleges/universities as well as increased those graduating with four-year degrees.    

Lussier’s lifelong concern about the intellectual development and well-being of others, and recognition of the opportunities given to her at UMD to develop and advance her career, is what ultimately inspired her to “give back” to assist other graduate students and faculty in GVPT to advance and enhance their careers.