When Dr. Gill Robinson Hickman opened a copy of The Chronicle of Higher Education a little over 20 years ago, she saw an ad that would change the course of her career and the lives of countless University of Richmond students.

“I had actually heard about the Jepson School before I moved to Richmond,” says Hickman. “But I saw the ad and thought the mission of the School sounded wonderful – and that if I could work anywhere in the world, that’s where I would work.”

When Hickman came for her interview, Jepson Hall was still being built. “You had to wear hard hats to go through it,” she recalls. “But I knew then that this was where I belonged.”

When she retires this spring, she will have made her mark on the field of leadership studies and on the nation’s first school of leadership studies. As an inaugural member of the faculty, she has helped to shape the School and the curriculum, and counts herself lucky to have had such a unique opportunity. 

“The curriculum was primarily on paper when I got here,” she says. “Each of the faculty members had classes to develop from the ground up.” Leadership in Organizations and Leading Change are two classes Hickman developed. She has written and edited books on those same topics.

“I really focused on textbooks because I desperately needed them to teach my courses and I thought other instructors would need them, too,” she recalls. “Both books have done really well.” The publisher now wants her to work on a third edition of “Leading Organizations,” and she has presented research from her work all over the world to both academics and practitioners.

Hickman has also used those two classes to engage the community and help students put theory to practice. “Through community engagement, students see that the theories we’re talking about really do play out in real life,” she says. “And it’s a way my students and I can give back.” Her Theories and Models of Leadership classes this year did leadership assessments for local organizations.

“Her students tackled projects in the community before notions of community-based learning became commonplace in higher education,” says Sandra J. Peart, dean of the Jepson School.

Although Hickman’s career includes both administrative and academic appointments, it is evident that teaching is her passion. “I love ideas and concepts, and to be able to convey them to students in a way that they can get excited about and put into practice. For me, there’s no greater joy."

Although Hickman is looking forward to retirement, she may come back to teach the occasional class after taking a year off. When she does, it will be as professor emerita. She also has another book in the works, on invisible leadership, which will be published next year.

“One can hardly imagine the School without Gill,” says Peart. “She has had an extraordinary influence on the lives of our students and on her colleagues and is a tireless advocate for them. She demonstrates every day what we mean when we speak of teaching ‘for and about’ leadership.”

As for the future of the Jepson School, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2012-13, Hickman says it couldn’t be brighter. “I’m so excited about the new faculty we have selected and where the School is headed,” she says.

“It’s going to be a whole new era.”