Margaret Cleary Dean ’93 has worked in a range of professional fields, including active duty in the U.S. Navy, a startup software engineering firm, a Professional Staff Member for Congress, and now as a commanding officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and senior professional staff member at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
Among her extensive career experience that has taken her around the globe, the lessons about leadership and relationships she learned from GPS still resonate with her today.
Ready to Serve
Growing up in the Volunteer State and with family members in the Navy, Dean knew she wanted to serve. She visited the U.S. Naval Academy as a child and loved the ocean. That combination led her to earn her degree at the Academy in ocean engineering—and she felt support from her fellow GPS graduates.
“Of my two closest friends at GPS, one joined the Peace Corps and the other spends months volunteering as physician in Haiti,” Dean says. “Social involvement and volunteering is just part of the culture at GPS. My peers dedicated their lives to giving back. Service to our nation was natural for me. I’m passionate about our country and I wanted to support defending our rights and values.”
Dean left active duty and maintained a civilian job focused on strategic education to support an academic system for the future. At the same time, she was doing reserve work in the Pentagon and was recruited for her strategic thinking and leadership skills to join the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University.
“Everything I have done in my life has been enabled by GPS,” Dean says. “I believe single-sex education first teaches you how to lead yourself and then to lead others in small and large groups.”
She sees the power of confidence that springs from single-sex schools in her daughters; one struggled at a coed middle school until she was able to transfer to an all-girls school in the D.C. area.
“She went from being isolated to selected for a prestigious leadership position in no time at the girls’ school,” Dean says. “Her personality opened up. It helped me realize the benefit of these schools and how they magnify an individual within my own family.”
Relationships for Life
Dean gained a sense of leadership and strong values from her time at GPS, and they have resurfaced repeatedly, in both positive and challenging experiences.
“I love my alma mater. The relationships I built there and through my life are so critical,” she says. “I know I could call any girl I graduated with and she would be a rock for me. Those are the kinds of relationships I’ve used as a foundation for how I want to treat others and be treated, and it’s how I’ve chosen to lead and be led.”
In 2012 she experienced gender discrimination in mobilization training, where she was made to stand in the entrance of doorways instead of coming into meeting rooms. The situation presented a tremendous struggle—and prompted two years of legal proceedings—but shined a light on the strength of positive leadership, supportive relationships, and shared values of respect.
“Many men said they didn’t understand the problem because a commanding officer made the policy,” Dean says. “Sometimes the wrong leader can make a decision that isn’t just bad but illegal—and other people follow along because they lack a basic sense of values.”
During the incident, she turned to her GPS classmates, whom she knew she could rely on for core strength and emotional support. In that way, too, GPS still impacts her life with encouraging relationships.
“GPS influenced my life not just years ago while a student," Dean says, "but where I am now, who I am, and who I reach out to today to help me into the future."