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Carmen Twillie Ambar

Episode 43: How Access to Educational Opportunities Can Transform Society, with Carmen Twillie Ambar

Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Lynn S. Evans and I am the host of Power Of The Purse Podcast. There was a time in my life, not too long ago, when I believed three things about money. One, women are not supposed to talk about or be included in any conversations about money. Number two, women don’t have the natural ability to understand anything about money. Three, men know best how to manage money. Those truths I made up about money guided me for years until I realized money was not a foreign language or some other obscure, academic exercise. It was something I could not only understand, but teach to other women.

Too many times, I’ve heard stories from women who ought to know better but didn’t until they were forced to because of divorce, widowhood, job loss, or the approach of retirement. This podcast will add another chapter to a rich history of successful women who when faced with some personal challenges, found the ability to step beyond them. We’ll examine some of the truths they made up about money from their life experiences and how that shaped the paths they chose. My mission is to help women have a healthy, positive, relationship with money.

With that in mind, my guest today is Dr. Carmen Twillie Ambar. She is the current president of Cedar Crest College, its 13th president.

Carmen Twillie Ambar came to Cedar Crest College as its 13th president in 2008. She serves on the board of a number of organizations. She’s been awarded a number of awards including being honored by the Governor’s office as a distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania. Prior to her time at Cedar Crest, she had a successful tenure as vice president and dean of Douglas College at Rutgers University where she was the youngest dean in the university’s history. She served as an assistant dean of graduate education at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

As an attorney, she previously worked in the New York City law department as an assistant corporation counsel. She earned her Juris Doctorate from Columbia School of Law, her master’s in public affairs from Princeton University, and her bachelor of science degree in foreign service from Georgetown University.

She is married to Saladin Malik Ambar, PhD, associate professor at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University and they have 10-year-old triplets, Gabrielle, Luke, and Daniel.

Welcome, Dr. Ambar.

Glad to be here.

As I just said offline here, I am so excited that you are a guest on my podcast for so many reasons, not the least of which is that you have been the president of my alma mater. It was during your tenure as president that you asked me to be the commencement speaker in 2013 and then I was awarded the Alumni of the Year award, same month, same year. It was pretty awesome. It was a Lynn Evans month.

Yeah, that was a Lynn Evans month and well deserved because I think it’s important for me, for our students, to see distinguished alumni and for really all of us to see images that we can look to, to know that what we want to achieve is possible. You certainly were that for our students and we were so happy that you decided to be a part of commencement and to accept the alumni award.

Well, thank you so much. You talk about people who certainly are those that we like to look up to you… You set such a shining example! I am just inspired by you because I think what you’ve done is just incredible. I can’t wait to get into the stories about what you did. Let’s start with your decision to go to law school. Tell me about that. What prompted you to do that?

It’s interesting. I always saw myself as doing something that changed society, sort of move things in the right direction. I think it’s not a coincidence in some ways that I happened to grow up in Little Rock, Arkansas. This town that was really one of the hotbeds of segregation and those issues around education and law and how those interact in a way to change society. I grew up in that small town and ultimately, over time, saw myself working on education issues but always how legal issues and education policy intertwined. I knew from a really very young age, probably since I was maybe 10, it’s kind of the age of the triplets, that I wanted to be a lawyer. It was just later on that I found the mix between education and legal issues.

You started actually not even in law. You started an international bachelor of science degree in foreign service. Why there? I mean Georgetown and foreign service, what were you thinking with that combination?

When I was first coming of age and was thinking about legal issues, I sort of thought I wanted to be an international lawyer. I was very interested in international issues. I went when I was a junior in high school. I went to Japan for three months and I really saw myself doing international issues, which is why I ended up at Georgetown and did my really core work around international economics and legal issues. I ended up going to this summer program at Princeton for students who are interested in international affairs and domestic polices, so despite my interest in international issues, in that summer program, you did both. You spent the first two or three weeks doing international issues. The second couple of weeks doing domestic policy.

I guess in some ways in that domestic policy module, I guess I just got reconnected to my roots. Everyone in my family, my parents and on my father’s side and my mother’s side were all educators. They’re all teachers, they’re all principals, they’re all administrators. Just education policy and education was really the way they spent their time. I think it was going back to that that got me interested in legal issues and education politics because that’s really what my family did. That’s kind of how we thought about ourselves and so it’s not surprising to me. Even though I still honestly have a deep commitment to international issues and, frankly, a lot of the things I’ve done at the colleges that I’ve had an opportunity to lead have been focused on international issues, I think I’ve gotten the chance to do them both but certainly my core focus is on education and how education can transform society.

I also think we should acknowledge the fact that one of the initiatives you brought to Cedar Crest was something you called the Sophomore Expedition.


This is a short-term abroad experience. Tell me, is that an extension of what you’re talking about here that you wanted the students to go out and learn about the world outside of the borders of the United States?

Absolutely. Every institution I’ve been a part of, we’ve done some significant international projects. This one, and I’m so excited about this one for Cedar Crest because I have been talking about this since I interviewed for the job, it was about two pieces. One, if you’re going to teach young women, in particular, to lead the world, they have to see the world. Cedar Crest happens to have 44% of our students are first-generation college students. Oftentimes, they may not have had a chance to study abroad. Yet, when you look at all the research around, one of the most transformative experiences that can happen to students at college is the opportunity to study abroad. Yet, many students are denied that opportunity because they don’t have the financial means to experience it.

What we were committed to at Cedar Crest was what we call an experience that everybody could participate in and the only reason it wouldn’t happen for you is because you opted out. This is a fully funded experience that the college is paying. The only thing the students have to do is to pay for their passport and they will spend 7 to 10 days away, yes, seeing sights but mainly being of service, doing service work. The first trip will be to Rio De Janeiro. While I won’t be here in August to announce the second destination, it is equally as fabulous and every year, every sophomore class at Cedar Crest in the historic women’s college will have this trip abroad. I believe that it’s going to change the way they think about not only the world but what they can do in the world and that’s what I’m really excited about. It is certainly true but it was one the first things they talked about when I interviewed for the job and I’m so pleased that that this will be one of the, I hope, legacy points for that lead for Cedar Crest.

Well, that’s an awesome legacy, I can tell you that because I can say, when I was there in junior year, probably I’d say 7 out of 10 of my closest friends who were my college…not roommates but I guess we just call them buddies, they all went in January to London. They toured all of the British islands. They did it through the choir. The choir had set up all these places throughout the British Isles for them to perform and that was how they got to see all these wonderful things. I was invited to attend. I wasn’t a member the choir, but I didn’t have the funds to do it. I just think how much they loved it and how much they talked about it and I just wish I had something, so this, I think, is just… What a gift. That is just fabulous.

I think it’s going to change … I believe that it will change our campus. As you have, every year, students coming back. Imagine a campus where everybody on campus has been abroad for 7 to 10 days except that first-year class that’s entering. I think it’s going to change our discussions. I think it’s going to change the expectations that students have about their role in shaping the world. I think it’s going to change the feel of our campus as we have all of these students coming back from these wonderful study abroad experiences.

Yeah, it’s got to be a wonderful thing. I’m just so thrilled. Tell me, how did you get involved in the administrative side of education? I understand your parents were educators and all that stuff makes a lot of sense, but when did you decide that you were going to start to become involved with a position as assistant dean and dean and all the… When did you go that track?

Well, I think that I knew… I practiced law for several years and I did that not only because I enjoyed it but also because I thought that in order to really get the full benefit of my legal education and then really, I think, have the complete skill set, that practicing law was important. I’m glad I did that. I think that was the right move. I was a litigator. I was in court really every day for four years and the skill set that you get from writing briefs, presenting persuasive arguments, working with opposing counsel, I mean all those things I think I’ve used multiple times in my career as an administrator, but I knew that I wanted to go in education.

I always knew that that was kind of what I wanted to do. I honestly thought I would be a general counsel somewhere, that I would be the attorney for a college, that I had sort of moved in that direction, but the opportunity came open to really go back to Princeton. I had been a student there and I had done both the master’s and public affairs and then their joint program.

It’s really an opportunity to go back to that institution and really run those programs. Honestly, I thought it was kind of my foot in the door in education. I knew I wanted to do that sort of work, in education in general, and be on a college campus, and this was kind of a foot in the door opportunity. I took it and had a chance to be an assistant dean there, but it wasn’t until I went for the first interview for the dean of Douglas College that I ever thought about being a college president. I hadn’t thought about that before until I was in that interview. I was relatively young for a deanship and so one of the questions that happened in that interview process was about 20… It was a panel of people. I was sitting in a room with 20, 25 people that were in a room all at once and someone asked me almost jokingly what did I want to be when I grow up because I was so young.

That’s great.

Honestly, I don’t think I had any other thoughts other than what’s the next thing after dean, right?


I kind of skipped over…and some other things that I probably should have thought of. The first thing that popped in my mind was college president.


There was an African-American woman who was sitting on that panel and she responded to me, as I said that out loud, almost kind of blurting it out, looking for an answer, she said to me, “You will be a college president. You will be one.” It’s so interesting because I just recently had a conversation with her about my appointment to be president of Oberlin and she was one of my references for that position because in some ways, I think, it was her…it was me speaking it out loud but her immediate affirmation, “Absolutely, you will be a college president,” that I think started the spark towards where my career has ultimately landed.

Yeah. Wow. That’s definitely prophetic that she said that and there you are.


You’re in that role. I think that’s wonderful. What’s really nice is that she was one of your sponsors, so to speak.

Well, interesting because I called her back to say… I simply said to her, “What happens when you’re in the presidential…” As you get way down the line and at some point they asked you to provide some references for folks and so I sent her a note and said, “Well, you started all of this.”

It’s your problem.


It’s your problem. That’s neat. I like that. Tell me about some of the times… I mean we are going to say … You just mentioned that this woman was also an African-American woman but you have also, I’m sure, come across times when that insidious type of discrimination was there. Can you recall any time when that happened and how you got over it, how you passed through it?

There’s certainly been times in my career where I felt like things didn’t quite happen that I thought should have happened, given the things I had done, where there was a position that I pursued or a moment where someone was not as generous as I thought they should be. I’ve certainly had moments… No, even this position that I’m in right now where someone said they didn’t want to meet with me even though I was the president, because of my skin color, so that certainly has happened, where someone in the advancement office went to meet with an alum or someone connected with the institution, and someone refused to meet with me, and indicated pretty clearly that it was because of my race.

Oh, man.

I have to say that some of it has to do with my upbringing. I’m originally from Little Rock, Arkansas. I was born and raised in what we consider the Deep South. My dad grew up picking cotton in his formative years and really decided to go to college to get out of that life. My parents had this dual kind of framing on the way they thought about issues of race. They certainly knew that it would be impacting and that gender would be impacting but they wanted to make sure that you never used that as a reason why something didn’t happen.


Some of that was about the kind of thing that you hear a lot when you sit around with a group of African-Americans to say you have to be better than, twice as good, in order to kind of get what you deserve, so there’s this expectation of high achievement, to do it at the highest levels because only by doing so can you kind of receive what you should get. There’s a kind of relentlessness to that approach, but also since you can’t be in kind of victim mode, that’s not going to serve you well either. I think my parents did a good job of balancing those two things, of saying, “Hey, you can be successful. You have to give your best and maybe you’re going to have to work harder than the next person but so be it,” but also saying that you… Because I think the reason to remove that kind of victimhood framing on it is that it’s a perspective. It makes you feel like that you don’t have the ability to shape your own destiny. My parents were really good about that.

In fact, I don’t believe that some things might not have come to pass and they should have, but one of the things all the time is that, yes, there will be times when something doesn’t happen because of your gender or your race or because you’re from this state or because you wear these shoes or whatever it is, but you also will have opportunities in your life. That is also true. The question is will you be prepared when those opportunities meet you? That’s what success is. Preparation and opportunity meeting up with each other. What you have to focus on is your preparation because if you are prepared, there will be opportunities, will you be ready to seize them when they come, and my parents spent a lot of time helping me be prepared to seize the opportunity.

It sounds like they are fabulous human beings and it’s really… They had their eye on the ball on that one.

Yeah, they’re great.

Did you ever wonder, when you came across something like that, whether it was more because of your race rather than your gender that stopped people from promoting you?

It’s interesting. I mean it’s been an interesting journey for me around issues of gender I think partly because of where I’m from, sort of regionally in this country, and I think partly because of my parents’ experience. My parents grew up during segregation and its very more severe forms that race was so dominating, you almost didn’t even think about gender that much.


It’s really only been since I’ve had the opportunity to lead women’s colleges that the issue of gender, that I’ve had a chance to even think about it as much. Before that, race was still dominating maybe because of my older framing on the world but certainly because of my parents’ viewpoints.

Certainly, I think things have happened around… Gender comes up more, for me, because I’ve been in leadership roles when I’ve had that in my mind more and some of it is just about the way you walk into the room, right?


I mean, oftentimes, in situations and I’m sure you have been, when you walk in the room, you’re the only one in the room, when you walk into these business settings. I remember doing an event recently here where they asked all of the leaders in the valley to come in and I walked into the room and I was the only person of color and only woman. When I think about, honestly in this era, is that we just shouldn’t have that happen very much anymore.

I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s ridiculous.

We’ve just got to get past that. Whenever I walk into a room like that where we’re in that setting, I start to think about what work can I do to change that because what I think we have gotten better at in most industries is that at least we’ll recognize that that’s probably a problem if that’s what’s happening. At least people will realize, “Oh, gosh. There are no people of color in this room. There are no women in this room.” That means that our decisions are not as good as they would be. That means that our ability to move whatever organization we’re a part of is not as good as it would be. I think, at least in most industries, people have started to recognize that and they recognize that they probably needed some work to change that if that’s the situation.

Yeah, I agree with you. I think people are far more conscious now about the need for diversity and how that affects the value of any decision they make, versus people looking at you or me and saying, “Oh, she’s a woman. She probably whatever,” fill in the blank, whatever their previous position is, but I think you’re right. I think it’s shifted now. Instead of it being the oddity, it’s more about we should have more because it’s obvious that there’s only one rather than just one.

I think that there’s been a lot of great research out there. The Catalyst Group is one of them that has talked about even decisions around… One of the things we’ve done is to just say pretty point blank. Even if you don’t want diversity because you value it, because you think it’s good in and of itself. If you’re interested in better decisions, if you’re interested in profit-making, if you’re a for-profit organization, all of the research out there says that you will have stronger, better profit if you have a more diverse board of directors or leadership team. Even if it’s just mercenary that’s worth it from that perspective. I’m happy about that at least from that perspective.

I think in the past, people have viewed diversity sometimes for the diverse group like, “Let’s help them out” because it’s almost altruistic. My view of this is no, it’s not altruism, it’s better for the organization. It’s better for the institution, so it’s not because we need those women or those people of color to be helped. Our organization is better off if we do this work of diversifying our workforce, our leadership team, our board of directors.

Yeah. It’s kind of like better for the bottom line.


Anybody can buy that.


Let me take this opportunity to switch our conversation. We started talking about your family and what that was like, but I’d like to just dig into that a little bit more. You said that your father was the person who decided to go to college because he wanted to get out of the traditional, very, very limited roles for African-American men in the south. Where did your mom fit into all this too?

She’s interesting. She grew up in a small town too, Searcy, Arkansas. My dad was in this town called Caulk but they referred to it as Dark Corner in this pejorative way that you refer to African-American. He grew up in this town and he really wanted out of that financial situation and as I’ve said about him, he would look up from the hot-beating sun. He would tell me that story. He’d be out there picking cotton and he would say, “I don’t know what I want to do but I know I don’t want to do this” and that was kind of his impetus. My mom on the other hand, she grew up in a small town. There was a fair amount of education on my mom’s side of the family, but she decided to do something pretty unique for a young black girl at that time. She wanted to go and get a PhD then.


As I said about her, that’s just divinely-inspired because there’s just not any images for her to think about that.


She really had the desire to pursue some of the highest level of academic achievement. I think that that’s how the two kind of mixed. My dad with his intensity to sort of escape this dire economic situation and my mom, having more education, but also wanting to do something that was really unique and distinctive. I grew up with these really interesting parents who understood the transformational power of education and really instill that in their children.

Wow. Where were you in the birth order?

I’m the middle child. I have an older brother and a younger brother. I’m the middle, only daughter. My mom actually goes back to get her PhD when she’s married and has three children.

Well, I wonder where that came into play in your life.

Right, right. My mom actually had to live away from our family for an entire year, six hours away, and she actually went to a women’s college, Texas Woman’s University, to get her PhD. She goes away and leaves for this year, six hours away from our family. I was seven years old at that time and as I said about that image, first of all, it told me that my mother’s success was family success. That was a real decision for my father, particularly in that era, to, I don’t want to say permit, but I think in that timeframe, the right phrase is permit his wife to go and be away from the family and he has to work and take care of these three children by himself. Essentially, my grandmother came to help but he was doing that by himself. It taught me that my mother’s success was family success and it taught me that a life and family life could exist in the same human being.

That was really my first… When I think about that image and my mom doing that, that was really one of my first moments where I thought about money and careers because the reason my dad permitted and supported my mom doing that is because they knew that if she were a college professor, that she could make more money, but that she could also have more flexibility because she was a high school teacher at the time. It was a decision that “Well, this is best for our family,” because as mom goes [for] this PhD and she goes to be a college professor, she can… At that time, she wasn’t going to make more money in the first few years because at that time, she was higher up the financial sort of chain at the secondary school level, but over time in the future, she would be able to make more and she certainly would have more flexibility and that was part of the impetus for her going to get the PhD.

Then what was your father’s degree? Was he a teacher in high school?

My father ultimately becomes the high school principal. He goes on to get a graduate degree. At that time, I don’t know where dad… Dad might have been a coach at that time. He starts out and waited a lot of… Men start out as administration at the secondary school level. They start out as coaches. They go and they get graduate degrees and master’s degrees and degrees that sort of our administration and then they ultimately find themselves at the principal’s. My dad ends his career as a high school principal but starts out, I think, sort of with seventh and eighth graders.

When you and your siblings were in school, was he the principal of the school the time you were there?

No. He was in another school district and we were in the Little Rock School District and he was out in the Pulaski County School District in Little Rock.

Okay. What was your first memory around money?

I think my first memory was that decision for my mom to be away from the family for a year so she could ultimately make more money. I think we all understood that that was the reason why she was doing that. Then I think after that … My parents were very traditional in some ways and that my dad was the person who kind of looked after the financial well-being of the family. It was very clear that he was the person who did that, but I will say that my grandmother was always the type of grandmother who would say things like, “You know, you always have to have money scrolled away that only you know about.”

That’s one of these things my grandmother would say, that… It was, yes, in that era, sort of the men kind of had authority over the money but there was always this sense that you never wanted to be in a situation where your life was being controlled by, in this case, a husband where you didn’t have some ability to have your own resources and that’s a pretty strong tradition in our family on the women’s side of things.

What lessons about money did you learn when you were growing up?

I think the good lessons I learned were about saving particularly for retirement. My parents were very, very committed to that and I think that I have taken that with me in terms of being really secure you’re around retirement.

That’s great.

Yeah. I think that my parents really thought that was important. I think that my parents were very good around not spending more than your means. They were very frugal in their resources and not spending above what you could afford. I think I had some early parts in my life where I didn’t do as well with that, despite the fact that I think my parents were providing good models and good lessons. I think the negative thing I learned was because my dad was kind of the person who kind of controlled the finances, I think sometimes you model your own relationship after your parents’ relationship and that doesn’t necessarily mean that your spouse has the skill set. I would say that’s one of the things I learned over time is that because that was more of my skill set, to be the person who kind of managed our family resources because it wasn’t the still set for my spouse at all.


I think we got into some decisions that I think were not the right decisions financially just because, frankly, I think he would agree that the wrong person was managing it, but I had this model. Well, that’s how it happened in my house.


What I think would have been more helpful for my parents to say is that the reason why dad is doing this is because he has the skill set, not because of his gender, right?

Yeah. I think that’s an important point to make, that most marriages are based on that very assumption that you said that the assumption is the husband will handle most everything having to do with the big-picture finances.


The wife may, of the traditional thing, is in some way shape or form, she gets a certain amount, a stipend, let’s call it that. From that, she has to pay certain bills, the household bills, and give those, the rest of it, to the kids for allowances or whatever, but the big-picture stuff pretty much is still the husband. I think it’s fascinating that you and Dina got to the point where you said, “Hey, maybe we don’t have the skill sets we thought we should have by birth.”

Right. Right.

That’s great.

That was even the case, which I think is so interesting, because some of the reason why I think it flowed out that way is because the men in the relationship oftentimes had made more money than the women and so it kinds of flowed in that way. This is an instance where that wasn’t the case. The positions that I’ve had have been some of the higher paid positions in terms of our relationship. Yet, we still kept that model I think because of societal models, frankly, and certainly in my family’s model.

It took me some time to get out of that despite, I think, of my own sort of education around these issues, to go “Wait a minute. The person who should do it is the person who has the skill set.” It’s not because it has anything to do with gender, it does not have anything to do with who makes the most money, it doesn’t have anything to do with any of that. It has to do with who has the skill set to do this in the way that fulfills the goals that we have as a family financially. That’s the person who should do it. Once we switched that, I think things worked out much better because there was just someone there who had the ability say, “Yes, we can do this. No, we shouldn’t do this. Here’s the reasons why. Here is how to manage our finances in a way that helps us achieve the goals we want.”

Well, where did you get the skill set from?

Well, I think some of it is… I was an economics major. I was the person who was kind of good in math. That was what did well. That’s where I did well in school. I think that I’m also pretty conservative in terms of my spending, so it allows us to have more choices because I’m the more conservative person, so thinking about the finances. I think that I spent some time, I don’t want to say getting educated, but I was a person who kind of paid attention when they were talking about…when my dad was talking about annuities. My dad really, really early on, before those became a thing around saving for retirement. My dad, obviously, had teacher retirement, but someone came to his office when he was really, really kind of fresh as a teacher and maybe his first couple of years as a principal and said to him, “If I can show you how to put more money in your pocket and save more for retirement, will you think about doing this?”

That was the first time he got into annuities and it served him so well because my mom retired when she was 57 and my dad retired when he was… He’s five years older than my mom, so he was… Mom may have done it 58. Dad may have done it at 62. Yes, they were in the era where there were stronger retirement and pension programs for teachers and also had done well outside of those vehicles. I think it’s just an indication that if you have a goal in a particular area financially and if you will stick to that goal, my parents will always say, “You should always say something,” even if it’s I mean, literally like $10, if that’s all you can do because they were really committed to having retirement income.

Now, they didn’t have the sophistication that I think some people have around building a wealth in other ways and they didn’t have the experience of doing that and I don’t have that same type of knowledge that some people have because it comes from families who’ve experienced that type of opportunity, but once they came, they’ve done I think what you want people to do with their financial resources.

It sounds like they had a good structure, which is what most people don’t have. That sounds pretty good. What is some of the best and the worst financial decisions you’ve ever made?

I think the best financial decisions have been all around retirement income, making sure that I always… I’ve always tried to put the maximum in, particularly when I’ve had matches and even when there were times when it seemed like that I couldn’t afford that. I still did that. I think the worst financial decisions have been around credit cards and just early on in my career, dealing with credit card debt and being a little silly in the way you approach credit cards and how you spend resources that you really probably shouldn’t. I’ve always been in a situation where because I had some real obligations… I mean I had strong student loans that I had to pay back. That took a fair amount of resources but I’ve also been blessed to be in situations where I didn’t have to take a lot of my resources towards mortgages because pretty early on in my career, I had the opportunity to be in the housing provided by universities.

I think that I’ve had some benefits that I think sometimes doesn’t necessarily happen that have allowed me to take resources that might have been devoted to the largest expenditures that most people have, which is some kind of rent or their mortgage and devote those things to my student loan.

When the triplets come to you and say, “Mom, I need some money for this or that…the other thing,” what do you tell them?

It depends. I typically keep the triplets’ money. Any money that they get from the birthday or the special money that grandparents or whoever might give them, I’m the keeper of that money, which creates a lot of frustration in our household.

I’m sure.

People feel like I’m sort of keeping the money, but the reason why I do that is because I want them to have that moment and I think they will when they get to probably around 12 or 13 to see what has been saved for them through all those $2, and $3, and $5 that they’ve gotten over the course of time. It won’t be lots of money but there’ll be $1,500 for each kid or so that I think will be significant.

Then what we’ve tried to do around resources with the kids is to make them make some choices. When we go on trips and you have an allotment of dollars that you have, you can spend it however you want to but you know that this is the allotment for the entire trip. It’s interesting how kids, when it’s their money and it’s their choice and they know they have a timeframe over which this has to last. People start to make, I think, more thoughtful choices than they would if you just say, “Yes, sure. You can get the souvenir” or “Fine, you can have this thing.” It’s been interesting to watch them go, “Oh, okay. Wait a minute. I only have $20 and this has got to last for at least full two weeks and I’m in this particular store and I love this yo-yo, but gosh, that I like.” It’s interesting who says what and who doesn’t and, of course, how to negotiate with each other around, “Wait a minute. If you’ll get this…I’ll get that and we’ll have something together, that would be fantastic.”

That’s terrific. I love it. Do you find that there’s any kind of…animosity is way too strong of word, but any kind of resentment? If they negotiate and try. They’ve each got 20 bucks, so that’s 60 bucks, did they ever try to figure out how they can spend the 60 bucks so that they all get something they really want?

They do. They’re pretty good at figuring out what the value is for the three of them and I think that’s something about… I always say that one of the things that’s hard to figure out when you’re not a multiple is what it means to have your entire life be constructed where two other people are involved in it. Most of us just don’t have that experience, but the challenging part about it is that they happen to negotiate everything, absolutely everything. “Are we going to go to this movie or not? Are going to be…” You’re always in negotiation with two other people, which I think they sometimes find really frustrating, to have to always have that. On the other hand, I think it does create some real good skill set around being persuasive…  How you persuade someone to believe as you believe about this particular thing you want to do. I do think they do some really good work there. “Oh, wait. If you’ll get this, don’t buy that because if you’ll get this, see this comes in packs of two but it’s cheaper.” Then they’ve had a lot of discussion around it.

It’s so funny that my kids do what they call… They call it a triplet meeting. They call triplet meetings periodically and they have some rules around it, one of which is that a person who’s not a triplet can’t go to it, so I’ve never been to a triplet meeting, but triplet meetings oftentimes revolve around “How we’re going to use this money? We just got this… Wait, can we do this?” and they always are negotiating. I think it’ll be a good skill set for them. However they end up with their spouses, they will at least be able to negotiate around resource allocation.

That’s great. I think those are extremely important skills and I never thought about it from that perspective but you’re absolutely right. You’re so used to doing everything with two other voices that have to be taken into consideration. I don’t know how they do that. I mean when they get to be of college age and maybe they’ll all go to the same college, they’ll negotiate that or something, but it should be interesting.

It’d be interesting. One of the things I did for them, I guess, not this summer but last summer is I was on sabbatical, the ability to be on sabbatical. I said to each of them that each of them would get two where they could go with me without their siblings. They could choose whatever they wanted to do. What was so fascinating about that was that for two of them, the other was more interested in being with the siblings, so he wanted the other two to go with him but for one of them, at least, Luke, he was so excited to not have to negotiate anything with them. That was the joy. He was like, “I get a chance …” Now, part of it is because he is the most accommodating and so he’s much more likely to be accommodating to their desires. He was excited that he got a chance to choose without having to listen to their perspective and I think it’s partly because he’s accommodating and the other two are a little less accommodating and so they get their way for a fair amount because they are able to help Luke see their perspective.

I think it’s fascinating just to watch children who are even twins, to see how they work life.


It’s just fascinating to see how they do that. Who would you say is the most influential woman in your life and what advice did she give you?

It’s certainly my mom and really a lot of the women in my family. I mean my grandmother, my mother, some of my aunts, these three women, both my grandparents, both my grandmothers, but they were really… My mom, obviously, was focused on education and giving your best at every moment. My grandmothers and my aunt too were these really strong women who stood in their own feminine power, for lack of a better term. They understood… Because they were in an era where they weren’t able to exercise all of that power, but they knew it was there and they knew it was to be used. I think that I understood that about them. I was the type of kid that would sit around when the women were talking and to be so quiet that they would not know you were there, almost, or they would forget you were there.

If you’re that type of child, you hear all sorts of things around how relationships work or don’t work, what happened in either political situations or situations around town. You just hear things and you hear how people maneuver and negotiate and ultimately, either have what they want to have happen or how those things get forwarded. It’s an interesting way of being if you’re a child that does that and I was that child. I heard their challenges. I heard these moments where they felt taken advantage of. I also heard those moments where they found their avenues of victory and their avenues of success. I was a listener in that way and I think it served me well in my own ability to read people in situations, to understand when something is not quite right, to advocate in ways that you know not only for own well-being but for the well-being of your community, your organization, or institution, and to also stand in your own sort of authority and power and do what you know is right even when it’s difficult.

Valuable, very valuable lesson by observation and I think that’s an important… I was that same kind of kid too. I would sit there and listen to the back and forth banter and I agree with you. Sometimes they forgot you’re even there and they would say things that if they remembered you were there, they probably wouldn’t say.


You learn a lot. I have one last question for you, Carmen. Is there anything left on your bucket list that you’d like to do?

Oh, gosh. I’m not sure there’s anything left that I would like to do. I mean I love to travel. It’s one of the things that I really enjoy doing and so there’s certainly places that I want to go that I haven’t had a chance to go to like Egypt. I haven’t had a chance to see the pyramids. I’d love to do that. Actually, just about 18 months ago in India and I got a chance to see the Taj Mahal, but I find that sometimes things are not on your bucket list but when you’re there, you think “Wow, I’m so glad I had this opportunity.”


I don’t necessarily have what I would call this huge bucket list but there are a lot of experiences that I hope and believe that I will have that when I’m there, I’ll think “Wow, I sure am glad I had a chance to do this.”

Right now, I think the real work for me is helping these three 10-year-old come to their own manhood and womanhood in ways that I can be proud of with the right foundation, both spiritually and financially and educationally and all those ways. That’s one of those things that you really want to get right for these young people. That’s part of my focus. Then, of course, from a career perspective, it’s always been for me what can I learn next? I think because I am around students, it really is about trying to find a way for them to see what the possibilities are for themselves.

When I say possibilities, it’s the expansion of those possibilities. What I find when I speak to students is that they always could dream a little bit bigger about what’s possible and I truly believe that access to educational opportunities transform society for good. For those of us who believe that income inequality is a challenge, that the way to ensure that is to help as many students as we possibly can, see their possibilities through access to education, and then once they get there, to expand what they believe they can achieve. I believe that when you do that, they more often or not go out and change the world for good.

Well, that’s better than going to France on a bucket list. I like that one, thank you. My thanks to my guest today, Dr. Carmen Twillie Ambar, who is the, at this point, outgoing president of Cedar Crest College in Allentown and the future president of Oberlin College in Ohio. I wish you all the best and I say to everybody in my Power Of The Purse Community, I hope today’s podcast was helpful in enriching your understanding of money and how it can help you achieve your life goals. If you’d like to spend 15 minutes on a call with me and ask me questions about your personal finances, please go to my website PowerOfThePursePodcast.com, select the contact tab, and find the time that works for you.

Thanks again, Carmen, for sharing your time and knowledge and until the next time, thanks for listening. Remember, money is not the enemy, your ignorance of it is. Bye.


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