March 6, 2024

PBA Celebrates Women’s History Month: Honoring President Debra A. Schwinn

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PBA's Ninth President Committed to Biblical Values

PBA Celebrates Women’s History Month

Dr. Debra A. Schwinn became Palm Beach Atlantic University’s ninth president during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past four years, she and her leadership team have strived to provide students with the best Christ-first, whole-person education possible.

Dr. Schwinn, a blend of academic brilliance and medical and science mastery, with a B.A. in Chemistry from The College of Wooster and an M.D. from Stanford University School of Medicine, honed her leadership skills through Harvard’s prestigious program for Physician and Scientist chairs. She has worked in leadership roles at Duke University, the University of Washington, and the University of Iowa. 

Recently, Dr. Schwinn was named a South Florida Business Journal 2024 Influential Women in Business. “I was initially surprised to be named an honoree,” said Dr. Schwinn, adding that she initially thought this award was reserved for business CEOs, CFOs and accountants. However, after thinking about how God has blessed PBA in recent years with growth, she saw it fitting to have a Christian university built on traditional biblical values, mentioned among other important financial institutions. 

“What the world needs today is values-based education that results in ethical leaders in business and various professions,” said Dr. Schwinn. 

Under her stewardship, PBA has soared to impressive academic accolades, including receiving the prestigious AACSB accreditation, positioning the university within the elite top six percent of business schools worldwide. Under Dr. Schwinn’s leadership, the university launched the God-Sized Dreams capital campaign and, thanks to the support of generous donors, broke ground for the Marshall and Vera Lea Rinker Business Hall in January 2024, a testament to the institution’s commitment to investing in future business leaders and the growth of the Palm Beaches. Additionally, Dr. Schwinn welcomed the two largest incoming classes in the university’s 55-year history, indicating PBA’s growing influence and appeal.

Utilizing Unique Skills and Abilities in Leadership 

When starting her career, Dr. Schwinn noticed that while there was an increasing number of female medical students, only a small number moved up the ranks to become leaders as department chairs or medical school deans. She believes it is important to recognize women in fields without historic gender diversity because their presence may inspire younger generations to identify like-minded mentors and supportive communities. “I hope women will find themselves saying… ‘if she can do it, I can see myself doing it,” she said.

In her own life, Dr. Schwinn has found that some of her best role models have been men, particularly those strong enough to support women. According to Dr. Schwinn, a good role model is more a sponsor than a mentor. While a mentor models and teaches, a sponsor pushes you out into the world by providing opportunities to explore your own limits. 

Dr. Schwinn says Women’s History Month celebrates how women and men can use their differences to create synergy and accomplish various goals. She believes men and women often see situations differently, and each provides unique suggestions for reaching current and potential consumers even more effectively. 

Overcoming Challenges and Learning from Difficulties

Dr. Schwinn’s presidency has been marked by a commitment to fostering a safe, united, and God-honoring community, particularly during the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic. She views trials as lessons from God, teaching resilience and the ability to adapt one’s skills to unexpected roles and circumstances.

Dr. Schwinn advises people to remember that “God uses everything.” She never expected to use her clinical expertise as a university president. Still, during the pandemic, she found herself able to make informed decisions that helped keep the community safe.  

Indeed, learning from difficulties can be a marker of mature leadership. “Often, we get discouraged when there are difficulties in life, but you can completely turn that around and say, ‘What is God teaching me right now?'” she added. 

Dr. Schwinn thinks finding communities of encouragement and support is essential during challenging and good times. She believes some significant contributors to her ability to excel at PBA are due to the support of her husband, Bob Gerstmyer, her church, and the community of West Palm Beach. She describes WPB as a wonderful “overgrown small town” where, at the end of the day, people genuinely care about each other and want to collaborate and help. 

Another source of support is other presidents in the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), a national consortium of Christian universities. She has found it very helpful to hear how other leaders have addressed a given scenario before deciding her own course of action within a PBA context. She also enjoys being a source of support for others. 

Passion for the Arts 

Finally, another tool Dr. Schwinn has found helpful as President of PBA is her creative spark, which she discovered when she was young playing the violin. Through violin, she came to know Christ at a summer music camp in high school and grew passionate about supporting the arts. 

“Liberal arts disciplines, as well as arts and ministry disciplines, resonate more deeply in our souls, nurturing vibrant areas that make us strong humans,” she said.  

Learn more about Dr. Schwinn and the programs offered at PBA at

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