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New Provost encourages studies in science

Bonne Marie Bautista

Ask Sandra Greer why she chose to come to Mills, and the College’s newly-appointed provost will say that after 30 years working in a male-centric educational environment, she is ready to use her passion for undergraduate women’s issues and her expertise in the sciences to benefit a place that is all about women.

Dr. Greer comes to Mills from the University of Maryland at College Park, where she taught chemistry and chemical engineering beginning in 1978 and was the first woman hired on the regular research track in those departments. She was selected for Mills because, as President Holmgren stated in a May 2 press release, Greer’s commitment to the education of women in science, and her dedication to a tradition of academic excellence for women, made her an ideal choice for the position.

“Dr. Greer has spoken with conviction about the ways in which the mission and values of Mills match her own,” Holmgren said. “Mills College is most fortunate to be able to attract such an outstanding leader in higher education and the sciences to our highest academic post.”

Greer would like to use her new position at Mills to foster an environment where women are encouraged to study the sciences; a career path which, she has discovered first-hand, is not always easy when one is female. She recalls conferences early in her career at which she was one of very few women among hundreds of men. She remembers offensive slides in scientific presentations, used to put down women for the amusement of men. And she can name a handful of job opportunities denied her because of her gender. But, she says, as time goes on, the playing field facing women scientists is slowly but surely improving.

“I have seen real progress during the course of my career, that the number of undergraduate women interested in sciences is, overall, approaching level of interest with men as undergraduates,” Greer said.

In only a few short weeks, Greer’s experience and advice has already been a source of encouragement and inspiration to students and faculty alike. Visiting Assistant Professor of biology Helen Walter noted that the students in this year’s summer Hellman math and science program were enthralled by what Greer shared with them about career options in the sciences during one meeting session on August 13. Walter said she found herself quite enraptured as well.

“I don’t think many of the students were expecting such an honest, open approach to the subject and all of us, myself included, were fascinated,” Walter said. “The students had just completed four weeks of an intense summer program and were exhausted, but I heard many of them saying they would have stayed longer to listen to her talk about her experiences and her advice.”

Greer stressed that it’s important for the Mills community to realize that the College’s potential for excellence in the sciences was not the only factor that interested her in Mills. She stated that she is very interested in “increasing the intellectual climate” in the Arts and Humanities departments as well, and in working to provide further co-curricular experiences for all students. She also noted that from the beginning she was impressed by Mills’ unique commitment to diversity, though “diversity” is hardly the word she would use to describe what she saw.

“‘Diversity’ is getting to be such a hackneyed, well-worn term,” Greer said. “What it is at Mills is a real, deep commitment to take in women as Mills students who can profit from the Mills experience, no matter.what background, in any sense of the word, they come from.”

Greer’s goal for the year ahead is to work toward improving the experience of every Mills student, as she continually looks to answer the question of what constitutes an appropriate education for women in 2008.

“The liberal frame of mind here is impressive, and that’s one of the things that attracted me to the student body, that the institution itself has a big heart,” she said. “The institution has a big heart.”