Mills Alumnae Embraces North East Partnership as a Positive Way Forward

OAKLAND, Calif.—Pat Lee remembers when female students at Mills College, a historically all-women’s college founded in 1852, weren’t allowed to wear shorts in class.

It was a problem. “It was a time when Bermuda shorts were very common,” Lee said.

Lee graduated from Mills with a music degree in 1957 and is about to celebrate her 65th class reunion. She was the oldest graduate to march earlier this year, carrying a banner reading 1957.

In his day, Mills was quite different from what you see now: It was largely a residential campus with tight dorm life, and there were no locks on the doors. At a time when the average marriage age for a woman was around 20, Lee got married on campus just a week after graduating.

Since then, she’s seen Mills go through countless changes. For her, the merger with Northeastern is “just one more change, which I hope will be positive”.

Lee’s optimism mimics what many Mills alumni expressed following Northeastern’s merger with the historic college. The passionate alumni are excited to embark on a new chapter in the college’s history and continue to work on Mills’ mission of student care and inclusion in a whole new way.

Mills College alumnus Lucy Do poses for a portrait at Mills College in Northeastern. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Lucy Do experienced this mission firsthand when she encountered a conundrum in her upbringing: she had to take two classes at once. A member of the Mills class of 1975, Do was born in Vietnam and attended high school in California before attending Mills, where she became one of only two women in her class to earn a degree in chemistry.

Like Lee, Do fondly remembers Mills, especially the group dinners in her dorm, where she made lifelong friends. She was also married at the campus chapel, a week before her graduation, and her parents, recently evacuated from Saigon, were able to attend both.

When talking about what makes Mills special, she highlighted the care given to each student. When she was a student at Mills, Do had to take a course in quantitative analysis to get her chemistry degree. Unfortunately, this conflicted with her swimming lesson.

“So I went to talk to [quantitative analysis] Professor Al Smith,” she said. “Everyone thought he was a curmudgeon.”

Do worked up the courage to tell Professor Smith about his scheduling conflict.

“And he said, ‘Well, why do you want to take the swimming lesson?’ And I said, ‘Because I can’t swim!’ “, she said. “And he said, ‘Well, it’s absolutely more important than my schedule.'”

Mills College alumnus Leah Zippert poses for a portrait at Mills College in Northeastern. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

To his surprise, Smith changed the class schedule to accommodate his swimming lesson. “Now I can swim,” she says. “I got certified for scuba diving!”

Similarly, Mills graduates expressed a sense of belonging during their time on campus, regardless of where they came from. “It’s the safest place I’ve been to,” said Tina Lee, who was the first person in her family to go to college and graduated from Mills in 2001.

Leah Zippert said her eyes opened during her time in Mills after being raised in a single parent home. “We didn’t have much when I was growing up,” she said, “and Mills really exposed me to a lot of things and I developed friendships and relationships that shaped the rest of my life. life.”

Zippert, a 1990 Mills graduate, became a leader while in college, helping found an environmental organization, participating on the swim team, and participating in student government. She got her first job through a contact of Mills and met her husband through two friends of Mills.

“I think it’s fair for me to say that Mills shaped the trajectory of my life,” she said.

A commitment to supporting a diverse student body has always been central to Mills’ mission. Natalie Mallinckrodt, a 1971 graduate, was a fashion student; she designed costumes for the campus theater and did a fashion show for her senior project. She remembers that during her stay in Mills she had a friend who was from Afghanistan and another from Saudi Arabia who drove a Mercedes and brought an interior designer with her to decorate her dorm.

“The beauty of it all was that at Mills you can just be yourself,” Jillian Mosley said.

Mosley dropped out of high school in her senior year, but decided to graduate at Mills in her 40s and now works at Mills while she pursues her Masters in Educational Leadership there.

Not only has Mills’ environment been welcoming, Mosley said, but she also sees a commitment to social justice in the program, especially when it comes to discussions of race and prejudice.

“I’m learning to confront and dialogue and really be in an exchange, to talk about these really important concepts,” she said. “What I hope is that as we move forward, that the level of talk and intense self-reflection and understanding of who we are, how we are connected to each other and what that means, this is what we are going to offer to all these students.

When asked what Mills had done for their lives, alumni spoke of all this and more, from the friendships they made to the school’s rich history, to the 135-year-old campus. acres.

It’s no surprise, then, that those passionate about Mills and preserving his legacy were shocked when it was announced last year that the college would be closed due to financial issues. When Northeastern stepped in to merge with Mills, questions abounded about whether Mills would be able to maintain its unique legacy, especially since it would no longer be an all-women’s college.

Tina Lee, a two-time Mills College graduate and inaugural class member of the MBA program as well as a former administrator, poses for a portrait in Oakland at her alma mata. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

For her part, Do is hopeful. “We’re going to lose the women’s college game,” Do said. “But there is so much more to gain, so much more opportunity in the world for students.”

Tina Lee, meanwhile, compares the merger to a moment in her own life. In 2013, after struggling to learn to code as a mother of two, Lee founded a nonprofit organization called MotherCoders, whose mission is to “expand the tech talent pool by helping women with children to gain the skills, knowledge and connections they need to thrive in today’s world”. Digital Economy.

Lee was passionate about the work, but ultimately the nonprofit organization ran out of money. She had to face the reality that in order for her dream to stay alive, she had to take it to another company. As difficult as it was, she says, making MotherCoders the nonprofit arm of the for-profit BitWise Industries, where she serves as the Director of Special Projects, was the right way to further MotherCoders’ mission.

She sees Mills in a similar light. MotherCoders, she said, was a tactic to accomplish a mission, and now is the time for new tactics. “1852 was a long time ago,” she said. Now, in 2022, “How can we reimagine what female empowerment looks like?” The merger, she said, is one way for Mills to do that.

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