Alecia DeCoudreaux, chair of the board of trustees at Wellesley College and senior executive of Eli Lilly and Company, was announced as the 13th president of Mills College on Jan 20.
In her address to the Mills community in Littlefield Hall, DeCoudreaux discussed her passion for liberal arts and women’s education.
“Now more than ever we must prepare women for leadership in the 21st century,” she said during her welcome speech at Mills. “Women must be prepared for the global opportunities that will surface and women must be prepared to create those opportunities.”
DeCoudreaux received her law degree from Indiana University School of Law at Bloomington and received her BA in English and Political Science from Wellesley College.
“At Wellesley I began to appreciate what it meant to be a student at a women’s college,” she said.
While her experiences in education have primarily been in the boardroom rather than the classroom, she noted that her leadership skills would be transferable from the corporate world to collegeate administration.
“At the core I’ve always had this passion for education and women’s education,” she said. “In the corporate world, like in an academic institution, you need strong leadership.”
Her experience as a leader was an important quality for the Presidential Search Committee’s selection of DeCoudreaux.
“Her experience with education is in a leadership capacity,” said Ajuan Mance, Associate Professor of English and a faculty member on the Presidential Search Committee, noting DeCoudreaux’s commitment both to excellence and the liberal arts as her two most important qualities.
For DeCoudreaux, it is institutions like Mills that lead the way in empowering women.
“Strong institutions such as Mills are more important than ever,” she said. “Women graduating from women’s colleges think for themselves.”
Kathy Burke, chair of the Mills College Board of Trustees, described DeCoudreaux as an “outstanding leader” in her introduction of the 13th president-elect.
“She is a real asset for Mills College,” Burke said. “It is a happy day.”
Burke also took a moment during the welcome ceremony to honor current Mills College president, Janet Holmgren, who has been the college’s president for two decades.
Holmgren was unable to attend the welcome ceremony due to a previous engagement and was unavailable for comment.
DeCoudreaux plans to work closely with the provost on curriculum development and described the faculty as “the heart and soul of an institution” in her welcome speech.
“I can’t say that I have spent a lot of time thinking about that plan,” she said, referring to the college’s academic curriculum. “But we have a very very strong provost and I would imagine that we would partner together very closely to work with faculty.”
Sandra Greer, Provost & Dean of the Faculty at Mills, echoed DeCoudreaux’s call for partnership.
“She’s lovely and shares our values and goals. I look forward to working with her,” she said.
DeCoudreaux’s passion for education began as a young girl.
Her maternal grandmother journeyed to the United States at the turn of the 20th century from the Cape Verde Islands. Speaking only creole, she emphasized the importance of becoming educated citizens and pushed both her children and her grandchildren to succeed in school.
Several family members, including her mother, brother, niece and cousins from the Bay Area, joined the Mills community in celebrating DeCoudreaux’s selection as president at the Jan 20 welcome ceremony.
Her 22-year-old niece, Mara DeCoudreaux, born and raised in Oakland, said her Aunt is well qualified for the job.
“She’s very orderly, very serious,” she said. “Whatever she does, she does 100%.”
Mara added that her Aunt is not all serious, noting her humorous side and her other interests.
“She has a great sense of humor,” she said. “She enjoys cooking and she’s an amazing chef.”
DeCoudreaux will be stepping into her position in July of 2011. In the meantime, students and faculty are encouraged to contact her via the Mills website regarding any questions they may have about her plans for the college.
Some questions were raised by the Mills community during her welcome ceremony about what DeCoudreaux’s new leadership will mean for the direction of the college.
“I hope that she takes the needs of queer students and trans students seriously,” said senior and Queer Studies major, Kat Snell.
Katy Kondo, a sophomore at Mills College, speculated that the Board’s selection of DeCoudreaux indicated that the college might be prioritizing finances over academics because of her corporate background.
“Especially as a liberal arts college,” she said. “We are a learning institution.”
Those who know DeCoudreaux best, however, are confident in her abilities to lead the college in its desired direction.
One of DeCoudreaux’s close friends, Corty Fengler, who served on the board with her at Wellesley College for nearly 20 years, said Mills is lucky to have her as its president.
“Alecia has the ability to see the big picture,” Fengler said. “She has the ability to stay calm in the storm. Plus she gets women’s eduction.”
When asked about her vision for Mills College, only 24 hours after she had learned of her selection for Mills College president, DeCoudreaux said she has mostly decided to stick with the college’s current strategic plan, which she believes to be a strong one.
“The mission of Mills is so very consistent with my own beliefs,” she said during her welcome address.
DeCoudreaux voiced her confidence in Mills College as a leader among liberal arts colleges. She emphasized the importance of strong liberal institutions in today’s world.
“Some today are questioning the value of a liberal arts education, but there should be no question,” she said.