On Thursday, Molly Smith took over as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey.
She replaces Joseph Bessie, who left Saint Martin’s in mid-April after nearly four years to become provost and vice chancellor for academic and student affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
Smith, 55, is on the board of trustees of Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey and is on the executive committee of the International Association of University Presidents, where she serves as its representative to the United Nations.
In addition, she previously served as president of Manhattanville College in New York, and was provost of Wheaton College in Illinois.
“Dr. Smith impressed us with her leadership, vision and passion,” Saint Martin’s president Roy Heynderickx said in a news release. “She understands both the complex challenges of higher education in general and the great potential for new initiatives here at Saint Martin’s.”
Smith has a doctorate in Shakespeare and Renaissance drama from Auburn University in Alabama. Her husband, Duane Howard Smith, is on faculty at Saint Louis University in Missouri. They have a son and a grandson.
The Olympian caught up with Smith to talk about her background and career. Here are excerpts from the conversation:
Q: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get into education?
A: I grew up in Chennai, India. I came to the United States to do my doctorate.
In India, people often want girls — once they reach a certain age — to go into an arranged marriage. My grandmother married at age 12, and was widowed by 18, with two children. ... She longed for learning and things she couldn’t have.
My godmother, my aunt, was a professor of English at a university, and I think she was kind of a role model for me. She was very independent. She had a career, and so I ended up going that route.
Q: Why were you interested in the provost job at Saint Martin’s?
A: People who know Saint Martin’s talked to me about it. I was interested in going into Catholic education. I was enormously impressed by the campus and that it’s very conducive to learning. ... I also connected very quickly with Roy Heynderickx, and his desire to extend the academics and (the college’s) reach.
Q: What will your role be as provost? What does that job entail?
A: The provost is the chief academic officer at many universities. The provost’s role is to ultimately make sure that learning and teaching and the identity of our faculty as teacher-scholars continues to remain at the forefront of the university’s identity. The provost really shepherds the university’s focus on ensuring that our students have a strong learning experience and their learning experience prepares them to lead meaningful lives post-graduation.
Q: What are some special projects or initiatives you plan to work on at Saint Martin’s in the upcoming year?
A: One of the things we want to make sure is (to identify) the needs of the communities of Lacey, Olympia, the region, and our ability to provide programs in these communities. We want to always be responsive to the changing needs of the communities around us. We just built an engineering building and will be examining our engineering program. We also are beginning to look at our STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) programs.
Q: What are your hobbies?
A: I like to play tennis. I love to read poetry. I read a lot of poetry out loud. I write short stories and I often write higher-education pieces.
Q: Is there anything you would like to add?
A: It’s such a pleasure to be here; it’s a beautiful part of the country. I have not lived in the far West before. I’ve been very impressed with my surroundings and the whole atmosphere here.
Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 email@example.com @Lisa_Pemberton