MHC Alumnae Featured in COFHE Campaign

Posted: September 12, 2006

Two prominent Mount Holyoke alumnae are featured in a new collection of success stories issued by the Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE), a coalition of 31 selective independent colleges and universities, to highlight graduates who have been inspired by their education to make the world a better place through their choice of careers and avocations.

Gloria Johnson-Powell '58, M.D., and Kavita N. Ramdas '85 are profiled in Take a Closer Look: Colleges and Universities Opening Doors, Changing Lives, a publication exploring some of the ways institutions of higher education serve the public good through the values they instill and the opportunities they provide to lower- and middle-income students. Johnson-Powell, a former trustee of the College, is the first African American woman to achieve tenure at Harvard Medical School. As head of the Global Fund for Women, Ramdas has won worldwide recognition for her vision and advancement of an inclusive philanthropy. Ramdas is also a trustee.

Dr. Johnson-Powell will be on campus September 28 as part of an alumnae panel in conjunction with the Changing Face of Medicine: Celebrating America's Women Physicians exhibition sponsored by LITS.

"It is critical for leading colleges and universities to spread the word that America's institutions of higher education are essential to our progress as a nation--economically, socially, and politically," said Patricia VandenBerg, executive director of communications and strategic initiatives at Mount Holyoke. "It is especially important that we stress how successful we've been in increasing access among populations that traditionally have been denied the opportunity to attend leading colleges. In fact, Mount Holyoke is a trailblazer in this regard." VandenBerg participated in the development of the COFHE publication.

The national release of the publication comes at a time when public discussion about tuition costs and the availability of student aid is at an all-time high. Yet, as the consortium reports, the number of students receiving aid is rising. Today, 47 percent of students who attend COFHE colleges and universities receive financial aid, averaging more than $20,000 per student. In addition, 30 percent of all enrolled students represent people of color. Equally encouraging is the large number of students who give back to the community during and after their undergraduate career. In fact, 42 percent of students at these institutions are involved in community service, a trend that continues well into their adult lives.

Though the 52 men and women featured in Take a Closer Look represent a span in age, background, and career achievements and aspirations, all share a similar college experience. They attended some of the nation's oldest and most prominent colleges and universities; they came from lower- and middle-income families and paid for college through a combination of work and financial aid, most of which came from the institution they attended; and, in their lives and careers, they have demonstrated a lifetime commitment to the service of others. The profiled alumni represent all 31 COFHE institutions.

Gloria Johnson-Powell '58, M.D.
Take a Closer Look portrait

Gloria was raised by her mother, the oldest daughter of a sharecropper in rural Virginia. From the time she was a child, Gloria dreamed of becoming a physician … an outrageous dream at the time, since the only black professional she knew was a cousin, an attorney.

Gloria's mother, who worked as a maid for a Harvard professor, was the same age as her employer's daughter. The two young women became fast friends and Gloria's mother was invited to accompany the family on their trips to view the Seven Sisters, a group of independent women's colleges in the Northeast. When the professor's daughter asked Gloria's mother which one she should choose, Gloria's mother responded: "Mount Holyoke, of course. I know I'll never be able to go, but maybe someday I'll have a daughter who will."

Then one day, during Gloria's senior year at Girls' Latin School in Boston, she came home to find her mother sitting at the kitchen table, crying, with a letter in her hand. Gloria thought someone had died. The letter was from Mount Holyoke College; Gloria had been accepted with a four-year scholarship, covering tuition, room, and board.

Gloria thrived at Mount Holyoke. Befriended by a professor of sociology and his wife, who encouraged her to pursue her dream of a career in medicine, Gloria earned her M.D. at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, and completed a residency in psychiatry and fellowships in child psychiatry and sociocultural and behavioral research at the Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles. She spent 15 years on the UCLA medical faculty, ultimately becoming the first African American woman to achieve tenure at Harvard Medical School, where she served as a professor of child psychiatry.

Gloria currently serves as the associate dean for cultural diversity at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. A professor of psychiatry and pediatrics, she is the principle investigator and director of the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, a division of the National Institutes of Health.

Her career has included numerous appointments to task forces, advisory committees, and presidential and gubernatorial commissions on mental health, health policy, and drug and substance abuse. Gloria's research and publications have included groundbreaking work on issues associated with multicultural context and cultural competence in preventive health care, access to health care, and differential health outcomes. She has served as a director on a number of boards and as a consultant to community health and mental health service organizations. She has also received numerous awards for her community service.

In addition to her many contributions as a physician, Gloria was actively involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s as a student leader. She believes that access to high-quality medical care that reflects the new plurality of our country is the next big barrier that needs to be addressed as a matter of civil rights.

Kavita N. Ramdas '85
Take a Closer Look portrait

Kavita grew up in India, one of three daughters of a mother who was a peace activist and a father who was a naval officer.

All her life, she has studied international relations and worked to solve social problems. At the age of 18, she volunteered at a small farm in the Indian state of Bihar. One of her jobs was separating wheat from chaff. She was convinced she could help the poor best by staying there, but the elderly farmer with whom she worked with gave her some life-changing advice.

"Why don't you use your education, your reading and writing skills, your caring and your compassion to really make a difference?" the farmer asked. "You can do so much more for us by going back to the city with a promise to share what you have seen here, to tell the story of our lives and fight for our right to realize our dreams and aspirations."

Not long after, Kavita enrolled at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, with a full scholarship. Her mother had wanted to attend Mount Holyoke but wasn't able to; without financial aid, it would have been impossible for Kavita, as well.

Mount Holyoke gave her confidence in herself at a time when she was uncertain of herself and searching for direction. It opened a window on a world of strong women achievers and, Kavita believes, made her a more open and tolerant person.

Following graduation with a A.B. in international relations, she went on to receive a master's degree in international development and public policy from Princeton and moved to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, a private grant-making institution in Chicago, where she spent eight years as a program officer.

In 1996, she assumed directorship of the Global Fund for Women.

At the Global Fund, Kavita and her staff never assume what poor and disadvantaged women need. Instead, they listen to what women themselves tell them about their situations--for example, what girls in a war-torn African nation might really need is a van to transport them safely to and from school without the threat of rape. Any project promoting women's equality and human rights is considered. The Global Fund allows women and girls to speak for themselves and accepts grant applications in any language or format. Some requests have arrived on scraps of paper, after traveling for months by post.

Economists and public policy gurus are increasingly acknowledging that the well-being of women is key to the well-being of families and communities. However, globalization is creating new threats to human security, such as human trafficking, disease, and crime … all of which disproportionately affect women and girls. Through the Global Fund, Kavita is addressing the needs of this vulnerable population in innovative and effective ways, thus making the world a safer and better place for all humankind.

Related Links:

Consortium on Financing Higher Education

Changing Face of Medicine: Celebrating America's Women Physicians