Sonya Stephens is an internationally recognized scholar, educator and leader. An ardent believer in women’s colleges and liberal arts education, President Stephens has devoted her life to advancing academic and intellectual lives, as well as building community across cultures and identities, all in the context of higher education.
President Stephens is an expert in 19th-century French literature and its relation to visual culture and the author of “Baudelaire’s Prose Poems: The Practice and Politics of Irony.” She has also edited several books, including “A History of Women’s Writing in France,” and most recently, “Translation and the Arts in Modern France,” which was published in July 2017.
President Stephens holds a doctorate in French from the University of Cambridge. Her master’s degree in French studies is from the Université de Montréal, where she was a Commonwealth Scholar. Her deep commitment to women’s colleges began with her undergraduate studies at New Hall, a college for women at the University of Cambridge that is now known as Murray Edwards College, where she earned a B.A. in modern and medieval languages.
President Stephens came to Mount Holyoke in 2013 as vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, following a national search led by an all-faculty committee. The Board of Trustees named her acting president of the College on July 1, 2016, and president on July 1, 2018, both by unanimous votes.
In the two years she served as the College’s interim president, Stephens presided over numerous key campus initiatives, including the development and implementation of The Plan for Mount Holyoke 2021, the comprehensive self-study process for the College’s re-accreditation review by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), and the construction of the ambitious new $50 million Community Center.
Stephens’s focus on community at Mount Holyoke was at the heart of the design and vision of the Community Center. The signature complex, which includes the Weissman Student Commons, the Dining Commons and renovations to Blanchard Hall, will have its grand opening in fall 2018. The building has already brought students, faculty and staff together in exciting and meaningful ways.
Other presidential efforts include the annual BOOM! (Building on Our Momentum) learning conference — which launched in 2017 as a way to deliberately engage with issues of equity and inclusion — and the hiring of the College’s first vice president for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer. For the benefit of community, for generations to come, President Stephens also steers the College’s commitment to reach carbon neutrality by its bicentennial in 2037.
President Stephens is overseeing the College’s forthcoming 8,000-square-foot Maker and Innovation Lab, an expansive new space for the College’s existing Makerspace, which she also saw into fruition. This ecosystem functions as a laboratory for entrepreneurship and creation and reflects the College’s commitment to technical and mechanical literacy.
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty
As vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, President Stephens worked closely with divisions across the College and with the Five College Consortium to enhance the reputation of the College and increase support for faculty research and curricular innovation.
As the chief academic officer, she was responsible for faculty research and curricular support, faculty governance, and academic budgeting and infrastructure. She oversaw an operating budget of $52 million and worked closely with divisions across the College, including the Miller Worley Center for the Environment, the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives, the Weissman Center for Leadership, and the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. She also collaborated with the Five College Consortium on shared initiatives, departments, programs and faculty hiring.
As dean of faculty, President Stephens was instrumental in the creation of academic programs such as the Data Science Initiative, a concentration in data science in the College’s Nexus program, and the Women in Data Science partnership. She oversaw the establishment of the College’s Makerspace, promoted entrepreneurship opportunities on campus and prioritized environmental commitments. She developed a program in support of emeriti faculty and their continued scholarly engagement with Mount Holyoke. She promoted the deep integration of The Lynk, Mount Holyoke’s curriculum-to-career initiative, and re-envisioned the Career Development Center.
A lifetime devoted to service and scholarship
Before coming to Mount Holyoke, President Stephens served as chair of the Department of French and Italian at Indiana University Bloomington, and as the institution’s first vice provost for undergraduate education. There, she led the campus-wide development and implementation of new general education requirements and was responsible for assessment and re-accreditation efforts. Her support of teaching and learning was both instrumental and collaborative, and led to the development of an integrated Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. She also oversaw the early development of the institution’s roadmap for student success.
President Stephens began her career as a faculty member at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she chaired the Department of French, and led the creation of the School of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. She also served for eight years as the faculty-in-residence director of a team responsible for the academic and personal welfare of 850 undergraduates.