The quiet town of Purchase, about 20 miles from New York City, will soon be home to two women chief executives from the bustling Indian city of Chennai (and both are alumni of Madras Christian College).
One of them is Indra Nooyi, the celebrated CEO of Purchase-HQed PepsiCo (and Fortune magazine's most powerful woman in business for two years in a row).
The other is Molly Easo Smith (pictured at right), who has recently been named president of Purchase-based Manhattanville College, a private liberal arts college with about 1,600 students from 58 countries and 38 states (see the school's official site and Wikipedia entry).
Smith, who is currently provost of Wheaton College in Massachusetts, will start her new role in the summer of 2009 and will be the 11th president since Manhattanville was founded in 1841. From the annoucement by the chair of the trustees (in full below):
Many members of the college community have had the opportunity to meet personally with Dr. Smith in recent days and have some sense of her energy, passion, and eloquence. The Board of Trustees believes she has an uncommon ability to communicate and inspire, which will help challenge and guide us to build on [retiring president] Richard Berman's exceptional leadership and legacy that have returned the college to great strength and promise.
SAJAforum asked Dr. Smith to share some info on her background, role models and more - here's what she sent us (journalists are welcome to quote from this):
Born in Madras (now Chennai) to Anna Easo and P. C. Easo.
Attended Ewart School, Ethiraj College for Women, and Madras Christian College
Majored in English Literature
Two siblings: Brother Jacob Easo lives with his family in New Jersey and sister Annie Mathew lives with her family in San Diego, CA.
Molly came to the US in 1981. She earned her Ph. D. in English at Auburn University and also studied at the University of Delaware.
Her husband, Duane Smith, works as an academic director at Temple University in Philadelphia. Their son's name is Christopher Smith and their grandson is Eldan Christopher Smith.
Passionate about the transformative power of liberal arts education and deeply committed to fostering leadership in others, Molly attributes her own successes to faculty, colleagues, and mentors at the institutions where she has studied and worked -- in India, Scotland, and the US.
She has recently become deeply interested in re-visiting her roots and writes short stories based on her childhood in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Her fondest memories center on her grandmother who, married at twelve years of age and widowed at eighteen with two young children, never had the opportunity to pursue an education but ensured that her daughter benefited from the advantages that were available to later generations of women. Molly draws her passion for education from the yearning she witnessed in her grandmother and others of her generation. Her other inspiration, also during her formative years, is her aunt and godmother, a professor of English at Women’s Christian College in Madras.
Her presidential leadership models are President Monsignor Robert Sheeran of Seton Hall University, President J. Michael Adams at Fairleigh Dickinson University, President Mary Meehan at Alverno College, President James Bundshuh at Marymount University, and President Noreen Carrocci at Newman University. Her aspirations for Manhattanville College include working closely with faculty and staff to strengthen global and intercultural learning, increasing the Manhattanville family by re-connecting with alumni, and ensuring the continuing strength of Manhattanville’s powerful and foundational mission rooted in service and community.
Smith will become one of a handful of South Asians who have served as presidents of American universities or colleges. The list includes Renu Kathor, who is president of the University of Houston and chancellor of the University of Houston system; Beheruz N. Sethna, president of the University of West Georgia; Michael Rao, president of Central Michigan University (earlier served as president of Mission College in California and chancellor of Montana State University); and Bobby Jindal, who was president of the University of Louisiana System from 1999-2001, before he became a Congressman and governor.
As someone who has worked in academia for 16 years, I can tell you how difficult it is to become president of an American college or university. And Dr. Smith has what I'd consider three disadvantages - she's a minority, a woman and an immigrant.
Journalists interested in covering this story or interviewing Dr. Smith should write to Jodi Burack, jburack[at]giles.com - tell her SAJA sent you.
From a December 16, 2008, announcement by Robert C. Hall, chairman of the Manhatanville trustees:
Dear Members of the Manhattanville Community,
On behalf of the Board of Trustees of Manhattanville College, I am pleased to announce that the Presidential Search Committee has unanimously recommended and the Board of Trustees has unanimously approved the appointment of Molly Easo Smith, Ph.D., as the eleventh president of Manhattanville College. Her tenure will begin July 1, 2009.
Led by Co-Chairs Mark Davis and Sally Rogers, the Presidential Search Committee conducted an extensive national search to find the best person to lead Manhattanville into the future. The Committee considered almost 100 applicants with impressive credentials. It determined that Dr. Smith's extensive academic background as a scholar, teacher, dean, provost, and college trustee in both non-denominational and Catholic institutions, combined with her strong identification with Manhattanville's mission, her international experience and outlook, and her record of visionary leadership make her a perfect match for Manhattanville's needs.
Dr. Smith most recently served as Provost at Wheaton College in Norton, MA, and is currently on research sabbatical, while also serving as Special Adviser to Wheaton's president. For the previous five years, she served as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ, and prior to that, held faculty appointments in the English departments of several outstanding colleges and universities in the U.S. as well as at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
Dr. Smith earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Madras in her native India and a Ph.D. in English at Auburn University. She also studied at the University of Delaware.
Many members of the college community have had the opportunity to meet personally with Dr. Smith in recent days and have some sense of her energy, passion, and eloquence. The Board of Trustees believes she has an uncommon ability to communicate and inspire, which will help challenge and guide us to build on Richard Berman's exceptional leadership and legacy that have returned the college to great strength and promise.
Later today we will issue a press release on this momentous news for Manhattanville and will post additional information on Dr. Smith's background on the Manhattanville website. We are planning to invite Dr. Smith to campus after the college's winter break so that she can be personally introduced to the entire community and can get to know us and the college better.
I want to acknowledge with deep thanks the entire college community for their support throughout the Search process and extend my deep appreciation to the Presidential Search Committee for their extraordinarily thoughtful and dedicated work. They have done themselves, and Manhattanville, proud!
Robert C. Hall
Chairman, Board of Trustees