Messenger - Vol. 3, No. 4, Page 5
Summer 1994
Delaware experience helped shape Their careers

     After spending some of their years as graduate students at the
University of Delaware, two young women began their respective careers
and, ultimately, each assumed the presidency of an esteemed women's
college. Jane "Maggie" O'Brien, a biochemist, heads Hollins College in
Virginia, and Mary Patterson "Pat" McPherson, whose field of study is
philosophy, is now president of Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia.
     Although they hold doctorates in different academic fields, the
women share some experiences. As undergraduates, both attended small
colleges where the majority of students were women; and both found
that coming to a research university, such as Delaware, rounded out
their educational experience by exposing them to a broader
     Here, they recall their days at Delaware and how their
experiences helped to shape their futures.


     In the late 1950s, Mary Patterson "Pat" McPherson, a young
philosophy graduate student at the University of Delaware, mounted the
podium to teach her first class. Thus began a distinguished academic
career that would eventually lead to the presidency of Bryn Mawr
College where, according to a profile in the Philadelphia Inquirer,
"she has won kudos for leadership, unflagging energy, patience and an
ability to create consensus."
     During a recent visit to the Delaware campus as a speaker in the
"Research on Women" series, McPherson, Delaware '60 M, looked back to
that first teaching experience. She says she was already a bit
unnerved, because a football player, mistaking her for a fellow
student, had invited her to sit and chat with him in the back row
because the class would be "very dull."
     "I wish we'd had training for teaching assistants in those days.
We were just put in the classroom and told to do our best. But, it was
at Delaware that I learned to teach," she recalls.
     A graduate of Smith College, McPherson came to the University of
Delaware for a master's degree, intending to become a high school
English teacher. As an undergraduate, she had begun as an English
major but ended up in philosophy. Deciding to take another stab at
English, she visited Delaware's English department, finding everyone
pleasant and supportive. But, since she had some extra time, she
recalls, she thought there was no harm in dropping by the philosophy
department. Instead of a brief visit, she ended up spending the
afternoon talking with the faculty. Once more, philosophy won the day,
and McPherson received her master's degree from Delaware and, later,
her doctorate from Bryn Mawr in that discipline.
     The University has changed considerably in 34 years, she says.
She was then the only woman in the philosophy department. At that
time, there were no women administrators or full professors and no
sabbatical leave for women.
     Having attended a girls' secondary school and a women's college,
McPherson was surprised to discover that the women students in a co-
educational situation were less outspoken and more reticent than those
in a single-sex environment. Although the women were good students
from a variety of disciplines-such as nursing, education and home
economics-and wrote excellent papers, she says she could not get them
to participate in class discussions. Today's women are more confident
and outspoken, she says.
     McPherson was awarded the Medal of Distinction by the University
of Delaware in 1984. In her acceptance, she spoke of what her Delaware
experience had meant to her career.
     Teaching at the University of Delaware "was an experience I came
to value and I believe taught me more about good teaching than I could
have learned at the same age at Bryn Mawr," she said.
                                                   -Sue Swyers Moncure


     For Jane "Maggie" O'Brien, president of Hollins College, her
years at the University of Delaware were watershed years. It was here
she studied for the doctorate in biochemistry that launched her
academic career; it was here she learned how to teach; and it was here
she met her husband, Jim Grube, then an assistant football coach to
Tubby Raymond.
     O'Brien, Delaware '81 Ph.D., also had spent her freshman year at
the University before transferring to Vassar College, where she earned
her bachelor's degree. During that first year, she met Grube in a
chemistry class. They became friends, and the relationship led to the
altar immediately after her graduation, with the young couple moving
to Newark and O'Brien starting graduate school.
     O'Brien says she has always been fascinated by science, and much
of her research has been in the area of animal proteins. "I love the
beauty of the chain reactions of chemistry lined up with the life
processes, so biochemistry was a natural field for me. Now my two
sons, Howie, 11, and Tucker, 9, are becoming involved in science, and
it's wonderful watching their interest grow," she says.
     O'Brien's mentor at Delaware was Hal White, professor of
chemistry and biochemistry, and she worked on a project involving
proteins in chickens. In fact, she says, White's entire family served
as a role model for her as a graduate student, as "proponents of the
everyday experience."
     At the University, O'Brien learned to teach with guidance from
the chemistry department faculty, especially from John Burmeister, now
Alumni Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
     "Teaching is a sobering and shaping experience," she says.
"Students have a misconception about teaching. They think it's a
natural ability or a gift, and that it is not difficult. I learned
teaching is an art that requires planning, preparation, timing and
     O'Brien concedes that, at first, she was terrified when she stood
in front of a class for the first time. "In fact," she says, "I
continued to be terrified for several years. Now, give me a topic
before any group and I can go on for hours."
     In addition to her graduate studies and teaching, O'Brien says
she loved the openness and beauty of the University's campus. A
runner, she enjoyed the highways and byways around campus during her
daily, 5-mile stint.
     When Grube became head lacrosse coach at Middlebury College, the
couple moved to Vermont, and O'Brien joined the faculty after
finishing her doctorate. While at Middlebury, she began her career in
college administration, first as associate provost and later as dean
of the faculty. She was inaugurated as president of Hollins College in
April 1992.
     O'Brien does not have the time now for research but has continued
teaching. She particularly enjoys a course for non-science majors,
entitled "Chemistry for Citizens," which encompasses environmental
concerns. She also is involved in a five-year plan to advance the
sciences at Hollins-upgrading equipment and focusing on collaborative
research with other institutions.
     Hollins has 1,100 students, including 800 undergraduate women and
300 men and women graduate students. O'Brien says she believes that
single-sex colleges play an important role in education, but that
every college in today's world must be poised to respond to the
workplace and economic realities.
                                                   -Sue Swyers Moncure