The Genius of Women

I’m Lori Bettison-Varga, a former provost and professor of geology. And I am very pleased and honored to greet you today as President of Scripps College.

Now, some of you may ask: What is a geologist doing at a place like Scripps?

First, as you may know, my mother is a Scripps alumna, and I was raised hearing about the wonders of Scripps. I’m finding out they are all true! Let me just take a moment to introduce my mother, Barbara Yunker Bettison, Class of 1954, who graduated with a degree in Spanish literature.

Second, it is not unheard of for a geologist to be at Scripps. Here is some history: In 1929, Isabel Fothergill Smith — a geology professor at Smith College — was appointed dean of Scripps College and professor of geology. As dean, she was responsible for student life. In 1935, she resigned and took a sabbatical leave. She returned to Scripps and taught the History of Science and Mineralogy until she retired, in 1953.

So, 56 years later, another geologist and mineralogist is on board. Perhaps it isn’t so odd after all!

I am truly honored to be part of this superb educational institution, and I look forward to working with all of you in these exciting times for the College.

As you can see on the screen behind me, the theme for this academic year is “The Genius of Women.” As we lead up to the inauguration in late March 2010, we will have many programs, events, and celebrations focused on that theme. We will hear from distinguished speakers, from our own faculty and Scripps community, as well as from thought leaders throughout the country. You’ll hear more about these events in the weeks and months ahead, and I hope you’ll take part and join me at many of them.

Let me tell you a bit about the emblem on the banner: In 1928, Hartley Burr Alexander led the then fledgling Scripps faculty through a process to determine the colors and seal of the College. Suggested by Monsieur le Baron, La Semeuse immediately resonated with the motto that had been selected: “Here begins the new life.” Inspired by our seal, the event emblem designed for this year joins eight seeds, one for each president of Scripps College since its founding in 1926. More important, together these seeds assert the potential and the fruition of the genius of women educated here. In genius we find achievement and insight that has transformational power — essential in today’s challenging world, especially from women, for women. The seal and the event emblem represent Scripps College, sowing the seeds of wisdom, of thought, of action, of hope…new life for each of our students and for the worlds they will lead and transform.

The genius of women — truly, the genius of Scripps — is the primary reason I am so honored to be your president. The creative genius of Scripps women draws upon the energy, the skills, and the commitment of the people of Scripps. I’d like to use my time this morning to thank them. Let me start with the faculty.

From my one-on-one meetings with you to the energy of the academic open house where you greeted new students and parents with enthusiasm, I have been impressed by your energy and commitment to Scripps. Indeed, as the very heart of Scripps, the commitment you show as teachers and scholars would certainly make the likes of Hartley Burr Alexander proud! All of you are to be congratulated and thanked for your passion and dedication to your work, and recognized as the foundation to the academic power of this College and its curriculum.

And so this is an appropriate time to acknowledge the most recent recipients of the Mary W. Johnson Faculty Achievement Awards, announced last spring.

Faculty members are nominated by members of the Scripps community; and the Faculty Executive Committee appoints a three-person subcommittee, which then makes award recommendations to the president.

As I call out the names of the 12 recipients of the Johnson achievement awards for the academic year 2007-08 [that is correct], would those present please stand. Please hold your applause until the end.

Five awards were given out for superior teaching. Recipients are:

  • Gail Abrams, professor of dance
  • Aaron Matz, assistant professor of English
  • Mark Golub, assistant professor of political theory
  • Nathalie Rachlin, professor of French
  • Marina Perez de Mendiola, professor of Hispanic studies

Congratulations to you all!

Let me also congratulate Professor Perez de Mendiola who was voted “Professor of the Year” by the students last spring.

For scholarship, five professors received the award for their research, which includes projects such as publications, scientific studies, art exhibits, or musical accomplishments. They are:

  • Gayle Blankenburg, lecturer in music, who recorded a CD of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.
  • Eric Haskell, professor of French and humanities and director of the Clark Humanities Museum, whose prolific writings focused on the illustrated book and garden history.
  • Nancy Macko, professor of art and chair of Gender and Women’s Studies, whose integrative art was displayed worldwide.
  • Amy Marcus-Newhall, professor of psychology, whose scholarship focused on two different topics: genocide and the intersection of work and family.
  • Stacey Wood, associate professor of psychology, whose research focused on decision making and older adults.


For extraordinary community service, the College honored two professors:

  • Nancy Neiman Auerbach, associate professor of international political economy, and
  • Rita Roberts, professor of history and black studies.

Both of these professors give of their time freely to students and serve as important and essential mentors.

Congratulations to all of our outstanding professors.

The second group of people I want to recognize is our staff.

Since July, I have learned who really runs the College. While all staff members deserve our enormous gratitude, we honor a few each spring during Staff Appreciation Day for contributions beyond the call of duty. I’d like to ask the following eight winners to please stand when their names are called so we can again thank them. Please hold your applause until I read all the names. They are

  • Jeff Sharpe: Jeff is one of our behind the scenes dishwasher/utility employees.
  • Susan Brown: Susan has worked in the Music Department as Administrative Assistant for 7 ½ years.
  • Pam Rowland: Pam is the faculty administrative assistant in Steele Hall and has been at Scripps for almost 4 years.
  • Veronica Scott: Veronica is a 5-year employee and the administrative assistant for the Post-Bac Pre-Med department.
  • Kevin McCoy: Kevin, a maintenance mechanic with 15 years of service, is also an active member on the College emergency readiness team.
  • Claire Bridge: Claire, a Scripps alumna and employee with 18 years of service, has two assignments at Scripps: program administrator for the Core program and assistant director of the Humanities Institute.
  • Valinda Lee: the first in her office to “twitter,” Valinda has been a career counselor in Career Planning & Resources for approximately 4 years.
  • Maureen McCluney: Maureen has a total of approximately 13 years working at Pomona and Scripps, and is now assistant to the Dean of Faculty.

Congratulations, and thank you.

Finally, I want to say a few words to our Scripps students. While this is not the time for individual awards for you, I want to say how impressed I am with your scholarship, your achievements, and your good cheer. My family and I are enormously grateful for the reception we have received from everyone in the Scripps community, but especially from you, the students, as we’ve moved right next door to you. Scripps is now our home and we appreciate the welcome you have given us as your newest neighbors!

The year ahead will be challenging, in uncertain economic times, but fortunately, the College is in an excellent position to move forward. With everyone’s involvement, I know the year ahead will be both productive and rewarding. I look forward to it immensely.

Thank you all for so warmly welcoming this geologist into your midst.