In 1937 the Mount Holyoke Alumnae Association honored 14 alumnae at the Alumnae Symposium of the Centenary Days. Recipients of the first Medal of Honor awards were selected for “eminent service in promoting the effectiveness of the Alumnae Association, for service in completing definite projects undertaken by the College, or for other noteworthy services which strengthen the position of the College,” as written by members of the selection committee.
In the years since, the Alumnae Association’s awards program has expanded to seven distinct awards, presented to alumnae after a yearlong nomination and selection process overseen by the Nominating Committee.
Here we share a snapshot of some of this year’s award winners, many of whom took a few moments to tell us about the paths they took to get to this stage and what the awards mean to them.
Young Alumna Volunteer Leadership Award
Awarded to an alumna within 10 years of graduation who has demonstrated strong leadership, consistent effort over time and active involvement in one or more areas of service.
Elaine C. Cheung ’09
“Club events don’t just happen, alum meet-ups don’t just happen, Reunion doesn’t just happen!
There are so many fellow alums volunteering their time behind the scenes to make them happen, and I’m grateful to be able to give back to the community that has given so much to me. … There is also a misconception that volunteering takes up a lot of time or effort (or requires a huge donation to be considered for a position) and that’s not true. There are so many ways to volunteer and give back. … All of our efforts combined are what make our network so strong.”
Natalya Marusich ’04
FROM THE CITATION: You are the driving force behind the Mount Holyoke community in Singapore, and, with the College community becoming ever more global, you have been instrumental in promoting Mount Holyoke’s mission and values. … You have the innate ability to pull a team together and provide outstanding leadership.
Awarded to an alumna who has demonstrated exceptional loyalty to the Alumnae Association and/or College through her consistent effort and active involvement over an extended period of time.
Nancy Cousins Wilder ’49
Since 1955, when Wilder was a founding member of the Fairfield (Connecticut) Villages club, she has been involved as a volunteer and currently is class president.
“I have always so enjoyed my club and class involvement and stayed very close to a large group of friends, so I feel very, very lucky that Mount Holyoke has always been such an important part of my life.
“Receiving the Loyalty Award was the icing on the cake. I know I will wear the beautiful pin often and be reminded of how much the College has meant to me all these years.”
Jane Milliken Finleon ’59
“As I look back, I realize that Mount Holyoke gave me the confidence to head in a new direction and the tools to learn new skills.
“My first volunteer role came when I attended my first reunion — the 45th — and was elected class president! I had not anticipated what a meaningful opportunity that would be as I was not only working with mature classmates with varied life experiences but also was exposed to the dynamic and diverse 21st-century MHC campus. The opportunities to visit classes, speak with students, faculty and administration, attend LEAP and Senior Symposium presentations and renew acquaintances with interesting and accomplished classmates all gave me a greater understanding of the importance and unique qualities of a women’s liberal arts institution and made my volunteer duties enjoyable as well as rewarding.”
Jennett Gower Teece ’59
When Teece first volunteered for Mount Holyoke as a class agent in the 1960s, the work, she says, was organized “by region, rather than class. During that time I began to stress participation rather than amount.
“I was new to the [South Hadley] area when I began but sensed alumnae closer to the College could interact with the College in ways other than what was stereotyped as alumnae roles. I have been thrilled to see the activity of the younger Pioneer Valley club grow and their effort to include all classes.”
Diane Kelley Fenton ’64
“I am pleased and honored to receive the Loyalty Award. I’ve always supported the annual funds because I value my MHC education and want it available for other women.
“The Class of 1964 is a tightknit, gung-ho group of class agents. We greatly enjoy getting together especially at the Volunteer Conference. I get more back than I give being a part of this special group of ladies.”
Priscilla Jane Morse Huston ’64
“In many ways, directly and indirectly, Mount Holyoke College continues to educate me nearly every day of my life.
“The College brought me in contact with a wide range of alumnae, and the involvement with various alumnae brought me into more involvement with the College.”
Ellen Manfredonia Nutter ’64
FROM THE CITATION: You have brought both organizational and delegation skills to your class roles. As a skillful diplomat, you unite class members when issues emerge by reaching out personally and being as inclusive as possible. You are committed to Mount Holyoke and highly respected by your classmates, and you have contributed to the cohesion and enthusiasm of the class of 1964.
Elizabeth Topham Kennan Award
Awarded to an alumna for outstanding achievement in and contributions to the field of education that exemplify the values and virtues set forth by the College.
Ellen M. Cosgrove ’84
“I have such respect for the work the Association does to foster Mount Holyoke’s excellence and continued relevance in the world. It is particularly inspiring to receive an award named after President Kennan, who was president when I was a student. I arrived at MHC in 1980 and had not been exposed to many women leaders. President Kennan was a role model and led an administration and faculty that included many exceptional women who all showed, by example, what it meant to lead. That was transformative for me. I went out into a male-dominated business world fortified by the examples of remarkable women leaders from MHC.”
Mary Williamson McHenry ’54
FROM THE CITATION: Your trailblazing leadership in education has helped to pave the way for many of your students, who credit you with being a major influence on their own education and success.
Fahima Aziz ’79
FROM THE CITATION: As a distinguished faculty member and leader in higher education institutions in the United States and around the world, you have been a passionate supporter of women’s education and a champion for educational access.
Awarded to an alumna who has demonstrated innovative leadership in a single area of service or for a singular accomplishment that has resulted in significant change and exemplifies the values and virtues set forth by the College.
Leslie Smith Green ’94
The inaugural Innovator Award winner, Green was recognized for launching the Mount Holyoke College Alumnae International Student Sponsorship program, which matches alumnae to incoming international students, especially those who may need assistance and support while traveling alone to a new country. Green attributes the genesis of this project to her own experience as an exchange student in Russia when she was an MHC undergraduate.
“To come up with an idea and have it take off the way it has — and to know that I have added value to the lives of students and alums of the College — honestly fills me up with pride and gratitude and the warmest of fuzzies. One class of ’22 student from India stated last fall that she chose MHC because she heard about this project.”
Awarded to an alumna for outstanding achievements and service to society that exemplify the values and virtues set forth by the College.
Susan J. Koch ’64
“My government career provided extraordinary opportunities to advance arms reduction and proliferation prevention at a time of great change in U.S.Soviet and U.S.-Russian relations. While the productive years of the 1990s and early 2000s are sadly behind us, many of our achievements are long-lasting. I am honored that the Association appears to value those accomplishments and hope that I might help counsel students and recent graduates about public service careers in international affairs.”
Mary Lee Warren ’64
“In my career, I worked to persuade judges and juries, negotiated with justice leaders around the world, pressed constitutional and institutional changes with foreign heads of state, and encouraged the true rule of law patriots working against all odds in the jungles of Colombia, rubble that was Afghanistan, and inner cities of Mexico. My knees may have nearly buckled a few times, my stomach often churned, but it never occurred to me that I was not capable or equipped. …
“Looking back with a broader and more removed view, I am certain of what girded me with this perhaps outrageous confidence. It was the sum total of my days at Mount Holyoke. Today I am tardy in recognizing, but nonetheless sure, of my gratitude to the College.”
Barbara Elizabeth Kream ’69
“I received excellent mentoring at Mount Holyoke, and this was also instrumental in guiding me toward a career in research, teaching and working with students. When I speak with young trainees about career choices, I often tell them about my experiences at Mount Holyoke and how they inspired me to pursue a career in science.”
Barbara Dombkowski Desoer ’74
“To be receiving this award has been very humbling. All I am trying to do is give back in some way, and having had the honor of serving on the Board of Trustees and through my donations are my ways of doing so. … Mount Holyoke made a real difference for me. I selected the College, sight unseen, because of a counselor recommendation from the American School of Paris, where I was living, and an alumna interview in Paris.
“I was the first in my family to graduate from college, and my parents made huge sacrifices, and I am forever grateful. I discovered so much about myself at Mount Holyoke that has served me extremely well in the 45 years since. I have worked over those years and accomplished so much more than I ever expected, because of the confidence I built while at Mount Holyoke.”
Mary F. Platt ’74
“Mount Holyoke helped me develop the self-confidence I needed to advance and become a leader in the legal profession, which was dominated by white men when I graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 1979.
“I am thrilled to receive this award. I very much appreciate being recognized for my achievements, but want to say I admire my fellow alumnae for all of their achievements. It has not been easy for our generation of women to succeed in our careers and our lives, but hopefully the progress that we have made with respect to improving equality and the rights we continue to fight for will make it easier for recent Mount Holyoke graduates to succeed in their careers and be happy throughout their lives.”
THE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD WAS ALSO PRESENTED TO TWO COLLEGE PRESIDENTS:
Helen G. Drinan ’69
is a national expert on women’s education and is known for her unwavering focus and dedication to the mission of Simmons University in her role as its eighth president.
Leocadia I. Zak ’79
has had a distinguished career in the top ranks of the public and private sectors and is currently the president of Agnes Scott College.
Alumnae Medal of Honor
Awarded to an alumna at her 20th reunion or beyond for long-term eminent services and significant leadership in promoting the effectiveness of the Alumnae Association and/or College.
Patricia Altman Falkenberg ’64
“The awards ceremony turned out to be much more moving and meaningful than expected. Sitting on the stage and looking out at the auditorium I had visited so many times in the audience — as a student and later as an alum at various celebratory events — I felt enormously honored and grateful. The friendships made at Mount Holyoke, many of them launched freshman year in South Rocky, have been an integral part of my life ever since. … When I moved from Manhattan to Scarsdale in 1973, it seemed natural to gravitate to that connection. I joined the Westchester club and soon became its president. We built a strong network of women … who enjoyed being together and supporting the College. … When I stepped down, my sister followed as president, continuing the tradition. College ties remained an important part of our lives, and we always enjoyed attending and hosting MHC gatherings, both in Scarsdale and later in NYC.”
Barbara Schmidt ’69
“My first engagement with Mount Holyoke alumnae was in 1987 at a Sesquicentennial Celebration in London, organized by Renee Scialom Cary ’48. About 300 alumnae gathered, 150 of whom lived in Europe. It was the first time many of us met, the first time we knew any of us was living in Europe.
“And here we are 32 years later on our 15th symposium in Greece in October 2019. We have developed an alumnae community that stretches from the Scandinavian countries in the north to Greece in the south and from Ireland in the west to Russia in the east. More than 1,300 alumnae from classes 1947–2019. A survey a few years back revealed that alumnae are a combination of Americans living in Europe and Europeans who graduated from Mount Holyoke. I am passionate about the European alumnae and the European Alumnae Council.”
Elizabeth Cochary Gross ’79
“Mount Holyoke gave me the confidence to do what I wanted as I grew professionally. … I am very honored to receive this award, considering all of the amazing things that other recipients have done. Typically my husband, Phill, and I don’t want acknowledgment. Seeing the positive growth in buildings and programs is enough. We want to keep [Mount Holyoke] in business for a long time!”
Elizabeth Taylor ’79
“Many of my deep and abiding friendships crossed the boundaries of our graduation year, and many were formed in the classrooms, around seminar tables. We were hot in the pursuit of new ideas, and the best of the professors not only taught us to question conventional wisdom but also engage and learn from one another. We were pushed forward by faculty members who inspired us to continue conversation beyond the classrooms, challenging and engaging one another to extend our educations and lead purposeful lives enriched by real human connection, meaningful work and engagement with the world.”
Vijaya Pastala ’89
“The love and opportunity I received as an MHC student – which made me who I am today – made me realise the importance of paying it forward. As I worked in the social impact space and never had enough to donate financially to MHC, I choose to give my time and energy.”
Jennifer Rochlis ’94
“I feel honored and humbled to be recognized for my work with the College. It is especially exciting since I used to serve on the External Achievement Awards Committee, so I know the care and rigor that goes into surfacing, researching and vetting candidates for these prestigious awards. To be included among the outstanding women who have been recognized with the Alumnae Medal of Honor is just remarkable.”
Mary Lyon Award
Awarded to an alumna who graduated 15 or fewer years ago who has demonstrated exceptional promise or sustained achievement in her life, profession or community and whose work embodies the humane values that Mary Lyon exemplified in her life and inspired in others.
Gabrielle Gregg ’08
FROM THE CITATION: As a renowned fashion and communications professional, your work has garnered national attention as you continue to break new ground by advocating for women of all sizes to be recognized by the fashion industry. … A classmate of yours remarks, “Gabi has done
extensive work to create change in the fashion world. She is a champion for all women, is dedicated to her craft and is also keen on shining light on other women doing great things.”
Merli V. Guerra ’09
“One of my films, the one that I first made for the very first time ever, my first film, I made it here through Mount Holyoke, through their class ten years ago. … I totally fell head-over-heels in love with the art of film through that class. … So it’s a deeply Mount Holyoke film and it ended up winning [at the Five College Film Festival] Best of Mount Holyoke, Best of Festival, and Best Dance on Camera.
“[The Mary Lyon Award] made me feel appreciated. It really gave me that little jolt of, OK, I’m on the right path.”
Brooke Fokker Nichols ’09
FROM THE CITATION: As a recognized health economist, you have actively contributed to global efforts to establish economically sound health policy for the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS.
Nominations for Reunion 2021 awardees will be accepted until July 1, 2020. Learn more and submit your nomination.
July 29, 2019