Mary Sue Wilson Coleman '65, Doctor of Science

June 01, 2004

Mary Sue Wilson Coleman '65 received an honorary Doctor of Science at Grinnell College Commencement 2004.

From the chemistry lab to the president's office to the United States Supreme Court chambers, Mary Sue Wilson Coleman '65 has dedicated herself to upholding the values of a liberal arts education.

As an undergraduate, she found a nurturing environment for her scientific aptitudes at Grinnell. After graduating from Grinnell College with a degree in chemistry, she earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of North Carolina and did postdoctoral work at North Carolina and at the University of Texas-Austin.

Dr. Coleman went on to a brilliant 20-year scientific career. While on the biochemistry faculty at the University of Kentucky-Lexington, she was asked to join the administration of a new cancer center, where her research focused on the immune system and malignancies.

In 1992, Dr. Coleman and her husband Kenneth Coleman '65 moved to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill so she could assume administrative positions as vice chancellor for graduate studies and research (1992-93) and associate provost and dean of research (1990-92). She moved her laboratory with her to Chapel Hill, with the idea that if she did not like administrative work, she could return to the faculty.

However, Dr. Coleman found that she reveled in these new responsibilities.

She went on to become a provost at the University of New Mexico, where she served from 1993-95. Finally, her career trajectory brought her back to Iowa. She was appointed president of the University of Iowa on her 52nd birthday in 1995. The Iowa native served as president of the university for seven very successful years.

In 2002, Dr. Coleman was chosen as the new president of the University of Michigan, and she continues to serve in this role today. She is professor of biological chemistry in the University of Michigan Medical School and professor of chemistry in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

In 2003, Dr. Coleman led the effort to protect the university's policies promoting diversity, and explicitly racial diversity, in the student body through the admission process. In a legal case that eventually led to the U.S. Supreme Court, Dr. Coleman and the University of Michigan were largely successful in their bid to continue considering race in admission procedures in order to achieve a diverse student body.

Elected to the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine in 1997, Dr. Coleman is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She co-chairs the Institute of Medicine's Committee on the Consequences of Uninsurance.

Her extensive leadership positions in higher education include the Association of American Universities (AAU) executive committee, the American Council on Education (ACE) board of directors, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) board of directors, and the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

Dr. Coleman also serves on the board of trustees of Grinnell College, as well as numerous other governing bodies in higher education.

As a graduate and a trustee of a small, liberal arts college like Grinnell, Dr. Coleman remains a firm believer in the value of the liberal arts-whether at Grinnell, the University of Iowa, or the University of Michigan.

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