How a college president toppled the ivory tower
Pine Manor College was once a haven for privileged white women. Now its seeing a surge in low-income and minority students.
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"What's impressed me most about Gloria is the fact that she's stayed on top of this relentlessly and that she has a genuine desire to share this as widely as she can," says Gary Bonvillian, president of Thomas University in Thomasville, Ga. "If you take any one of our schools individually, we're not powerhouses ... but together we've created quite a strong voice."Skip to next paragraph
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Pine Manor keeps tuition relatively low ($21,000, plus room and board, compared with an average of $34,000 for four-year private colleges in New England) and offers plenty of financial aid.
But perhaps more important is the way each student is aided by a team of faculty members, student-life staff, and even a financial adviser.
Pine Manor students often work longer at part-time jobs and have more family challenges than the average college student. So if they get off track academically, extending help quickly is vital, says Pine Manor Dean Nia Lane Chester. Nemerowicz has shown "how to ... involve every member of the community ... so that students really feel like they're in a place where there's support for them," she says.
At the end of this academic year Nemerowicz will step down after 15 years as Pine Manor president– a bittersweet decision. She chokes up when students tell her how much she'll be missed.
"Pine Manor found me," says Maria Inés Peniche, a freshman student, at a recent lunch in the president's office.
Ms. Peniche was a senior at Revere (Mass.) High School who dreamed of working for the United Nations. But she was bumping up against the barriers she faced as an "undocumented student," she says. She was brought to the US by her family from Mexico when she was starting fifth grade.
"I was just going to stay stuck working in McDonald's for the rest of my life, but [the Pine Manor recruiter] ... told me that it did not matter that I was undocumented – that Pine Manor wanted me ... and that we would see how to pay for school."
When Nemerowicz leaves Pine Manor she plans to focus her energy on the fledgling Yes We Must coalition and helping other aspiring students like Peniche.
Nemerowicz's study of sociology and an early career as a social worker opened her eyes to social inequities she couldn't ignore, she says. Her drive to widen access to college and hike graduation rates is fueled by the same zeal that motivated her participation in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
"You're part of the change," she says to Peniche and five other students gathered for lunch. "We can turn this country around in 10 years, 15 years, just through this surge of graduates who are going to go on and serve their communities."