It was Alecia DeCoudreaux’s knack of getting the better of an argument that prompted her family to predict that she would one day become a lawyer, even when she was 6 years old. A Chicago native who also spent a great deal of her childhood on Cape Cod, DeCoudreaux, 57, recently became president of Mills College in Oakland after a 30-year career at Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company.
What are your goals as president of Mills College?
I’ve only been here six months, and my goal right now is to listen, learn and fully understand this community and what our needs are. I also feel like it’s very important that we continue to demonstrate to the world what a wonderful institution we are and that we reach out and engage with as many students as possible.
How vital are these kinds of women’s institutions?
I do think that it’s important for our society to understand that there continues to be a very important role that women’s colleges play. There is an enormous need, I think, for women’s colleges to continue to exist because there continues to be disparities for women in the world. We still have very few women in Congress proportionately, we still have very few women who are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and we still don’t have nearly enough women serving on boards of directors.
How do you think your previous experiences at Eli Lilly will help you here?
I actually think I have a variety of experiences that prepared me for the task. In addition to my work at Lilly, where I had many administrative positions, I also was very actively involved with Indiana University and with my alma mater for my undergraduate degree, Wellesley College. I served on the Wellesley board for 10 years, I chaired the board for the last four years, and so I think that I became rather intimately familiar with the inner workings of an educational institution.
How has your educational background shaped you as a person?
I went to Catholic schools until I went to Wellesley College, and so I was taught by nuns. I think I learned self-discipline from the nuns, which is something I try to apply to every aspect of my life. I went to Wellesley and had a fabulous experience there. Even though I had gone to an all-girls’ high school, going to a women’s college was the same and yet different.
Why the transition from Lilly to education?
As much as I enjoyed my career, there was always the desire to engage in community services. I’ve always felt that it was important to be an active member of the community in which I lived. And I was very mindful of the fact that I gained so much from my experiences at Wellesley, so I wanted to give back to my alma mater as well. I felt this calling to education. I also was brought up in a family that highly valued education.