]The relationship between Chobani and Boston College goes deeper than undergraduates’ infatuation with the yogurt.
Grace Simmons, BC ’05 and former UGBC president, who currently serves as the company’s chief of staff and strategy, returned to her alma mater Tuesday night as the keynote speaker for “Celebrating our Past, Envisioning our Future,” the kickoff event for the Women’s Resource Center’s (WRC) celebration of its 40th anniversary and Women’s History Month.
Simmons, who graduated summa cum laude with degrees in political science and philosophy, earned her M.B.A. from Harvard Business School in 2010, and currently serves as the vice president of the BC Alumni Association’s board of directors.
Following brief remarks by Kelli Armstrong, associate vice president for Institutional Research, Planning, and Assessment (IRPA), was a screening of the Council for Women of Boston College’s (CWBC) 2006 documentary about women at BC, Making our Place. The film highlighted the gradual assimilation of women at the University, including a number of firsts, including 1928, when the first female faculty members were hired; 1994, when Mary Book became the University’s first female dean; and 1970, when the first woman was admitted directly to A&S. After the documentary concluded, Armstrong introduced Simmons, who eschewed a stance behind the podium in favor of a more intimate seat directly in front of the small group that had gathered in the Heights Room.
“It wasn’t always a piece of cake and an easy ride, and I had four amazing years-and I’m much more confident making that clear now than I was a couple years ago, when I had just graduated and was talking to women on campus,” Simmons said. After a less than smooth transition to BC during her freshman year, she became more involved her sophomore year upon joining UGBC’s Academic Affairs department.
“My main focus was on academic advising, because the one thing that I saw as an issue on campus was, if you’re in UGBC, or if you’re hyper-involved with things on campus, you’re going to get so much attention, and everyone’s going to be looking out for you,” Simmons said. “And I was feeling that-I got to have lunch with Pat DeLeeuw, and my roommate would be like, ‘Who’s Pat DeLeeuw, and why are you having lunch with her?’ … I just thought that was a little unfair, that I would have this special access because I was involved-why couldn’t every student, depending on what they wanted to get involved in-have that?”
Simmons ran for UGBC president alongside Burnell Holland, also BC ’05, during the spring of her junior year, and credited her female mentors for supporting her during the election. “Although the male faculty and leaders in Student Affairs motivated me to be my best, it was the women who really pushed me to do more,” Simmons said.
“Senior year, that was my thing,” she said. “UGBC. I definitely drank the Kool-aid, a lot, and really got into it.” She and Holland were involved with a variety of issues as UGBC president and vice-president, including the University’s non-discrimination clause, Church in the 21st Century effort, and AHANA leadership issues.
“There was something about these women that came before us that made all this possible,” Simmons said. “When I watch this video-I’ve seen it a couple of times now-I never thought, when I made a decision to go to college, whether or not I would have equal opportunity.” She reflected that taking “a fair shot” for granted is easy, especially when considering that women of her mother’s generation did not have those same opportunities-those women were expected to dress a certain way, and to study certain fields thought suitable for women.
“Now, the issues are a little different,” Simmons said. “Now, it’s about women having that inner confidence to take advantage of the opportunities and say, ‘I am confident, I have the courage to go do this, I have the endurance to do this, and I have the faith to back me up when I think that everything else is going to fall apart.'” Those four attributes, she said, were things that she gained from her time at BC, and Simmons explained that female mentors she met during her time at the University played a large part in that development.
“The women faculty are amazing,” Simmons said. “I found that you’d talk to one, and then they’d all be rooting for you-I didn’t think it was water cooler chat, I really just felt that when you put yourself out there, people-the only thing they really want to do is support you.”
She mentioned Kerry Cronin, a professor in the philosophy department and associate director of the Lonergan Institute, and Cheryl Presley, former Vice President for Student Affairs, as two among many woman mentors who guided her through her time at BC.
Before taking the time to answer questions from the audience, Simmons spoke briefly about her time after graduation and her transition from Goldman Sachs to Chobani.
“I don’t know that I would have had the courage to go out there and reach out to a person like [Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya] and express my interest, and show a desire to be part of that team, had I not had the experiences that I had at BC and the practice, in a sense,” Simmons said. “It’s been a great journey, and a great ride.”