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President of Smith College To Speak at UCR March 13

President of Smith College To Speak at UCR March 13

(February 28, 2000)

Ed. Note: Pictures of Ruth Simmons available upon request

Ruth J. Simmons, president of Smith College in Massachusetts, is the great great granddaughter of slaves and the first African American woman to head a top-ranked college in the United States. She will give a free public speech about diversity in higher education at 6 p.m. Monday, March 13 in room E of the University Extension Center, part of the University of California, Riverside.

The UCR Center for Ideas and Society is sponsoring Simmons as part of an annual public lecture geared to be of interest to a general audience, as well as an academic one. Center director Emory Elliott said Simmons' speech, called "Merit Redefined: Access, Equity, and Excellence in Higher Education," will be the only one she gives in Southern California. "This is an opportunity for the Inland Empire to hear one of the best public speakers available, someone who understands the importance of supportive teachers and the difference education can make in a young life," Elliott said.

Simmons is the youngest of 12 children. She was an extremely talkative child and an independent thinker whose intelligence attracted the attention of Ida Mae Henderson, a kindergarten teacher who encouraged her to think big. Well before entering high school, Simmons describes how she not only wanted to make a difference, but she wanted to "achieve something spectacular."

In 1967 Simmons graduated from Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana. She received a Ph.D. in romance languages and literatures from Harvard University and has been a faculty member at the University of New Orleans, California State University Northridge, Spelman College and Princeton University. She was an administrator at Princeton University and Spelman College, before she was chosen as president of Smith College in 1995.

Simmons is a member of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, on the Advisory Council for the Gates Millennium Scholars and a member of the board of major companies such as Texas Instruments and the Carnegie Corp.

Simmons is also the recipient of a number of prizes and fellowships, including the German DAAD and a Fulbright Fellowship to France. She was named a CBS Woman of the Year, January 1996; an NBC Nightly News Most Inspiring Woman, August 1996; and a Glamour Magazine Woman of the Year, November 1996.

She was the keynote speaker at the 1999 National Urban League Conference in Houston, TX and a panelist in the Oxford University Press/Annenberg Debate on Affirmative Action in the New York Public Library, among many other public speeches and presentations across the country.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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