Exactly five weeks ago, Portland State welcomed its new Provost Dr. Susan Jeffords. Before PSU, Jeffords was at the University of Washington. She chaired the Women’s Studies Dept., was dean of social sciences, worked as the first vice provost for Global Affairs, and most recently, was chief academic officer for one of the newer campuses at the University of Washington.
Tell us about yourself. Where did you go to school and what are your academic interests?
I’ve always been a public school person. For my undergraduate years, I went to the other PSU, Penn State University. It’s funny; I started college at a PSU, and now here I am at the other PSU. I have a bachelor’s degree in English and psychology. I then went to graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania and got my Ph.D. in English.
My interests are in feminism and American popular culture. I’ve written a couple of books, mostly having to do with gender analysis of different aspects of American culture. My first book was on the Vietnam War. My most recent book was an edited book on media and Osama Bin Laden. I have a lot of connections, but they all come from a feminist point of view.
What drew you into this career path? Did you always know you wanted to go into higher education administration?
When I became chair of Women’s Studies [at the University of Washington], I discovered I really enjoyed the work. I liked having a chance to impact student learning and the opportunities students have in different ways than in my own classroom when I was teaching. I realized it was rewarding for me to do work on the behalf of the student experience at a broader scale.
Can you describe the job of the provost at PSU?
The provost at any university is the chief academic officer. In the same way the chief budget officer oversees the budget at a university, the chief academic officer oversees things related to academics. I have the opportunity to oversee the courses, curriculum, majors and the programs that students pursue during their education.
What are your specific goals during your time as provost at PSU?
PSU has a national reputation as a university who cares about students and about access while being deeply committed to community partnerships within a great city. I want to keep furthering the work that has already achieved so much at Portland State; to continue strengthening partnership with the city and with the communities this university serves.
What do you love about this job?
This job gives me the chance to meet people all throughout [PSU] and people in this community who love this university. Whether they’re faculty or students or staff or alums or community members, this is a beloved university. It’s clear that people really care deeply about Portland State.
How do you take that and connect with students?
That is a good question and this subject means a great deal to me. Sometimes, when I have time, I just go walk around campus, sit in a coffee shop and talk to students.
What would your advice be for students at PSU right now?
Part of being in college is giving yourself permission to explore the freedom to try a lot of new things. It doesn’t mean giving up a commitment to something you want to get out of your education. But it does mean making sure your education is both about that focus and about exposing yourself to things you never thought you would do or try. I’ve met many students in my career who take one class and it changes the way they think about everything, all because they took a risk trying something that was different for them. I have enormous respect for the multiple things students are juggling while they are here. I would just say that if in all that juggling, you could juggle something new, it would be to your benefit.
What do you love about PSU?
I have to tell you what I love most about PSU so far is the people. Everyone has been incredibly kind and generous with their time and their ideas. The people here have really helped to define this as a special place.
Is there anything else you would like to say to students and the PSU community?
I am just thrilled to be here and excited to be part of this community. I am truly looking forward to working with everyone involved in keeping this university on a great trajectory.
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.” Helen Keller