University President Mary Sue Coleman sat down with the Daily News Editors for an exclusive interview to discuss current issues like budget cuts and the lawsuits, but revealed a great deal about her personal history as well.

Born to a WWII veteran and physicist, University President Mary Sue Coleman said she spent much of her early years moving around the southeastern U.S. before finally ending up in Iowa.

“I was quite shocked when I got to Iowa and I realized that people drank iced tea without sugar in it,” Coleman said.

Though a chemistry major at Grinnell College, Coleman took art classes throughout her years at that school.

To this day, Coleman stresses the importance of risking intellectual interest in unlikely areas.

“The biggest risk I took was I wandered one day into an evening course in metalsmithing using both silver and gold and learning how to work in silver and gold. I was a Chemistry major and I had never in my life been in an art studio like that.

“This was just one of these things you go and you do in the evening, so I thought ‘Oh, well I’ll just go and see about this.’ I was a freshman and I ended up getting very serious about it and took Studio Art for all four years. I loved doing it, I just loved the solitude of the studio and having the time to create with these metals,” she said.

But ultimately the demands of a family and career ended her study of art.

“I knew that I wasn’t going to be an art major-I was a Chemistry major-but it was a wonderful contrast to being in a chemistry lab and studying chemistry and then, having this other side that was creative.

“It requires a kind of discipline that you really have to stay on top of because you lose the skill. I have some sort of fond hope: ‘maybe when I retire this is something I can go back to,'” she said.

She said her roots also led her to believe in affirmative action.

“I lived in Kentucky, Georgia – Statesborough Georgia – and Tennessee and went to Graduate school in North Carolina at Chapel Hill and then went back to North Carolina in 1990. I just saw the tremendous and positive impacts that affirmative action had on access and inclusion and in giving opportunity,” Coleman added.

She never really intended to end up in the line of work she did, but rather fell into it.”I thought I would end up teaching at a small liberal arts college somewhere and I didn’t do that at all. I went into a research university right from the word go and I was a very happy faculty member for 19 years and then I got an opportunity to do something that was more administrative and I just kept progressing, but it certainly wasn’t a lifelong goal.”

But still, her origins continued to affect her throughout her career.

“When I went to New Mexico, our population there was Hispanic, Latino and Native American, and affirmative action was critical to bringing people in to being able to have access to higher education and have opportunity in life. All my life, I’ve been involved in helping and trying to construct programs and do things that really make a difference so I’m very proud to be here fighting this battle really for all of higher education and for society.

“You would hope that we would come to a time in this country where we would no longer need these tools to provide access and provide opportunity, but we’re not there yet. Race still matters enormously in this country,” Coleman said.

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