President discusses adjustment to life on campus

Having grown up with six siblings, President David A. Greene understood from a young age the importance of higher education. Greene brings with him not only depth of knowledge but also diverse life experiences and lessons that formalize his central values. A father of two (one daughter and one son), Greene puts his family and work first; the tandem of the two fill him with compassion and excitement to be the 20th president of the College.

When asked to describe his undergraduate experience in three words, Greene said, “Disruptive, friendly, evolutionary.” Greene attended Hamilton College and then received two Masters degrees and a doctoral degree in administrative, planning and social policy from Harvard University.

“If anything [my college experience] was probably a tumultuous time of personal discovery, trying to figure out who I am and what was important…. Upon reflection, it was probably more of a time of personal development, over academic development,” Greene said.

Like many undergraduates, Greene’s four years at Hamilton were a time of forming and questioning values. Moreover, Greene worked to discover who he was in the larger context. “It was disruptive because who I thought I was and who I was becoming were probably in conflict,” he said.

While Greene was growing up, his father worked as a high school teacher and then received his doctorate and became a college professor. “I remember going to [my father’s] graduation ceremony when he got his doctorate from Boston University. It was a powerful moment seeing my father go back to school and a real signal about the importance of education.” Greene said.

Greene grew up around college campuses and became immersed in different aspects of higher education at a young age. Greene and his siblings helped their father grade simple parts of exams and learned first hand about research. He said, “We used to be guinea pigs for [my father’s] colleagues in the psychology department.”

Overall, Greene’s upbringing emphasized the importance and value in education. “The more central point was that education really mattered in my family,” said Greene.

Through his childhood and adult life, Greene recognized the strife and sacrifice people go through to receive higher education. “What people do to get education…how much people sacrifice to have education and to get to a place like [Colby]. Parents who support their children, or when you see adults fight and claw to do everything they can to receive higher education, you can never lose sight of that, it is very powerful,” he said.

His siblings, who now all live in New England, taught Greene the balance between friendly conflict and resolution. “We would argue and fight and we were also really close. One of the things I learned through having siblings is that conflict is okay, and you can still move beyond it and be close and be together,” Greene said.

As a college president, as with any leadership position, it may be hard to find time to relax from the stress and obligations of the job. “The two things in my life that are important to me, are my family and my work….When I’m with my family it feels like decompression,” he said.

For Greene’s family, their summerhouse on Cape Cod has become a sort of sanctuary by which the family leaves their work and stress behind to spend time with each other, relaxing and having fun. “It has become a place for us where as a family we can decompress and spend time together; it is an important touchstone for us….It is a place where we’ve had holidays and a space that is really our space, one where as a family we can all just be together and be ourselves completely,” Greene said.

“I didn’t know how much fun [being a father] would actually be and how fulfilling…and life transforming [it is]….I think if we have to do something important in life, the first thing is to be a good father, being able to send kids off in the world to do something exciting and important,” he said.

For Greene, the hardest part about his new position is when he cannot spend as much time as he wants with his family. “My son plays on his junior high school football team. Being at games is very important and I will cancel anything, but sometimes I’m traveling and have to miss a game….When my daughter is in a play, it is really important to be there for those moments,” Greene said.

Before coming to the Hill, Greene worked as the executive vice president at University of Chicago. Moving from the city of Chicago to Maine is not necessarily an easy transition, but Greene’s family has adjusted well to living in Waterville. “[My children] certainly miss their friends, but they keep in close contact with them and have adjusted extremely well….They have made friends very quickly, and my house is often filled with teenage kids they’ve met at school….They’ve handled the move with incredible grace, poise and generosity, and are making the most of it and love being at Colby and being part of this community. They love going to games and events decked out in Colby swag,” Greene said.

Greene’s daughter, Madeline, is currently a junior in high school and has started the infamous college search and application process. She recently visited Bowdoin College: “[My daughter said,] ‘I’m wearing my Colby sweatshirt when I go [to Bowdoin].’ She came back and said she loved Colby more and how much more beautiful and impressive Colby is. I loved that.”

Greene’s family has excitedly been taking advantage of the opportunities in Maine and on the campus. He wants to spend as much time as he can in the rich outdoors of Maine. “I want to get up to Acadia, spend more time on the coast, get up to the mountains,” Greene said. “One of the things I’d love to do is go fly fishing….There is something soul cleansing about fly fishing, you really have to focus your mind on the activity.”

In comparing University of Chicago to the College, Greene marks a difference in the culture of, and emphasis on, research versus a liberal arts education. “In U. Chicago, the predominant ethos is about [research]. And everything flows from discovery…. Education is obviously important, but comes out of [research]; it is not a place that leads with education,” Greene said. This is in part due to the graduate programs and professional schools at the University of Chicago, in addition to the undergraduate school.

Alternatively, he said, “I think at Colby there is more of a balance between scholarship and education and the way that the two come together. The environment here is more communal. It’s a place that is more supportive of one another.…Both places focus on excellence and have very high standards…but Colby is really focused on undergraduates and the experience students have here.”

Overall, the faculty, students and the College have inspired Greene; this has energized him to get to know and work hard for the community.

“I think we have an extraordinary faculty, a group of faculty who could be at any college or university in the country and have chosen to be here and take that very seriously. The thing that strikes me is how seriously they take their role as scholars and teachers and that they think about [their roles] in connection with students,” Greene said.

Through speaking with alumni, the dedication of the faculty to the students amazed Greene. The students impressed him as well. He said, “I knew that the students were smart and talented, what I hadn’t expected was how open and engaging students are here. There is a sense of possibility with students, in a way that people tend to support one another….It is an environment where students are singularly accomplished, yet they seem to work together instead of working at odds.”

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