Iowa Alumni Magazine | August 2007 | Features

A Passion for Education

By Tina Owen
The UI's new president pledges to build on Iowa's strengths and potential.

Sally Mason receives a welcoming gift from the student representatives she met the day after being named the UI's next president.

On June 21, as he introduced the new president of the University of Iowa, Regent Michael Gartner listed several ways in which Sally Mason stood out from the other candidates.

"In her interviews, when she spoke about education, there was a sparkle in her eye," said Gartner, president of the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, speaking to an eager crowd of faculty, staff, students, members of the public, and media representatives. "She was the only [candidate] to use the word 'passion' when discussing education and the University of Iowa."

Thunderous applause and the triumphant blare of the Iowa Fight Song surrounded Mason as she walked to the podium at the front of the Richey Ballroom in the Iowa Memorial Union, where Iowa Governor Chet Culver waited to greet her. Mason's eyes did indeed sparkle as — dressed in a black skirt suit and a gold patterned blouse — she joked with the audience that she already had a wardrobe that reflected Iowa's school colors.

"It's amazing what can happen in a week," said Mason, referring to the fact that she had only visited the UI campus several days previously for her interview. "Now we begin a new page in the continuing great history of the University of Iowa."

The successor to David Skorton, who left Iowa in June 2006 to head up Cornell University, Mason is the UI's 20th president and only the second woman (after Mary Sue Coleman) to hold that title. Her base salary has been set at $450,000.

At her first official UI event, Mason displayed the warmth and friendliness that made her such a popular and respected administrator at Purdue University, where she spent the past six years as provost and a professor of biology. During that time, she achieved notable successes in promoting diversity, research, and education initiatives.

A native of New York City, Mason received her bachelor's degree in zoology from the University of Kentucky in 1972, a master's degree from Purdue University in 1974, and a Ph.D. in cellular, molecular, and developmental biology from the University of Arizona in 1978 — quite an achievement for a first-generation university student. During her career at Purdue and at Kansas University, she received a number of teaching awards and research grants. Mason's husband, Ken — a biology professor — will be joining the University of Iowa faculty.

Mason officially started her term as president of the University of Iowa on August 1, but she began to lay the groundwork for her new position the day after her selection was announced. Fulfilling her stated intentions to listen and to work in partnership with the university community, the state, alumni, and the private sector, she met with student representatives to discuss their issues and concerns.

Mason admitted that she faces a steep learning curve. "But I'm not afraid of heights," she said, "and, having spent my entire career in higher education, I know how to learn."