While growing up, Provost and Dean Maria Davis, Ph.D., never thought she would love something more than nature, but she’s found a close comparison in Olivet College and its students. Her background is in biology and entomology, and she quickly found a passion for teaching during her own years as a graduate student. Dr. Davis has now spent 35 years teaching college classes and began her adventure as a senior administrator in 2010. Despite the years that she has spent at Olivet College, Dr. Davis is still as drawn to the College’s mission today as she was when she first joined the OC family.
What is your favorite memory from your time at OC?
My favorite memories of my time at OC always involve students. Whether it was sharing the excitement of a first-year student having an “ah-ha!” moment in the lab or getting an enthusiastic hug from a graduate at Commencement, helping students be successful has always been at the heart of why I do what I do. If I have to pick one favorite memory from my time here it would be the day that my own daughter, Anna, walked across the OC stage to receive her bachelor’s degree. She had a great experience here and was well-prepared for vet school where she has just entered the clinical phase of her training. She is one proud OC alumna and I’m a proud OC mama!
Where do your passions for education and leadership stem from?
I enjoy learning and get great joy from helping others find that same spark for learning within themselves. I have committed my life’s work to higher education because I believe that the future of our society and our planet depends on people who can differentiate good information from bad, make well-informed decisions, and take responsibility for themselves and for others. My passion for leadership stems from a similar commitment to creating a better future for us all.
What’s the average day in your role, or some of the unique things you are responsible for?
I’m not sure that there is such a thing as an average day for me! I am thankful for the variety of different work that I get to do and all the wonderful people with whom I work. For example, a couple days a week I teach a biostatistics class starting at 7:50 a.m. Then I may head back to the office to do some writing, respond to messages, meet with individual students or faculty members, or process some paperwork.
As is true for many leaders, I generally host or attend several meetings each day. I sometimes joke that I need a giant vacuum tube like they have at the bank to carry me between my office in Mott and the Kolassa Conference Room in Dole for all the meetings I attend there.
Some of the unique things for which I am responsible include “hooding” our graduates during Commencement and chairing the committee that recommends the bearers for the College’s new ceremonial mace.
What is your teaching style like?
Although I am currently serving as the provost, I still teach a senior-level biostatistics course each semester. It feeds my soul to be in the classroom with students every week. My teaching style centers around promoting active learning and having fun. Learning should be a joy, not drudgery! My favorite learning activity in my biostatistics class is the semester-long project in which students plan and execute novel research in order to answer a scientific question they come up with themselves. They apply what they learn in class about data collection and analysis in order to generate new knowledge, thereby moving from being students of science to being scientists themselves. This is the very purpose of higher education — to produce individuals capable of higher order thinking who can answer real-world questions and solve real-world problems.
Why do you encourage students to attend OC?
Let me start by saying that OC isn’t for everyone; I only encourage students who are well-matched for our mission and our vision to attend Olivet. From our founding, we’ve been a place of higher learning for those who will “take responsibility for themselves and for others in an increasingly diverse society.” We meet people where they are and help them become better prepared to be positive forces for change in their communities once they leave here. The simplest way to say it is this: If you want to make a difference in the world, for yourself and for others, come to Olivet College.
What do you look forward to in your role?
The events I look forward to the most every year are Move-In Day when we welcome all the new students to campus, Honors Convocation when we celebrate the academic achievements of our students, and Commencement when we send our shiny new alumni out to do good in the world.
What advice do you share with students and alumni?
The best advice I have to give anyone is that a college degree should give you the key to doing something you love for the rest of your life. Life is too short to spend most of your waking hours doing things you don’t enjoy. Find your passion and earn the learning so you can earn a living while living your passion!
What is an interesting or little-known fact about yourself?
A little-known fact about me is that I keep goats, chickens and ducks as pets. How many people get to pet a goat every morning before they go to work? I love my life! And, I am so fortunate to be able to spend most of it making a difference here at Olivet College.