Mills College Celebrates 10 Big Moments in 2019: Year in Review & Look Ahead

Oakland, CA—December 18, 2019

It has been an eventful and productive year at Mills College! Here is a quick review of our biggest and proudest moments.

Big Moment #1: Mills Piloted Google’s New Applied Machine Learning Intensive to Prepare Students for Future Workforce

A diverse group of students gather in front of a multicolored banner that reads "diversity, equity, inclusion" at networking event hosted by google.Mills College was proud to be selected by Google to be one of the first of five colleges in the nation that offered a future-focused pilot program in machine learning. It was a 10-week immersion experience, that enabled students to learn the fundamentals of machine learning and how it intersects with the computer and data sciences. Mills was the perfect partner for Google because it already has nationally recognized faculty in the computer sciences. And, in combination with liberal arts, it offers cutting-edge computer and data science education that better prepares its diverse students for leadership in a socially responsible, purpose-driven, future workforce. “I took my first computer science class at Mills and I totally fell in love with it,” says Regina Wang ‘19. “The entire department has shown me how empowering computer science can be—and that I can have a future in it.”

Discover more about our Computer Science program.

Big Moment #2: Mills Study-Away Program at the Mexican Border Featured in the Media Spotlight  

Mills Professor Lisa Urry and Mills student Ma'kaya Washington on set with KTVU news host Alex Savidge.As part of a new course led by Mills College Professor Lisa Urry, 11 Mills students and faculty traveled to the border city of Nogales, Arizona, to see for themselves if there really was a crisis at the Mexican border. Students and faculty spent 10 days exploring the socio-political, cultural, and ecological issues that impact the borderlands along the US/Mexico border. The study-away program had a balanced agenda. The students met with activists, humanitarian organizations, Border Patrol, and the US Consul. They also visited government facilities at a time when the politics of the border were dominating national discourse. Mills students crossed the border to Sonora, Mexico to meet with Mexican community leaders to hear their perspectives first-hand. The Mills contingent also volunteered on community service projects while there.

Student Ma’kaya Washington and Professor Urry were interviewed about their experiences on KTVU. Watch the inspiring TV segment.

Big Moment #3: Award-Winning Neuroscientist, Geneticist, and Head of Science for Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Speaks at Mills College

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative's Head of Science, Dr. Cori BargmannAs part of the Russell Women in Science Lecture Series, Mills College was honored to host internationally recognized neuroscientist and geneticist, Dr. Cori Bargmann, PhD, as a guest speaker. Bargmann is currently the first Head of Science at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. She believes that collaboration, risk taking, and staying close to the scientific community are the best opportunities to accelerate progress in science. She leads the Chan Zuckerberg science team in its mission to support the science and technology that will make it possible to cure, prevent, or manage all diseases by the end of the century. Bargmann also co-chaired the National Institutes of Health working group that helped set goals and strategies for President Obama’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN Initiative). Stay tuned for an announcement of the 2020 speaker for Mills’ Russell Women in Science Lecture.

Become a STEM leader at Mills.

Big Moment #4: Two Trailblazing Congresswomen Inspire and Activate Mills Class of 2019!

Congresswomen Barbara Lee and Lauren Underwood at Mills in May 2019.Mills Alumna, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (‘73) introduced Congresswoman Lauren Underwood as our Commencement speaker this year. Both women are powerhouses in their own right and are leading the way for other future leaders to follow.

Lee entered Mills as a transfer student and single mother, and says the campus provided “a safe environment that encouraged me to become an independent, free-thinking woman for the first time in my life.” As a member and president of Mills’ Black Student Union (BSU), she says, “I was empowered to fight not just for myself, but for all women and especially Black people. Mills and the BSU were a fertile training ground that allowed me to develop important organizational and political strategizing skills.”

Her political future was decisively shaped when she took a government course at Mills that required her to participate in a presidential campaign. “I invited Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress, to speak at Mills,” Lee recalls. “I helped organize her Northern California campaign, and I registered to vote for the first time...and the rest is history.” Lee’s political career includes three terms in the California State Assembly, one year as a state senator, and 16 years as the congressional representative of California’s 13th district.

Congresswoman Lauren Underwood addressed the Class of 2019. Similar to Lee, Underwood is leading by example. She is the first person of color, first woman, and first millennial to represent Illinois’ 14th district.

Underwood is a fierce advocate for health care equity, public education, and economic opportunity. She serves on a variety of congressional committees including the Future Forum, a group of young Democratic Members of Congress committed to listening to and standing up for the next generation of Americans, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), and the LGBT Equality Caucus. As a strong supporter of addressing the gun violence epidemic, Congresswoman Underwood is a member of the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.

Watch the Mills College Commencement 2019 Webcast to hear the Congresswomen speak.

Big Moment #5: Mills Performing Arts Opens Doors to the Oakland Community and Beyond

Dancers at Mills College.Mills Performing Arts launched a new website that showcases the work of the Mills College Dance, Music, Theater, and Literatures & Languages Departments with the goal of fostering deeper ties with our Bay Area community and championing a dynamic, boundary-breaking performing arts scene.

For more than 120 years, Mills has hosted performances by groundbreaking artists, many of whom were Mills faculty, such as Pauline Oliveros, Dave Brubeck, Morton Subotnick, Meredith Monk, Anna Halprin, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown ’58, Muhal Richard Abrams, Molissa Fenley ’75, Fred Frith, Rebeca Mauleón ’89, and more.

Join us for an upcoming event! View the Mills Performing Arts Event Calendar.

Learn more about our Performing Arts academic programs.

Big Moment #6: “We Are The Voices” Launches!

Student reading poetry.Mills College has been awarded a generous five-year, $500,000 grant by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support a public humanities project that brings together Mills College creative writing and digital humanities students with poets and scholars working in Oakland and beyond.

This project, “We Are the Voices We Have Been Waiting For: Poetry, Performance, and Public Humanities,” kicked off in fall 2019 with a series of conversations, readings, and lectures by local and national poets, performers, and scholars. It contributes to a broader College-wide initiative that makes our newly renovated performing arts facilities available to audiences in the City of Oakland and the Bay Area. The project builds on community partnerships such as those with 2019 artists in residence, Ubuntu Theater Project and Latanya Tigner, director of Dimensions Dance.

Learn more about We Are The Voices and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant.

Big Moment #7: Mills Receives Highly Coveted Inspiring Programs in STEM Award

2019 Inspiring Programs in Stem Award from Insight into Diversity Magazine.The Jill Barrett Biology Research Program at Mills was selected to receive the prestigious 2019 Inspiring Programs in STEM Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine (September 2019 issue).

INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine selected the Jill Barrett Biology Research Program at Mills because it encourages the advancement of women in the biological sciences by providing research experiences for undergraduate students that are fostered through close mentorships with faculty. Students engage in research projects that aim to provide insights into unanswered questions in biology. In the process, students gain technical skills, practice in the logic and creativity of science, and experience analyzing and presenting data. Most importantly, students learn leadership skills and the value of their contributions to new biological knowledge.

Mills is leading the way for women in STEM! Learn more here.

Big Moment #8: Mills Ethnic Studies Program Celebrates its 50th Anniversary

Ethnic Studies Mills Ethnic Studies program celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Ethnic Studies explores the concerns and contributions of people of color in the United States. The program is dedicated to community organizing, social justice, and the exploration of intersectionality of race, culture and power. Fifty years ago, the Black Student Union (BSU) at Mills sent a letter to then-President Robert Joseph Wert. The letter communicated the financial struggles Black students were experiencing and brought attention to the low number of Black faculty. The students organized a rally, marched into Wert’s office and demanded an ethnic studies program. These events led Mills College to develop the curriculum and launch an official ethnic studies department that year.

Students, faculty, friends, and families celebrated the anniversary of this historic occasion in Lisser Hall. The evening’s highlights included speeches from ethnic studies professors, faculty and students, and performances sharing cultural traditions. Ericka Huggins, a noted human rights activist and former Black Panther leader, delivered the highly anticipated keynote.

Learn more about our Ethnic Studies program.

Big Moment #9: Mills Applauds 13 Milestones for Sustainability

Reuse DepotIn honor of Earth Day this year, Mills College celebrated its ongoing commitment to clean energy, sustainability, and doing its part in protecting the planet. The Waste Reduction program, one milestone on the list, helps both students and our Oakland community. For example, 2019 marked another year of running the Reusables Drive, an on-campus opportunity for student residents to donate reusable items they do not need to the College's Reuse Depot. The Reuse Depot provides useful free items for incoming students at the beginning of the new year and donates items to local charities, reducing hundreds of pounds of waste that would otherwise be sent to landfills.

If you are a local program or charity and would like to provide a list of needs, please email

Read all 13 Big Milestones for Sustainability at Mills in 2019.

Big Moment #10: Mills Ranked 3rd Best Value and 9th Best Undergraduate Teaching College in the West

Mills College Ranked 3rd Best Value and 9th Best Undergraduate Teaching College in the WestMills College was recognized by U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 Best Colleges Guide in two new categories: Best Innovative Colleges and Best Social Mobility. We maintained our high ranking as one of the Best Value Colleges while also receiving accolades for Best Undergraduate Teaching, and we are honored to receive Best Regional Universities in the West for the 12th consecutive year.

Mills is particularly proud that U.S. News & World Report recognized our undergraduate programs for creating a dynamic environment that supports intellectual exploration and a thoughtful approach to life. Working closely with our renowned faculty members and diverse students in intimate, collaborative classes, Mills students explore, debate, and challenge conventional thinking—both inside and outside the classroom. Students work with faculty members on meaningful real-world projects and engage with distinguished professors, thinkers, writers, and artists.

Explore our undergraduate programs and visit Mills and take a tour.

Look Ahead: Mills College Embraces New Opportunities for Campus Optimization

Replacing Boiler UnitsMills is making exciting progress in articulating a comprehensive strategy for campus optimization. Our work so far has centered on analyzing the use and potential of our land and facilities, learning about community needs and opportunities, and identifying potential strategic partners. Our goal is to ensure that Mills is economically and environmentally sustainable, with a vibrant campus that supports our students and makes Mills a hub for equity and opportunity in Oakland. We will share more information in the new year.