Mills College Alumna Makes $3 Million Gift for Study of Photography at Mills

Oakland, CA—June 05, 2017

Nancy Cook

The late Nancy Cook, left, with Mills President Elizabeth L. Hillman, on January 29, 2017.

Mills College is pleased to announce a $3 million gift to its photography program from the late Mills alumna Nancy Cook, ’68 which will create an endowed faculty chair in photography, a scholarship fund, and a fund enabling students to hone their craft via travel.

Cook, who passed away earlier this year, cultivated a lifelong love of photography and travel, placing her eye in the viewfinder in such far-flung locales as Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Antarctica. In making the gift before her passing, Cook said she wanted to make photography more accessible to Mills women interested in the medium. The endowed undergraduate scholarship fund that her gift creates will be named for her Mills roommate, Joyce Shank.

Catherine Wagner, Dean of the Fine Arts Division, said the gift will solidify the study of photography as art at Mills.

“The strong legacy of photography at Mills is here to stay with this kind of foundation,” said Wagner, who is also a recognized fine arts photographer and will be the inaugural holder of the chair created by the gift. “With this gift, we will be able to expand our academic offerings in photography and expand our scholarships to students working in this medium.”

Cook’s brother, Bill Cook, noted that “Nancy's passion for adventurous travel photography grew even stronger in her later years, and I'm convinced that this gave her the will to far outlive her doctors' expectations.”

Nancy Cook

The late Nancy Cook pictured during her time as a Mills student, photographed by her Mills roommate, Joyce Shank, '68.

“I had the great pleasure of meeting Nancy late last year,” said Mills College President Elizabeth Hillman. “Learning about her Mills experience—and her passion for photography and travel—was truly inspiring. Her generous investment in Mills reflects an equally tenacious commitment to making such life-changing experiences possible for generations of future students.”

According to Wagner, Mills College has a deep history in the study of fine art photography. Photographer Ansel Adams had his first show at the Mills Art Museum and famed photographer Imogen Cunningham lived on the Mills Campus when her husband Roi Partridge was chair of the Mills Art Department. Significant pieces of their work reside in the Mills Art Museum’s permanent collection. Photography at Mills continues to be “absolutely integrated into the art program” and is taught as conceptual art, as opposed to commercial photography or photojournalism, said Wagner, who has led the photography program at Mills for 35 years.

Cook’s gift comes at a time of renewed commitment to building Mills’ endowment, making this one of the best fundraising years in the College’s recent history.

About Mills College
Located in Oakland, California, in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area, Mills College is a nationally renowned independent liberal arts college for women with graduate programs for women and men. Ranked one of the top-tier regional universities in the West by U.S. News & World Report, Mills is also recognized as one of The Best 381 Colleges in the nation by The Princeton Review. Since 1852, we've been empowering students to become creative, independent thinkers who take and inspire action. For more information, visit