Professor of Economics, Bowdoin College
Deborah DeGraff '80 can speak first-hand about Knox's ability to change lives.
In fact, she can even pinpoint the exact moment that it did change her life-a
meeting with Timme Professor of Economics Roy Andersen in his office on the
top floor of Alumni Hall. But her connections to Knox began long before her meeting with Professor Andersen.
"I like to say I started at Knox when I was three years old," DeGraff jokes. Daughter of the rector of the Galesburg Episcopal Church, DeGraff was introduced to Knox through faculty and staff who were parishioners of her father's church. She also attended the preschool and kindergarten affiliated with the College at that time. But when it came time to apply for college, Knox wasn't on her radar screen.
"My family had no information on financial assistance for college, and we just assumed Knox would be too expensive," she explains.
DeGraff was set to attend Illinois State University (ISU), when parishioner Al Reilly, Knox's former head football and women's basketball coach, asked her parents where she was going to college. When they told him about ISU, he immediately arranged for the DeGraff family to visit Knox.
"This coach single-handedly got us to visit campus and meet with admission and financial aid. Within a couple of days, the College had put together a financial aid package, and I ended up coming to Knox" she says.
During her junior year, she experienced a bit of an academic quandary-she enjoyed her major and its courses, but she wasn't excited about the business and management career path that most economics majors followed. It was at this point that she met with Professor Andersen.
"I explained my quandary to him, and he sat there for a few moments, scratching his head, and then he said one sentence: ‘Have you ever thought of becoming an economist?' I didn't fully understand what he meant, but he then explained graduate school to me and the career options that I'd have. And, he convinced me that I was capable of doing it," she says.
"I walked out of his office and said, ‘That's it. That's what I'm going to do.'"
After receiving a doctorate in economics from the University of Michigan, DeGraff worked in the International Labour Office in Geneva, Switzerland, held a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina, and, since 1991, has been a professor of economics at Bowdoin College in Maine. After she received tenure at Bowdoin, she became interested in devoting more time to helping Knox.
"Being a professor at a liberal arts college, I thought that I had experience that could be useful to Knox's Board of Trustees. I could bring an insider's perspective, so to speak, to the Board," she says. DeGraff turned to Roy Andersen once again, who discussed with her the possibility of becoming an Alumni Trustee, a Board position that is recommended by the College's Alumni Council. "He talked to me about this option, suggested me to the council, and I was selected," she says.
DeGraff served as an Alumni Trustee from 2000 until 2004, and was voted back onto the Board as a general trustee in 2006. "I was very pleased to be asked back on the Board. I enjoyed my experience as an Alumni Trustee. It was interesting, and I felt like I was participating in something that was really important and valuable. It's a way of giving back," she says. And though she's witnessed first-hand the many challenges the College has endured over the last decade and its successes, she believes that it is fundamentally the same life-changing school it was when Al Reilly recruited her years ago.
"I know there are many recent alumni and students who would feel that they had that same type of caring and support from faculty and staff that I did. I consider myself very, very fortunate."