In January, we at the Quarterly received an email inquiry from an alumna who attended both Mills and Northeastern University. “My thought is that perhaps there are other unique birds like myself among Mills alumnae,” she wrote. “Given the current transition to link Mills and Northeastern, it might be useful for some in the Mills community to read our stories.”
It turns out that she is not the only Mills alum to have attended classes at both institutions. A preliminary look at the data shows a total of 13 Millsies who can also count themselves as Northeastern Huskies—the majority of them women who attended Mills as undergraduates before going on to earn graduate degrees in Boston. Beyond that, though, there are also a number of Mills alums with more unique connections to Northeastern beyond academics.
Here are some of their stories.
DEBORAH FELDMAN ’89
There was a Mills tie to Northeastern Boston’s campus long before any merger surfaced—an antique print of Mills Hall has hung in the office of Deborah Feldman ’89 for decades. She has worked for the Northeastern School of Law since 1993, where she’s currently the division’s communications director and editor-in-chief of its magazine.
“I’m the center of attention whenever Mills comes up in meetings. Everyone turns to me and asks, ‘What’s Mills like?’ I tell them how special it is,” she says. “People are really excited about it. The vibe on campus has been extremely positive about Mills.” Raised in Los Angeles, Feldman came to Mills instead of Cal, which she had originally expected to attend. “The minute I stepped on campus, I loved Mills.” Feldman says. “I had an incredible mentor, Professor Linda Popofsky. I didn’t know what I’d major in when I went to college, but I ended up a history major and took every one of Linda’s classes.”
After Mills, Feldman opted to attend Boston University for a master’s degree in journalism when her first post-grad jobs turned her onto writing professionally. After stints at Tufts University and Harvard, she found her professional home at Northeastern. “I’ve had a great experience there; it’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed [in Boston] so long,” says Feldman, whose twin sons are about to start college.
She remarks that the social-justice mission of the law school has played a big part in her longevity. “This law school is majority women, and has long focused on enrolling women and people of color. Our first-year class this year was 41% students of color and just about 20% students who identify at LGBTQIA+,” Feldman says. “Northeastern’s founding in 1898 was actually as a law-school night program for people who didn’t have the means for a full-time program or were not welcome at other area law schools.” Northeastern law alumnae include Maura Healey, the first openly gay attorney general of Massachusetts; and Rachael Rollins, a Black woman who serves as the United States attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
While Feldman was surprised to hear about Northeastern’s plans to merge with Mills, she does see a path forward that can bring the two missions together. “When you compare Northeastern to Mills size-wise, it seems so different, but I really think the university works hard—especially through the co-op program—to really make every student’s experience very individual. It has a personal feel to it,” she says.
MANISHA AGRAWAL ’93
Manisha Agrawal was also well acquainted with Northeastern— when the news of a partnership first emerged, her eldest son was finishing up his junior year there. Her younger son joined him as a freshman last fall. “A lot of places talk about doing the experiential thing, but Northeastern actually lives it—and [it] has the resources to back it up,” she says. Her eldest son, who’s exploring business, completed his second co-op placement this spring, and she says her younger son is excited to explore the possibilities available in the fields he’s interested in: music and economics.
Agrawal herself grew up going to all-girls schools in India and wasn’t intending on pursuing higher education at a women’s college, but she was able to secure good international financial aid to come to the United States and planned to transfer to Cal or Stanford. But her first year at Mills was the Strike of 1990, and she says that she didn’t want to leave that behind. “I am sad about losing the all-women aspect of Mills, but I would rather lose that and keep Mills in a different iteration,” she says. “Besides, there have always been cisgender men on campus.”
Now a business consultant and strategist whose current gig is as founder of the nonprofit advising firm Nivideum, Agrawal said that she sees a lot of potential in the announcement of the Mills merger. She lives on the Peninsula, and her children attended the same school as did the children of a dean of Northeastern’s California programs. Agrawal talked with her after word of the merger got out. “That had me more excited about the possibilities,” Agrawal says. “Northeastern isn’t doing this as some sort of takeover, but because it sees the value in a place like Mills and wants to add that to the college experience they’re trying to build for many students.”
PAULETTE BOUDREAUX, MFA ’91
The Mills alum who initially contacted the Quarterly was Paulette Boudreaux, MFA ’91, who counts both her Mills and Northeastern experiences as transformative. She grew up in Mississippi but moved with her family to California “at the tail end of the Great Migration of African Americans,” she says. Thanks to a full-ride scholarship, she became the first member of her family to attend college when she enrolled at Northeastern in the ’70s.
“As a young person, you’re more up for adventure,” Boudreaux says. “Plus, the co-op program was a real draw—I didn’t know if I wanted to spend another four years in school and then not have the surety of getting employment afterward.”
A journalism major, Boudreaux was able to complete both of her co-ops with the Boston Globe, serving as the “go-fer” for several syndicated columnists. After graduation in 1977, she went to a small newspaper in upstate New York and then back to the Globe as a copy editor before her daughter was born and she moved into the more stable hours of a PR professional.
But she was itching to get back into a more creative field, so after 15 years on the East Coast, she packed up and came back to California. Boudreaux initially anticipated that she’d work on her MFA at UC Irvine, but her mother was living in East Oakland, so she dropped by the Mills campus. “Everyone was just so helpful and welcoming in all the ways one wants to be welcomed,” she says. “I chose Mills because everything, including the acceptance package, made me feel that I was seen and heard.”
Boudreaux attended Mills full-time while pursuing her MFA, writing her first novel while doing so and working as a teaching assistant during her second year. (Her young daughter often attended class with her.) Now, recently retired after 25 years on the English faculty at West Valley College in Saratoga and the author of another published novel, she is revisiting and revising that original manuscript.
When contemplating the merger between Mills and Northeastern, Boudreaux turns philosophical. “It felt like some sort of serendipity, with these two institutions that were incredibly influential on me. I can’t imagine where I would be if I had not gotten that opportunity with Northeastern,” she says. “And then graduate school at Mills was formative in a way that was completely unexpected, and it really changed the direction of my life.”
She says that she understands the concerns some have about the merger, but that she is also choosing to stay optimistic. “When I was at Northeastern, the institution did its best to make things work even during the complicated times we were living in, and it will bring that same kind of ethos to its relationship with Mills,” Boudreaux says. “I know it signals a lot of change for Mills, and I’m waiting to see how it all plays out.”