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First Minority Scholar in Residence

imageReiko Hillyer doesn’t feel particularly comfortable being called a minority scholar. “I’m a historian, first and foremost,” she says. Hillyer, whose mother is Japanese and father is Jewish, is Lewis & Clark’s first minority scholar in residence.

In an effort to increase the diversity of its faculty, Lewis & Clark is one of 35 liberal arts colleges participating in the Consortium for a Stronger Minority Presence, initiated by Grinnell College in 2001. The consortium’s goal is to play matchmaker between small liberal arts colleges and minority doctoral candidates.

If a match is made, colleges offer minority fellows one- or two-year appointments that sometimes lead to tenure-track positions. Fellows normally teach one or two classes, advise students, and work on their dissertations. 

Hillyer graduated from Yale University, with a B.A. in political science cum laude. She then taught for seven years at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in Riverdale, New York, which she also attended as a high school student. “It was hard to call my old teachers by their first names,” laughs Hillyer.

While at Fieldston, she was asked to teach several history courses—even though she hadn’t majored in the subject in college. “I got excited by the material I was presenting—especially in the areas of American and African-American history—so I decided to pursue history for its own sake in graduate school,” she says. Hillyer is currently a doctoral candidate in U.S. history at Columbia University.

This spring at Lewis & Clark, Hillyer is teaching a history course she designed herself: Constructing American Landscapes. “I’m interested in how socioeconomic forces shape everyday landscapes like tourist areas, malls, housing projects, and schools,” she says.

Hillyer, an award-winning teacher, considers Lewis & Clark her “dream place” to work because it allows her to combine her love of history with her love of teaching. “Lewis & Clark students are great. I admire their engagement and political involvement … they want to change the world!”

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