Women of Influence: Frances Sweeney '86, MA Liberal Studies '08

Frances Sweeney, who graduated from SMC in 1986, also entered the realm of education, first at other institutions, and ultimately at Saint Mary's in the 1990s, first as an assistant professor in Spanish. She rose to become vice provost of academic affairs in 2004. In that position, she helps draw up the undergraduate curriculum, recruit and hire faculty, oversee the Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action and oversee expansion of the High Potential Program for first-generation college students. Three years ago she founded the College's honors program.

Sweeney, one of eight children in her family, was steeped in a culture of service. One of her vivid childhood memories is of a day when everyone crowded into the big family station wagon for a camping trip.

Along the highway, her father, Neil, saw a black man standing next to his car, which had run out of gas. Her father stopped, gave the man a ride to a gas station, bought him gas and gave him money before driving away.

This incident occurred in the early 1970s, Sweeney recalls, when she felt a lot of people wouldn't stop to help a black man. She says, "For me, it was a statement with an impact — that my father stopped to help and that he was demonstrating to us the dignity of all."

Neil Sweeney graduated from Saint Mary's in 1950 and later became superintendent of public schools in Pleasanton. He met his wife, Beverly, at a Saint Mary's dance in the late 1940s.

Frances Sweeney, 46, earned a bachelor's degree from Saint Mary's in Spanish, a master's in Spanish from Middlebury College in Vermont in 1987, a Ph.D. in Hispanic linguistics from the University of Texas in 1992 and a master's in liberal studies at Saint Mary's in 2007.

As vice provost of academic affairs, Sweeney has thought a lot about what the College offers its students. "The magical part about Saint Mary's is that you have three traditions — we are Catholic, and Catholic has to do with social justice, dignity and education for the common good," Sweeney says. "We are also liberal arts, which has to do with well-rounded students and a concept of life-long learning. And we have the Lasallian tradition founded on establishing authentic relationships with students and meeting them where they are for their own transformation."

See other Women of Influence

40 Years/One Night, a "Gaela" celebration recognizing the 40 Influential Women of Saint Mary's, will be held on Sat., Nov. 6 in the Soda Center. It begins with a cocktail reception, followed by dinner, a raffle and a silent auction. The keynote speaker will be Kristine Carlson, co-author of the Don't Sweat the Small Stuff series. Go to stmarys-ca.edu/womeninphil for tickets and more information.