Spotlight on Humanities Alumni: Simon Greenwold


Name: Simon Greenwold ’93
Occupation: Associate Dean, Administration, Finance, and Planning, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Northwestern University
Education (UR and additional): BA Russian, UR; PhD Slavic Languages and Literatures, Northwestern University
Current city/state of residence: Chicago, IL


Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?  

Candidly, it was the best school that I got into.  I was a decent but not superior high school student and was rejected from nearly every school to which I applied.   After being waitlisted at UR, I visited the school for an in-person interview.  At the interview, I was told I was on the waitlist because my math scores on the SAT and in school were not high enough.  I told the admission officer, and I remember this like it was yesterday, “I don’t know what I am going to major in, but I know it is not going to be math.”  I got an acceptance letter later that week. I have always been pretty good at talking my way into things.  I am thrilled I talked my way into Rochester.

When and how did you choose your major?

After a not-great first term, I took second semester freshman year a Russian literature and civilization course with Kathleen Parthe.  At the time, the Berlin Wall was coming down and there was a great deal of interest in Russia, Eastern Europe, and the falling Soviet Union. I took the class because it sounded vaguely interesting.  I fell head over heels in love with the subject matter – Professor Parthe demonstrated how important writers were to the understanding and formation of Russian culture, identity, and nationhood, and I was hooked.  I started Russian language study the next fall and was off and running on my Russian major.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

I went to graduate school to get my PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Northwestern. My professors at Rochester were amazingly supportive of my applications (indeed, I received terrific guidance and attention from the Russian literature and history faculty at UR; I think I was one of the first kids who seriously wanted to be one of them and they treated me like a favorite son).  I am incredibly grateful for that time and support.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I am essentially the COO/CFO of the school at NU that conferred my degree.  I made a decision after receiving my PhD to not pursue an academic job and to look for work in Chicago (where we still live and my wife and I love).  I took a job in higher education administration and realized that the “union card” that I thought all along prepared me for one line of work (being a professor) actually prepared me well for work as an academic administrator.  Professionally and personally, this career path is a much better fit for me. I still teach, but I left my research portfolio behind in order to focus my efforts on how to build great PhD students and programs.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

What I loved about studying Russian was that it involved multiple kinds of learning – language instruction is different than a literature class, which is different from the demands of a history seminar.  I like using different parts of my brain to do different kinds of things – being an administrator allows me to be somewhat “fickle” intellectually and professionally.  Plus, Russian study forced me to go abroad and live in Russia and Eastern Europe for long stretches.  Study abroad is one of the most important experiences of my life – it teaches humility, independence, bravery, and respect (among others) – all qualities that I like to think guide my everyday experience now but were formed through my undergraduate life.

How do you balance your work and professional life?

My five-year old does not let me write emails when I am home.  And I cook dinner most nights so I have to leave work.  Candidly, I love what I do and if I did not have a family I would probably work 14 hours a day rather than the 10-12 that I do now.  But the fact that my family demands time ensures a balance.  Plus, I love sports so a few hours every week is spent either playing or watching something.

What advice do you have for current students?

Do not allow the impulse to be a professional supersede the opportunity you have to be a student of the liberal arts.  My opportunity to explore all sorts of courses at UR made me a more well-rounded and informed person – the curiosity fostered by not committing too soon to a profession provides you with a foundation of ambition to learn that will continue even once you have ended up in a job.