Sister Joel Read, who led Alverno for 35 years, dies at 91

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Sister Joel Read, Alverno College‘s longtime former president and advocate for education reform, died Thursday. She was 91.

Read served at Alverno’s helm for 35 years before her retirement in 2003.

Sister Joel Read

“Sister Joel was a courageous and pioneering leader who not only strengthened but embodied Alverno’s mission to educate strong women,” Alverno president Andrea Lee said. ‘Through her tireless work and countless achievements at Alverno, in the Milwaukee community and elsewhere, her impact knows no bounds. The Alverno community deeply mourns her passing, but we vow to carry on the incredible legacy she leaves behind.”

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“Sister Joel devoted her incredible talents to building a revolutionary educational institution that has thrived for decades,” added Mary Meehan, who succeeded Read as president from 2004-16. “Sister was a colleague, mentor and friend to me, and I will forever be grateful to her for her constant support and encouragement. Anyone who knew her would agree that she was a teacher from whom we all learned so much.”

Read was born on Dec. 30, 1925, to Joseph and Ellen Read. She grew up in Chicago, where the nuns who taught her in grade school inspired her to heed the call to religious life.

Read took her first vows with the School Sisters in 1945 and earned her bachelor’s degree in education from Alverno in 1948. She also completed a master’s degree in history from Fordham University in New York, where she also pursued doctoral-level work.

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Read returned to Alverno in 1955 to chair its history department. After more than a decade of teaching, Read was appointed president in 1968 by Alverno’s first lay board of trustees.

She is credited with working with faculty to carry out a new vision for education. In 1973, the college introduced its distinctive abilities-based curriculum and assessment-as-learning approach, a hallmark of Alverno’s education program.

Sister Joel Read in 1984.

She’s also credited with the introduction of one of the first college internship programs in the country; the launch of the Weekend College, which targeted working women; and the creation of the Digital Diagnostic Portfolio, which allowed students to follow their learning progress online. Read also oversaw multimillion-dollar fundraising campaigns to expand the college’s campus and academic offerings.

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Read was an advocate for women’s rights. The National Organization of Women honors her on its website as being among NOW’s founders and pioneers.

She was recognized with many awards, including being named a presidential appointee to the U.S. Commission for the Celebration of International Women’s Year in 1975, the first recipient of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education’s Anne Roe Award and the Wisconsin Women in Higher Education Leadership’s Lifetime Leadership Award.

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