by Lokey School of Business and Public Policy at Mills College, with perspectives from their alumnae.

“There’s no such thing as average at Mills College!”

Photo: Group of students in the Lokey School of Business and Public Policy program at Mills College

There’s no such thing as average at Mills College! Mills students are one-of-a-kind, celebrating diversity in all forms. Founded in 1852 by California pioneers who wanted a quality education for their daughters, Mills College has been pushing the boundaries of gender equity and expression for over 150 years. Mills reaffirmed its commitment to women’s education in 1990, when a student- and alumnae-led strike convinced the college’s trustees to reverse plans to admit male undergraduates, while in 2014 Mills became the first women’s college to implement an admission policy for transgender and gender-questioning students. (Graduate programs at Mills have included men since the 1920s.)

Established in 2001 as the first business school dedicated to advancing women, the Lorry I. Lokey School of Business and Public Policy at Mills College now houses the undergraduate and graduate degree programs in business, economics, political science, policy, and law. Alysa Cisneros (BA ’15, MPP ’16) says, “If learning how the world works and how to fix it interests you, these are the best programs for you!”

We asked Alysa why she came to Mills.

“I went to Mills because I could study what I am passionate about-how policies and systems interact with and impact different populations of people. Politics and policy impact nearly every aspect of our lives, and with so much inequity and power imbalances in our society I believe it is critical to understand policy and how it can be used to improve people’s everyday lives. Specifically, I am passionate about democratizing technology, empowering disempowered populations (women, minorities, LGBTQ*+, the economically disenfranchised, etc.), education, and issues relating to law and civil liberties. I was very lucky to be able to study all of the above in my time at Mills.”

What can you do with a liberal arts degree?

After graduating from Mills College, Alysa joined the Silicon Valley Leadership Group as an Educational Policy and Program Associate. We asked her how her college experience helped shape who she has become.

“Mills gave me the opportunity to learn alongside smart, passionate people. The friendships and professional bonds I formed there are sure to last a lifetime. I came away from Mills more confident in my ability to constantly grow as a policy professional and advocate. Being in a constant state of growth and willingness to tackle big problems are parts of my personality encouraged at Mills, and are essential to what I do now. I work in education policy at a nonprofit where I interact with city, state, and federal government. Without those traits, I would be much less effective and happy in my job.”

We asked Alysa for any tips for girls and young women based on her college, career, and civic engagement experience. Here’s what she said.

“First, you’re probably at least 20% smarter and more qualified than you think you are! Second, collect as many good mentors as possible—they will help you when you need direction or someone to give you honest feedback. And third, design your education path around what makes you excited and brings out that spark—you know, the topics that you can’t stop talking about once you get going. You’ll need it when you’re studying for exams or getting through some tough classes. It’ll be worth it.”

Fellow alumna Barbara Lee (BA ’72) agrees, saying, “Mills encouraged me to become an independent, free-thinking woman. I was empowered to fight for myself and for all women.”

Congresswoman Lee now represents Oakland in the U.S. House of Representatives.






Hear more from other alumnae below.

Melissa K. McDonough

I am a senior management analyst for the City of Berkeley. In my free time, I draw, write poetry, keep bees, and cook up a storm. For Berkeley, I focus on change management around software implementation and promote increased interdepartmental collaboration and communication.  More generally, a management analyst examines how an organization is working: Are the processes efficient? Are staff effective? Do we have appropriate goals and are we meeting them? I became a management analyst because I want to make government work–I want us to be proud of how we run our cities, counties, state, and country. My master’s degree in public policy from Mills College provides me with the tools to analyze and problem-solve in a variety of situations. I studied economics, sociology, ethics, statistics, organizational theory, and journalism. The public policy program was like boot camp for my brain. It gave me a keen eye for observation, a big-picture understanding of complex issues, and an aptitude for problem solving. Going to a women’s college helped me to truly understand how far we have come and how far we have yet to go. As you think about what you want to do and who you want to be, make sure to be true to yourself, seek out challenges, persevere through difficulty, and never be afraid to ask for help. The best piece of advice I received in college was during my orientation. They told me that college had so many opportunities and things to offer, as well as challenges, and that to really excel, you just have to ask–seek out help, ask questions, and listen deeply.

Sharon Robinson

Sharon grew up in a large family and understands the power of working together. Prior to going back to school, after being out for many years, Sharon worked with community-based organizations and other community stakeholders to build the capacity of local nonprofit organizations. She has guided the development of community-based support networks to effectively serve the needs of diverse, under-resourced communities. Sharon has been the principal of her own consulting firm and is dedicated to making the world more equitable, intelligent, and exhilarating. She is personally and professionally focused on understanding and solving public problems, as well as improving life options for all.

After working many years, Sharon went back to school to complete the college education she had begun years prior. While at Mills College, she completed both her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Public Policy. As a alumna of the Mills College Public Policy Program, she now has a greater appreciation for the value of a dynamic, comprehensive and relevant education. As a Mills student, she had an incredible opportunity to learn more about how governments and organizations functions. More importantly, she gained the knowledge required to analyze societal problems and formulate viable policy solutions to improve life outcomes for our communities and its residents.

Sharon shares her thoughts with Alliance 4 Girls:

“As Mahatma Gandhi reminds us, ‘Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.’ May you know that your thoughts and actions are critical to your well-being and success in life. Take time for self-care and fun with loved ones and friends. Also know that you have boldness and power right now! You have the ability, right now, to make changes to positively impact your life, your communities, societal opinions, and laws that govern our daily existence and well-being. You do not have to be a certain age or have a particular expertise or profession to bring about change. You simply need to be willing to work–individually and collaboratively–toward the change that you desire for yourself, family and your community.”

Presently, Sharon provides consulting services to support community-based organizations that are working to build stronger, vibrant and happy communities.

Her personal interests are as diverse as her work. She loves the outdoors, biking and kayaking adventures, as well as playing African drums with her drumming circle. In both her personal and professional life, Sharon strives to live out her belief that strong communities make the world more equitable, intelligent and exhilarating.

Rebecca Woodbury

Rebecca is a Senior Management Analyst in the City Manager’s office. She performs a wide variety of analytical and communication-related duties including special projects, research studies, organizational change and public engagement strategy. In 2017, Rebecca was named one of Government Technology’s Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers, and a 2017 Route Fifty Navigator Award finalist in the category of Next Generation. She was recognized as Employee of the Year for 2014 and also received the Rising Star award at the Municipal Management Association of Northern California’s Women’s Leadership Summit. Rebecca holds a B.A. in Public Policy and an M.P.P., both from Mills College in Oakland. She serves on the management team for ELGL, is an active member of the Municipal Management Association of Northern California and is chair of the Sausalito Sustainability Commission, where she lives.

“I did both public policy in my undergraduate and the MPP through the 4+1 program. I had done some schooling at a few other places as well, so I kind of cobbled together my undergraduate education. It was a really great opportunity and pulled together a lot of what I had experienced in my life. I gained a lot of focus and direction through the public policy program after not knowing what I wanted to do in my late teens and early 20’s. The MPP program showed me that I can have a career that has purpose. I discovered I had a lot of interest in government, economics, human behavior and policy and this degree really pulled all those interests together. The Local Planning and Policy class and Urban Economics course uncovered my untapped passion for local government. Those classes really highlighted the impact you can have in a community through local government.

Local government has a lot of women, but not a lot of women at the top, so being at Mills surrounded by women and connected with women who are reaching for the top was incredibly impactful. Having that network and community, the camaraderie among women, is really important and I now have a strong network in the bay area that’s a built-in support team. Mills is an empowering place to be around women who are ambitious and have a lot of aspirations and come from diverse backgrounds. Being around women who didn’t have the opportunities that I had helped shaped who I am as a woman and allowed me to recognize the challenges other women have had to overcome.

I’m a member of a group in Marin focused on how we can get more women in top positions in government. One of the issues we’ve faced is that all the women getting together are white women of privilege, and our obstacles are very different from women of color. We can be blind to obstacles unless we understand where other women are coming from.”

Tips and advice for girls and young women:

“For me, it’s always been about the other women in my life. I have been very lucky to have incredible female mentors. Seek those out, develop those relationships. Mentorships don’t happen if you don’t work for them. You can’t sit around and hope a mentor will come upon you, you have to go out and find them. When I look at my life, it’s all about mentors, and most of them have been women. The way the world works, it is about the people you know. Wherever you are, it’s about how to broaden your circle. Mentorship is huge, you can learn both what to do and what you don’t want to do, but it all takes hard work.

As women, we’re in a position where we have to prove ourselves a little more, particularly in male dominated places. Always show you’re willing to do the work and your competence will shine. It may take you longer because you have to prove yourself more, but just put in that work and never take anything for granted. Never be afraid to work outside your pay grade and title, take advantage of every opportunity. I see myself in my position now, being there 9 years, and I’m in a position where I can find and support women in the organization.

So, finally, give back. Support each other. Always show your competences and ability to work hard and prove that you’re just as capable as others. Show up to the meetings, be present, contribute. It took me a little while to find my voice and work and feel comfortable, but I found that confidence to participate. Mills gave me a lot of confidence and that really has served me well.”

Sabine Nicole Talaugon

“I currently conduct independent research, evaluation, and policy analysis under Iwex Consulting, LLC, and serve on the Board of Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland, California. I am gearing up to start a PhD program in Native American Studies at UC Davis in the fall, where I will be participating in a National Science Foundation Sustainable Oceans Research Traineeship.”

Her experience at Mills, what she studied, and how it shaped who she is now:

“I did the 4+1 program at Mills, which allowed me to obtain my Bachelor’s and Masters in Public Policy in 5 years total, finishing in 2013. While at Mills I had the opportunity to work with Mills Educational Talent Search, working with middle school and high school students in Oakland, making me feel more grounded in the place that I now see as a home base. During undergrad I focused on health policy with a minor in economics, leading me to work with the Native American Health Center for my thesis and sparking my interest in Urban Indian health policy. During my master’s work I took advantage of the opportunity to take classes at UC Berkeley, and took a class in Native American Law, which strengthened my capacity to advocate for policies that impact Native people. I worked with the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center for my master’s thesis, which focused on addressing anti-Indian bias in California public schools. This work has been published in the Policy Forum at Mills College, and the book, On Indian Ground: A Return to Indigenous Knowledge-Generating Hope, Leadership and Sovereignty through Education. After finishing at Mills, a fellow Mills MPP helped me land a position at the California Consortium for Urban Indian Health where I was able to hone my skills, identify my strengths, and develop the network that enables me to consult now. Although the skills I learned at Mills propelled my career forward, the support from my Mills network is invaluable.”

Tips/advice for girls and young women:

“Try to see the opportunities for growth and learning in every experience. Say yes to some things that are outside of your comfort zone and say no to things you know won’t contribute to your wellness or growth. The path that feels right is not necessarily going to be easy but go forth anyway and try to build a support network along the way.”

Susan Ma

Susan Ma is the daughter of immigrants, an LA native, and a Public Servant.

Her experience at Mills, what she studied, and how it shaped who she is now:

“I had a wonderful experience at Mills. I wanted to study public policy because I care about equity and immigrant rights. I sought the tools to change the systems that weren’t accessible to communities of color and I wanted to attend a graduate school where I could gain the skills I needed to create change. Mills taught me the fundamentals of policy, and created an environment for me to experience new opportunities that related to my passions all while keeping an equity lens in the forefront. The relationships and analytical skills I gained from Mills continue to guide me professionally and personally. I’ve learned how to be a better advocate and how to be more courageous and confident.”

Tips/advice for girls and young women:

“When I first started at Mills, I was nervous and intimidated by all the brilliant women around me. I didn’t think I was as smart or as qualified to be there. I was just as much afraid to ask questions as I was to answer them. I eventually gave myself a pep talk. I reminded myself that I signed up for this experience to better myself and it was going to be up to me to find that confidence. Society sends messages to girls to question themselves and to not be confident. It creates this subliminal voice of doubt. Knowing what I know now, I offer three things to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t be afraid to try.
  2. You are more qualified than you think.
  3. Your personal development is worth the investment.

Natasha Middleton

“Currently, I am a Candidate for Oakland City Council – District 6. I am also a Management Analyst at Alameda County Probation, an Emerge California alumna, a former City of Oakland Commissioner for the Public Safety Services Violence Prevention Oversight Commission, former Board Member of League of Women Voters, former Board member of the Family Violence Law Center, and former Board member for the Women’s Daytime Drop-in Center. I am a mother of a 20-year-old son.”

Her experience at Mills, what she studied, and how it shaped who she is now:

“I received my Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Mills in 2013. At Mills, Policy was (and still is) my passion. I had always stated that policy is political and I still stand by that statement. Based on my experiences in my career, and as I run for public office, policy-making impacts many stakeholders. At our MPP orientation, we were asked to think of ideal careers after completing our master’s degrees. I mentioned a local councilmember. My professor stated that a great way to access a career in City Hall would be to start out as a staff member. My reply was a simple clarification: I wanted the councilmember’s position. Looking back on that experience, to where I am now, as an official candidate running for public office, makes me realize that 1) words have power; and 2) my MPP degree has opened many doors for me.”

Tips/advice for girls and young women:

“Maintain your relationships – networking is not a bad word. Write thank you cards. Be grateful. There is always time to volunteer.”

So how much does it cost to attend Mills?

Consistently named one of the top five value colleges in the West by U.S. News & World Report, Mills College is recognized nationally for making a high-quality, private education accessible and affordable. Beginning in fall 2018, Mills has reduced undergraduate tuition by 36%. Students will still have the opportunity to receive merit scholarships and need-based financial aid. All families should check the net tuition calculator to compare costs as colleges like Mills work to provide access to students of all backgrounds so they can experience a life-changing education that prepares them to be leaders in their careers and communities.

How can organizations and individuals learn more?

Please visit Mills College online at to learn more. Mills regularly hosts public events on campus and can offer college tours for interested organizations; contact the Lokey School staff at for assistance.