Jane Ann Hamblin: A Mortar Board Experience

By: Sarah Grace Smith

To tell the Mortar Board story, I interviewed a woman who has truly lived with the Mortar Board purpose in mind: Jane Hamblin, our executive director. In our interview, we discussed what her involvement with Mortar Board has looked like in different stages of her life. Her dedication to the organization serves as an inspiration to members of all ages.

Sarah Grace Smith: What was your experience like with as a collegiate member and what do you remember?

Jane Ann Hamblin: I was a pretty good member of my chapter. I was awestruck that I was in the company of such amazing women leaders on Purdue’s campus.

At one of our first meetings in the fall, University President Arthur Hansen was our guest. He sat and talked with Mortar Board during our whole meeting. I thought, “That is spectacular that through Mortar Board, I could sit down and just talk with President Hansen!” Quite by chance, early the next morning, I was walking to class, and walking toward me was Dr. Hansen. As our paths intersected, we greeted each other, and unbelievably to me, he said, “Good morning, Jane!” He actually remembered me from the night before and remembered my name! He remembered me the rest of the year and at my commencement, even. It was because of Mortar Board that I had that special connection with him. A beloved president, he made everyone feel special, I know. But it was very personal to me, and that is what characterized Mortar Board—it made me feel important because it was so personal.

After law school, I was really excited to return to Purdue as a staff member because I would get to follow in the footsteps of my mentor, Dean of Students Barbara Cook. Within two years of joining the staff of the Office of the Dean of Students, I was appointed by Dean Cook to assume a role as an advisor to the Purdue chapter of Mortar Board.  What a dream!

Some of my favorite people in the whole world were members of the Mortar Board chapter during the time that I advised. Though they were younger than me, they showed me a lot about what it meant to do what you say you will do, caring for what’s going on in the world, and setting your sights high. Year after year I met members who showed me this concept. If you’re an advisor… you will learn from your students. They often know more than you do.

Mortar Board was important to my career. I really appreciated Mortar Board because it gave me a chance to do something spectacular with the chapter. That helped in my promotions within the Dean of Students office.

“Mortar Board made me feel important in a very personal way.”

SGS: Do you have any comments on volunteering with Mortar Board later in your life or after becoming executive director?

JAH: I had a hiatus from Mortar Board. When I left Purdue and moved to D.C., I was on a national committee, but [Mortar Board] never reached out to me. It was too bad that I let my connection with Mortar Board go, but one of my former students (Bridget Williams Golden) invited me to apply for the job of executive director when it came up several years later. It just shows you that the Mortar Board network is very strong, and that it doesn’t only work in one direction. It works both ways.  I might have helped a bunch of students get to grad school or get a job by writing them letters of recommendation. And, turn-about’s fair play–one of those students helped me get the job of executive director. This position has given me the chance to get acquainted with many, many more Mortar Boards beyond Purdue, and that certainly has been amazing.

SGS: How do you think Mortar Board has shaped you as a person?

JAH: The concept of doing what you say you will do is very important, and that’s what members of Mortar Board have shown me over the years. It’s a great way to be, and I try to live up to their example.

SGS: How do you feel Mortar Board’s purpose speaks to you?

JAH: [Our purpose] is like opening a treasure chest and seeing sparkling jewels that are extremely precious ….  Chapters can distinguish themselves by grabbing onto these treasures—equal opportunities for all people…advancing the status of women … the meaningful exchange of ideas as individuals and as a group … promoting college loyalty … well, they are priceless and multi-faceted. Do something with them!

A bunch of years ago when I was advising at Purdue and during the AIDS epidemic, Mortar Board at Purdue broke with tradition and put in their popular and widely sold Mortar Board Calendar tips for preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS. It was unheard of to put things about sexually transmitted diseases in the calendar, but the collegiate members thought they could NOT close their eyes to what was happening on campuses nationwide—even Purdue. That was an example of grabbing one of the those jewels and doing something with it—an action that served the campus community.

SGS: So the meaningful exchange of ideas allows you to discuss anything important right now, including things that are taboo?

JAH: Oh yeah. Absolutely. And it has to be done with care and thoughtfulness. You can’t take a side if you’re a Mortar Board. You have to present all sides. Some of the other sparkling gems are equity issues. If there are ten awards for professors on campus who are men, and no awards for women professors, Mortar Board should stand up and say, “Why aren’t more women getting these awards?” Mortar Board should create awards for women, for example, to make the point about equity. That makes meaning for Mortar Board and makes it a ”more than” type of student organization.

SGS: We’ve touched a bit on this already, but what have you learned from Mortar Board?

JAH: Two things. You really have to work hard to live Mortar Board’s purpose. It’s pretty easy sometimes to let somebody else do it. Second, it’s a small world. You just never know how your Mortar Board connections will come back to help you.

“You just never know how your Mortar Board connections will come back to help you.”

SGS: Why is Mortar Board so important to you, if you could narrow it down?

JAH: It’s made me feel very important for most of my life.

SGS: And you think it can make others feel important as well?

JAH: I think that’s the most important thing that Mortar Board can do is to make its members feel important and to make other students, faculty and staff feel important. Of all the things that we did at Purdue during the time I was an advisor that got the most press, was our awards. We gave a Tip of the Cap Award that was for unsung heroes in student organizations.  We gave the Rose Award which was for staff members who went beyond the call of duty. Mortar Board would come into their workplace by surprise and present them with a single rose. Their whole unit would know about it except them, and they would be excited for the colleague being honored.

From the proceeds of the Mortar Board Calendar, the chapter had, for more than 40 years, given thousands of dollars in fellowship money to Purdue students going to grad school. The chapter has given far more than $1,000,000 to Purdue students through this program.

SGS: These awards were not exclusive to Mortar Boards?

JAH: Oh no!. That’s the most important part. It was somebody who wasn’t a member or advisor. Mortar Board recognized that it should honor OTHER people’s service and scholarship and leadership. The most important thing that Mortar Board can really do is to honor other people.

SGS: Last question: what would you say to our members who are about to graduate college?

JAH:  Stay connected. Stay in touch because, again, you never know what your Mortar Board connections will do for you. They might be more longlasting than any other than you have.

“The most important thing that Mortar Board can really do is to honor other people.”