Ray joins ‘superb tradition’ as Harward Center director

Darby Ray wasn’t considering a career change when she first learned that Bates was searching nationally for a new director of the Harward Center for Community Partnerships. But a personal connection to the center’s namesake, Donald Harward, the college’s sixth president, inspired her to investigate.

Darby Ray became the director of the Harward Center for Community Partnerships on Aug. 3. Photograph by Phillis Graber Jensen/Bates College.

Ray, who was a professor of religion and leader of community engagement at Millsaps College in Mississippi, started work as the director of the Harward Center on Aug. 3. She first met Harward, Bates’ president from 1989 to 2002, last fall when he came to Millsaps to discuss civic engagement in higher education.

It was Harward’s dedication to community engagement that prompted Bates to name the Harward Center for him and his wife, the late Ann Harward, in 2002. Since crossing paths last year, Ray and Harward, whom she describes as a “charming, brilliant and thoughtful man,” have become colleagues and friends.

Ray brings to Bates more than 15 years of experience as a scholar and leader who bridges thought and action.

In 2000, she directed the Millsaps Faith and Work Initiative and later became the founding director of the 1 Campus 1 Community Center for Engaged Learning and Living, which “builds the capacity of faculty, staff, students, and community members for collaborative learning and problem solving,” says Ray. In 2011, 1C1C became a Presidential Award Finalist on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.

Ray received her doctorate in religion from Vanderbilt University in 1996 and has taught courses in Christian thought, history of religions and the meaning of work. Her books and articles explore how religious ideas and practices relate to the realities of human and ecological suffering and to global forces such as work and the economy.

According to Kathy Low, professor of psychology and co-chair of the search committee, Ray “clearly understands the importance and power of creative collaborations.”

Ray calls directing the Harward Center a “dream job” that combines all of her passions into one position. “It’s ambitious. It’s wide-ranging. It’s complex work with lots of moving pieces.”

Among the Harward Center’s initiatives is the Community-Based Research program, which allows students to connect service and academics. Above, David Longdon ’13 helps lead youth programming with Lewiston-based Lots to Gardens. Photograph by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College.

The success of that work, she says, requires the support of the entire college community and its leadership.

It also depends on “getting to know people — real people, in the flesh, their stories, their work — and relating to them in a mode of full partnership.”

Likewise, Ray is looking forward to engaging with the surrounding Lewiston-Auburn community. Driving around Lewiston for the first time, she could “see the people” and “imagine the work.”

“I couldn’t live in the town that’s all coffee shops and high-end retail. But a real town, where there’s real work to do, and the college is right in the thick of it? That’s appealing.”

She will have ample opportunity to connect with local organizations and residents while overseeing the Harward Center’s myriad programs in community-based learning, volunteerism and environmental stewardship.

Harward himself is confident Ray will “join the superb tradition of the work and people of the Harward Center — joining faculty, staff and students in exploring the basic purposes and objectives of liberal education.”