Mara Mayor

Despite the very traditional roles ascribed to women as I was growing up, I was extremely lucky to have parents who believed I could accomplish anything I set my heart and head to do.  

I went to Brandeis for my BA. In the first year we were required to take introductory courses in history, literature, music, and science, and I was intrigued and confused by the possibilities. I talked to my advisor, Eugene Black, who gave me advice that I offered in turn to many of my own students. Go through the catalog and put a check next to every course you think you would enjoy. Then count the checks, and major in that field. I did, switched to a history major, and have been hooked ever since.  

I decided that I wanted to become a history professor, which meant I needed a doctorate. As always, my parents were entirely supportive although this was not a typical path then for a young woman. I went to Yale, earning an MA in History and a Ph.D. in American Studies. 

 In my first year of graduate school I met Bruce Mayor, who was in his last year at the law school. We met and married in eight weeks. We knew it was right and, as always, my parents were behind us. (His parents were somewhat skeptical, but in time they came around!)  

 I joined the faculty of the University of Connecticut where I taught history and earned tenure. Eventually Bruce and I both wanted to test our professional wings. I learned about the Intergovernmental Personnel Act, which allows state, federal, and municipal agencies to borrow staff from each other. I approached the National Endowment for the Humanities to see if they'd be interested, and they were. We moved to Washington in 1978, fell in love with the city and the scope of our work, and have lived here since. 

The thread that ties my career together is that, at heart, I am an educator. I taught students directly at UConn. At NEH I was in the Media Program, where we provided support for television and radio programs that also were aimed at teaching, but could reach a national audience. 

I moved on to become director of the Annenberg/CPB Project, which developed educational resources aimed at opening the doors to a college level education through the use of television, radio, and ultimately online.  As I watch the spread of MOOCs and on-line learning in general, I am proud of being a pioneer.

 I then became director of The Smithsonian Associates, which is the center for life-long learning at the Smithsonian. Each year we created more than 1,800 different educational programs--courses, seminars, and lectures in nearly every discipline. People participated in real time in traditional classroom settings, though increasingly programs were made available online.

After eventually leaving the Smithsonian, I moved on once again, this time to focus on the subject that I find fascinating – how to make productive use of the bonus decades we, and those who follow my generation, will have.  We are really inventing a road map for a new life stage, and the opportunities for creativity and for contributing to society are huge. The challenge is to recognize the possibilities, and develop strategies and tools for navigation.  It is really an extension of the thread that ties my experiences together--it’s about new opportunities for teaching and learning. 

I am currently a member of the National Network of, which has been a leader in framing the concept of “encore careers;” on the Advisory Committee of Montgomery College’s Lifelong Learning Institute; on the Vital Living Network of Montgomery County, MD, which encourages new ways to engage the 50+ in our community; and on the Age-Friendly Employment Group of Montgomery County. Each of these offers opportunities, from different angles, to address the opportunities we have in these “bonus years.” 

I also continue to keep connected to the humanities and the arts, serving on the Board of WETA, our public television and radio station, and on the board of the Glen Echo Park Partnership, which oversees the classes and programs offered by this beautiful and accessible national park.