Nancy Owen ’75 of Chicago proves that with the right foundation you can live more than once. Her dramatic shift from a career as a professor of biochemistry at The Chicago Medical School, to becoming one of Northwestern University’s professors of gender studies and art history is a case study in how it’s done.
At Millikin, she had the opportunity to lay the groundwork for both callings. “I learned a lot at Millikin in the classroom that prepared me for graduate work in pharmacology,” she says, “I also participated in several musical groups and in a humanities honors seminar that nurtured my interest in the arts, which always existed in tandem with my passion for science.” She also found time to participate in the University Wind Ensemble, the Orchestra and smaller chamber music ensembles in addition to taking clarinet and piano lessons.
She established herself well in both disciplines, earning a Ph.D. in pharmacology in 1980 and working for 15 years in the field of science. During a year’s sabbatical in 1989 Owen decided to pursue a master’s degree in art history at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
After the year was up she resigned from the medical school, finished her MA degree and went on to complete a Ph.D. in art history and a graduate certificate in women’s studies at Northwestern. She’s been a lecturer at Northwestern ever since, and in 2001 Ohio University Press published her book, “Rookwood and the Industry of Art: Women, Culture and Commerce, 1880-1913.”
She says her career change taught her that she can do just about anything she puts her effort behind, but that there are definite limits, something she hadn’t fully realized before.
“I learned that my passions for research and teaching were constants regardless of what field I applied them to,” she says. “I learned what it feels like to go from a position of relative power (professor) to a position of powerlessness (student). I think this made me more aware and pro-student than I may have been before.”
Owen proves that it is possible to follow more than one dream—and to succeed in realizing both.
To read the full-length profile of Nancy Owen, check out the summer issue of Millikin Quarterly Magazine.