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The Swiss Army knife of Northeastern administrators

Doreen Hodgkin planned to become a gym teacher.

Instead she rode the unpredictable currents of life halfway across the country and back, rising through the ranks of academia to become associate dean of the College of Computer and Information Science.

Along the way she has been a career advisor, co-op director, and head of student recruitment and advising. During emergencies she has learned to repair computers and manage office space throughout the university.

When Hodgkin retires this summer after 35 years at Northeastern, the university will say farewell to one of its most versatile administrators.

One of her proudest achievements has been helping Carla Brodley, dean of the College of Computer and Information Science, increase the percentage of female students in the college from 19 percent when Brodley arrived in 2014 to 26 percent today. This year’s incoming class will be 30 percent female, compared to the national average of 16 percent.

Hodgkin takes great pride in calling the family of every female student accepted into the computer science program, a personal touch that colleagues say is one of the reasons that college is attracting more top students.

“Her warmth, coupled with the confidence she inspires in prospective students and their families, has been crucial,” said Brodley. “People automatically trust her.”

These qualities extend to her interactions with faculty and staff.

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“Doreen made me feel welcome and saved me when I was drowning in typical new hire chaos,” said David Sprague, a lecturer in computer science. “I strongly suspect that she has either been cloned or she has other superpowers because she seems to be everywhere.”  

Hodgkin has always reserved the biggest part of her heart for students. Whether their issue is academic or personal, her door was always open to students—as long as they arrived with a Dunkin’ Donuts dark roast with two creams and one Splenda.

But Hodgkin is more than just a den mother to students. She understands that there’s a time for pep talks and a time for sterner treatment.

“One time, I caught a student cheating in my class,” recalled Christo Wilson, director of the undergraduate cybersecurity program. “The student wouldn’t accept this, and parked outside my office in the hallway, sobbing. Doreen came walking by and, in typical Doreen fashion, began consoling the student. However, after I explained what was going on, Doreen took one look at the student, said, ‘Man up,’ and walked off. This is why we love Doreen: compassionate yet tough.”

She almost stayed on the farm

This combination of competence and compassion has its roots in the winding journey Hodgkin took to reach Northeastern.

“We were very poor,” she said of her childhood in Scarborough, Maine.

When she was accepted to the physical education program at the University of Maine, she deferred for a year to earn money to pay her own way. She worked on a neighbor’s farm during the day and at night she swept floors at the nearby Fairchild Semiconductor factory.

She took naturally to farming and decided to skip college. When she told the farmer of her decision, he fired her on the spot, then hired her back the next day when she promised to go to college.

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

When she got to Presque Isle, a tiny inland town 160 miles north of Bangor, Maine, her life took another turn. She worked as a resident advisor to help pay for college, and that experience convinced her that her calling wasn’t to become a gym coach, but to help students find their path in life. So when she finished her degree in education, she went on to earn her master’s in education so she could become a career counselor.

But fulfilling her new ambition didn’t come easy.  She applied to colleges across the country for a position in career services, but didn’t get a single bite. So she took a job at a small college in Pennsylvania as a director of a residence hall.

A year later, she landed her first career services job at the University of Arkansas and spent the next several years moving to a succession of small colleges as she worked her way back East.

Her big break came in 1982 when Northeastern offered her a job in the career services office.  

“I had applied to Northeastern five times and it finally paid off,” she said.

“Doreen made me feel welcome and saved me when I was drowning in typical new hire chaos. I strongly suspect that she has either been cloned or she has other superpowers because she seems to be everywhere.”

David Sprague lecturer in computer science

Once at Northeastern, she developed a reputation as a can-do manager, rising quickly through three different departments, finally reaching one of the top positions in the College of Computer and Information Science. Thirty-five years later, she’s preparing for the next chapter of her life.

Hodgkin said her friends are worried that she’ll have a hard time adjusting to retirement, but she believes she’ll be just fine.

“I’ve always embraced change, whether for myself or for the organization,” she said, noting that she’s looking forward to filling her days with travel, reading, and working around the yard with her chainsaw.

Her top bucket list item is to learn to play the banjo.