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A colleague of many colors

by Barb Boose No Comments

Diane Churchill Hills, Ph.D.

The long-time professor of biochemistry – now emerita – and associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Osteopathic Medicine loves to improve processes, to teach the often-esoteric aspects of biochemistry and to dig in the dirt.

Known for her effective teaching and infectious, booming laugh, she claims she’s “extremely shy,” due in part to her Air Guard father’s moving the family, when she was growing up, from California to Maine to Louisiana.

These seeming contradictions make up a much-relied-upon colleague, professor and friend, so valued that she’s been persuaded to postpone her official retirement until later this summer. “

We are what we are today in large part because of Diane Hills,” says Kendall Reed, D.O., FACOS, FACS, dean of the college. “She’s a wonderful educator – students love her teaching and counsel – with such great institutional memory. She’s one of those people I’ll look back and think I’m so lucky to have known her.”

Here are some things worth knowing about Diane Hills. She is:

  • A born scientist. “I made the decision to be a scientist at age 5. We were in the car, I was looking out at the moon and I asked my parents, ‘What is the moon made of?’” she recalls. The type of scientist she wanted to be evolved from astronomer to veterinarian to particle physicist (“Then I took physics, and I realized, ‘NO’”), and came to reflect her love of math and chemistry.
  • Organized beyond belief. In addition to teaching, Hills has helped shepherd DMU through countless improvement efforts, the type of heavy academic lifting many faculty run from. Among other responsibilities, she directs curriculum implementation and evaluation in the college, prepares and manages budgets and works with Registrar Kathy Scaglione to plan the COM course schedule.”She really looks at whether the schedule works for all the courses and students,” Scaglione says. “Her institutional knowledge and memory are supported by her willingness to go the extra mile, to get in there and do the work.”

    Geoffrey Hills, D.O.’06, one of Diane and husband Norm’s two sons, recalls his mother commuting to Iowa State University – 45 minutes from Des Moines – to earn her Ph.D. “Then she was home every day on time to make supper,” he says. “She demonstrated the value of planning for one’s goals and being organized.”

  • Amazing in that she didn’t cause her son to die a thousand deaths. During his orientation at DMU, the COM dean at the time announced, “There’s a student among you whose mother is an administrator, but he won’t get special treatment,” recalls Geoffrey, now an attending psychiatrist at Abbot Northwestern in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. His very first DMU class was co-taught by his mom. He came to consider her “one of the best teachers.”"She knew how to present the curriculum and what you really need to know,” he adds. “And I heard from other students how organized her course was.”
  • Mischievous. Hills was the inspiration behind DMU’s “Ladies’ Sewing and Terrorist Society,” monikered years before Sept. 11, 2001, an informal group of female employees. None of whom, incidentally, sews.”Diane has been the instigator and impetus for women to have a social network here, outside of work,” says Roberta Wattleworth, D.O.’81, M.H.A.’99, M.P.H.’04, chair of family medicine, who recalls a time when female employees were a minority at DMU. “She’s one who is your friend for life, not just for convenience purposes.”
  • Deeply proud of DMU. “DMU keeps improving. We don’t have bats in the building anymore,” Hills says. “Our students are really strong academically, and we’ve worked hard to hire younger faculty who also are really strong. For alumni who haven’t been back to campus in recent years, they need to come back.”
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