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Five Minutes With Sheila Bair, new president of Washington College

The Honorable Sheila C. Bair

(The Baltimore Sun) – Several years after helping manage the U.S. government’s response to the recent financial crisis as chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Sheila Bair finds herself in a very different role: president of Washington College on the Eastern Shore.

Bair was appointed to head the FDIC in 2006 by President George W. Bush and continued in the position until 2011. Since then, she had been a senior adviser to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Bair said she was inspired to “give back” and was eager to put young people on a solid career path given the country’s continuing economic challenges, so she looked for a next step at a nonprofit or in education.

Washington College, which was founded in 1782 and is known for awarding the nation’s most lucrative undergraduate literary prize, seemed like a good fit, Bair said. She was inaugurated Saturday.

“Our generation has had the responsibility in government and business, and I don’t think we’ve done a great job with the financial system,” Bair said. “We’ve given our young people an economy that presents challenges for them. I want to make sure they don’t suffer undue financial burdens when they enter the financial world.”

Bair said she aims to boost the college’s scholarship fund and keep a close eye on how much debt students are taking on, while increasing the focus on job placement and internships. She said she also looked forward to working with the college’s finance faculty to promote a “holistic” education so students don’t repeat the mistakes that led to the financial crisis and “understand that when the financial sector goes awry it has an impact on the greater economy.”

Bair played a crucial role in calming fears amid the financial panic of 2008 and still keeps an eye on financial affairs. She thinks the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates later this year, for example, calling such a move overdue.

“I don’t think it’s helped the economy that much; I think it’s created uncertainty,” she said of low interest rates. “I think people are ready for it, I think it needs to be done, I think it can be done without damage to the economy.”

Sheila Bair

Title: President of Washington College

Age: 61

Born: Wichita, Kan.

Residence: Chestertown

Education: University of Kansas, undergraduate and law degrees

Family: Husband, Scott Cooper; two children, Preston and Colleen

Hobbies: Kayaking, cycling, walking with dogs, reading, watching movies and cooking

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