In everything she does, First Lady Dr. Sheena Greitens has family on her mind.
Missouri has a history of incredible First Ladies who cared for and served their local community. In the late 1800s, First Lady Caroline Crittenden convinced her husband, along with his friends, to donate their gambling winnings in order to buy a bell for the Jefferson City Christian Church. First Lady Jean Carnahan was a major advocate for on-site daycares for working families and an avid supporter of Habitat for Humanity. First Lady Betty Hearnes opened the Governor’s Mansion to the public and gave tours herself. First Lady Carolyn Bond was instrumental in the restoration of the Mansion and founded the Friends of the Missouri Governor’s Mansion. The list goes on and on.
Dr. Sheena Greitens is planning for the mark she’ll leave in our community and in the state. You need only sit with her for five minutes to see the true passion she has for her work, her family, and her newfound position as First Lady of Missouri.
After having the opportunity to speak with her for this article, I left with one word flashing in my mind: family.
Educated for Success
Greitens is a well-educated woman. She has a bachelor’s degree from Stanford, a master’s degree from Oxford, and a doctorate from Harvard (where she met her husband when he was a visiting speaker on a panel about how veterans could be leaders in public service). Most of her research focuses on the politics and security of East Asia, an interest that comes, unsurprisingly, from her family. “I have an adopted sister who joined our family when I was in third grade,” she says. “She came from Korea. That changed my life in a number of different ways. I became really interested in what her life might have been like if she had stayed where she came from.”
With all that under her belt, her time in the field of education is not yet over. Along with her work as First Lady, Greitens is an assistant professor in MU’s Department of Political Science, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for East Asian Policy Studies, and an associate in research at Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. She brings her extensive education background to this work, and to her work as First Lady.
“When I was in school, I had some great professors who also served in government, and it was inspiring to see how they combined their research with public service to have an impact on foreign policy and national security,” she says. “That’s one of the things I try to do in my professional life today — to do research that’s relevant to American national security policy in Asia, and then to communicate to my students about why these issues are relevant.”
Ready for Work
Greitens is what you might call a multihyphenate. She is a mother, a teacher, and now the matriarch of Missouri’s First Family. For some, that list would seem daunting. For Greitens, it’s simply exciting.
“I’m really happy combining a couple different roles right now,” she says, “being a mom to two awesome boys, doing research and teaching as a professor, and trying to make a difference on foster and adoptive care issues as First Lady. All those things are part of who I am, and every day reflects that a little differently. It’s sometimes challenging to line up the pieces, but it’s a privilege and a joy to combine it all.”
Her work with foster and adoptive care issues is something she considers a high priority for many reasons. “For both the Governor and I, that is something we have a personal connection with,” she says. “We knew before we came here that that was something we wanted to be a really high priority. . . . It made me really aware, as I thought about the issues facing the state, of how important it is to do the right thing by the now 13,000 children we have in the foster care system. The state, legally, is their parent. I can’t think of a better place to start and a better thing to prioritize than the well-being and the welfare and the safety of those kids and making sure they have a loving home. This is something that we really want to put some time and energy into.”
As their lives and careers have progressed, another personal connection to this cause has come into focus for Greitens and her husband. “Having our two boys has really shaped how we think about public service and public engagement,” she continues. “That was integral to our decision to do what we are doing now. It made us ask real, tough questions about what kind of state and community we wanted them to grow up in and be part of. I’m not from Missouri. I was born and raised mostly in Washington, and I moved here after I met my husband, but this is home for us. It’s the place where we’re raising our kids, and that makes it home in the most meaningful and profound way for our family. For us, a lot of the way we think about what we want to do with this time is through the lens of what we want for our children, what kind of state we want them to be part of. All those different pieces — personal experiences both in our past, in the work we’ve done, and in becoming parents — all led to that focus on foster and adoptive care.”
Greitens began traveling around the state to speak with foster families and places that provide support for foster kids and families, like the Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association in Jefferson City, in May. She and her husband also held roundtables at the mansion for these organizations, stakeholders, family court judges, caseworkers, and all those who are part of the foster and adoptive processes. She’s hoping to gain a thorough knowledge of the different perspectives of all those involved.
Greitens made a discovery at the mansion that she turned into an exciting surprise, given her deep interest in the well-being of children. “We found all these books in the storage unit, so we have a couple thousand children’s books,” she says. “We think some of the books had just been tucked away, but it looked like they had maybe accumulated over a long period.” Greitens and her team have been reaching out to foster families and residential facilities to distribute the books to children in foster homes or to build libraries in the residential facilities.
“We love reading with our kids,” Greitens says. “It’s one of our favorite things to do before bedtime and when we’re in the car. This seemed like a great thing to do to give kids a foundation of reading as a fun activity.”
In Jefferson City
Whether it’s historical preservation or charitable involvement, our First Ladies have a history of being directly involved not only with issues of the state, but also of the Jefferson City community. It seems that tradition will certainly continue with the Greitens family. “We really appreciate how everyone in the community we’ve met so far has welcomed our family and our children. That’s been wonderful for us,” says Greitens. “We’re still new, but we’ve really enjoyed it and look forward to experiencing all four seasons here and getting to know the Jefferson City community much better.”
The Greitens family has been busy (understandably), but enjoys taking the boys on hikes or walks around Jefferson City’s parks and playgrounds. They’re looking forward to Central Dairy in the hot weather.
As far as the mansion is concerned, Dr. Greitens is welcoming the public with open arms. “We really like to welcome people,” she says. “We’ve had a great time doing that, and we want it to be open to everybody. We are really lucky to have a fantastic group of docents who help us do that. It’s fun to welcome people to our home, which is also a house that belongs to the people of Missouri. We’ve also tried as much as possible to make it reflect the fact that this is something we’re doing as a family.”