Meet the team: New Office of Engagement

Office Of Engagement Team

L-R: Mary Beth Metz, Becky Smith ’08, Dana Madden Viglietta ’96, Melinda Garcia Metz, and Marcus Fowler.

Greetings from the New Office of Engagement at Otterbein!

Dear Family and Friends,

Over the past few months, the Division of Institutional Advancement at Otterbein has been planning some positive changes in our team structure and we’re excited to share that we are now the Office of Engagement. Our focus will be on serving the more than 28,000 alumni, families of current and former students, and our valued donors to provide meaningful opportunities to engage with our Otterbein community.

This change also included the hiring of a new team member, Melinda Garcia Metz, our coordinator for donor engagement. Melinda will be the front line of our donor relations and stewardship efforts to ensure that those who support Otterbein have a top-notch experience. Melinda comes to our office by way of SourcePoint in Delaware County, OH, where she played a vital role in raising awareness of the agency and its services. She joins Marcus, Mary Beth, Becky, and me to form our new team.

You can learn more about our Office of Engagement at

In addition to these changes, I am humbled and honored to have been tapped to lead our engagement “dream team” as the executive director of engagement. This coming April I will have been back at my alma mater for a decade, and it’s flown by! The adage “time flies when you are having fun” certainly applies to my time at Otterbein. I was fortunate when I returned to campus 10 years ago to work for everyone’s favorite Cardinal, Becky Fickel Smith ’81, during her tenure as executive director of alumni relations.

Three fun facts about me: I worked for Becky in the Campus Center during my time as a federal work study student from 1992-1996; I worked as an admission counselor recruiting students for Otterbein for two years after I graduated; and I married a fellow Otterbein grad, Alberto Viglietta ’94.

Otterbein has been a special part of my life for a very long time and my hope is that I can serve our alumni, family, and donor communities to help you connect with Otterbein in meaningful ways — whether it be through learning opportunities, mentoring our students, attending special events, celebrating traditions, or maybe something as simple as coming to campus on a beautiful day and taking a stroll through our “quiet, peaceful village.”

Engagement looks different to each Cardinal in our Otterbein community, and we’re here to help provide you with opportunities to use Otterbein as a springboard for making connections, learning something new, giving back, and making a difference in the lives of others. Soon we will be asking for your feedback via an engagement survey to help us better understand how we can best serve you. We hope you’ll take some time to share your thoughts with us.

On behalf of the Office of Engagement team, we look forward to serving you!

Dana Madden Viglietta ’96
Executive Director of Engagement

Philanthropy in Action – Fall 2023

Mary B. Thomas Award Honorees 2022

Cardinal Couple Dick ’54 and Carolyn Brown ’53 Sherrick Celebrate 70-Year Wedding Anniversary with Special $70,000 Gift to Otterbein

We’ve all heard the saying “love at first sight,” but “love at first bite” might be more fitting for Dick ’54 and Carolyn Brown ’53 Sherrick, who met at the Otterbein cafeteria more than 70 years ago. “It was over a steam table at lunch,” she says, recalling that she was working on the college’s cafeteria line as Dick picked up an entrée. He soon joined her on the food service staff, and the two worked side-by-side for the rest of their undergraduate years at Otterbein and throughout their lives.

They credit the success of their relationship to their faith, their friends and family, and the importance of laughing together through life’s journey. Although they have been fortunate to travel all over the world, Otterbein also holds a special place in their hearts.

Along the way, the Sherricks have never forgotten the valuable lessons they learned at Otterbein. To show their appreciation, they have been steadfast supporters of the University, and in honor of their 70th wedding anniversary, they have given a $70,000 gift to support students and the University in general. In addition to this generous gift, the couple has supported Otterbein for more than 35 years through the Otterbein Fund and the creation of multiple endowments, including the Richard and Carolyn Sherrick Endowed Scholarship, the Richard and Carolyn Sherrick Five Cardinal Experiences Fund, the Sherrick Nativity Endowment, and a planned gift that will benefit Otterbein’s future.

“We like to say that Otterbein has done a lot to make us what we are and think we all need to pass it forward to the next generation. Those who have received have an obligation to give,” note the Sherricks. They are grateful to the many people that have supported them throughout their lives. They hope their gift will serve as an inspiration for others to celebrate important milestones and people in a similar way, benefiting Otterbein and its mission of preparing the next generation.

Learn more about how you can leave a legacy at Otterbein at

Otterbein Welcomes New Director of Annual Giving

Jordan Helphrey joined the Institutional Advancement Development team in August as the director of annual giving. He brings a wealth of experience in fundraising from his most recent role at Wittenberg University and is committed to fostering a culture of philanthropy that supports the mission and vision of Otterbein.

Jordan can be reached at or 614-823-1400.

Innovative Return on Investment

Otterbein is using an innovative approach to grow enrollment and revenue by “crowd sourcing” ideas from faculty and staff and investing in the best ideas with $1 million approved by the Board of Trustees. Under the Fast Track Innovation Fund initiative, six programs proposed in May have been funded and are already being implemented on campus.

“This investment in Otterbein’s future demonstrates our trustees’ commitment to allowing every member of our community to be heard and to have a role in shaping our University,” said President John Comerford. “Our Board has given us the opportunity and our community has provided solid proposals, so we are able to be nimble in an industry that is typically slow to implement changes.”

The Fast Track Innovation Fund initiative calls for proposals of non-academic programs specifically focused on providing immediate return on investment. It is a condensed version of the Innovation Fund that has run during the academic year since 2021.

The funded proposals are:

Part-Time Equine Team recruiter

Grow the size of Otterbein’s National Champion team through new student recruitment.

STEM Community Liaison

Work with Ohio STEM high schools to increase enrollment in under-enrolled STEM programs.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing recruiter

Increase enrollment in Otterbein’s nursing program

Women’s Wrestling program

Recruit the growing number of high school female wrestlers regionally and nationally.

Recreational Sports/eSports Coach

Grow the intramural and club sports programming and establish e-sports on campus to increase enrollment and expand student life opportunities.

Podcast studio

Use by both on- and off-campus clients to allow non-degree-seeking adult learners to enroll in multimedia workshops for certification.

A helpful, smalllook at how to make a big difference at Otterbein.

Q&A with Kathleen Bonte Executive Director, Development, Institutional Advancement

Why are scholarships so important?
Institutional aid is the largest source of support for our students. Not only does a scholarship recognize a student’s achievement and potential, the added financial relief a scholarship can provide a family is often the deciding factor in choosing to attend Otterbein and the opportunity to go to college.

Can I really afford to fund a scholarship? I thought it was expensive?
There are many exciting ways to give and varied levels of support to fit your interest. Supporting scholarships at Otterbein has never been easier or more important. It is an investment in a student’s education.

For example, you can help support a student with a step up Otterbein Fund Scholarship and provide immediate relief to a student today while supporting them through their four years here. That kind of support requires a minimum commitment of $7,000 but that total can be spread over four years. (If you decide to distribute your giving evenly over four years, that works out to $145 a month).

Or you might choose to give to one of Otterbein’s existing scholarship funds that work to match student talent with the right Otterbein source of support. Other options include endowing a scholarship fund of your own, or setting up a planned gift.

What can I do if I want to learn more?
You can email or call me, and I’ll help you explore all the options available. Want to read more first? Let me know that, too, and I can give you the facts you need to help you decide. When you make a gift at Otterbein, you make a difference. That’s a fact. Reach me by email at or by phone at 614-823-2707.

You can make a difference!

Excellence in Academics

Bachelor of Science in Nursing:
An impressive 100%* of the Class of 2023 passed the National Council State Licensing Examination-RN (NCLEX-RN) on their first attempt. The 46 graduates worked especially hard, starting their education during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and being the first class to take the “Next Generation NCLEX,” enhanced to assess clinical judgment in nursing.
*Compared to 84.4% for Ohio and a 87.62% national passage rate.

Washington Monthly:
Washington Monthly has recognized Otterbein University for its contributions to the public good in its annual rankings. Among 604 Master’s Universities, Otterbein ranked second in the service category, which encompasses community and national service.

College of Distinction:
Otterbein has once again been recognized as one of the nation’s Colleges of Distinction. Otterbein also received program-specific recognition in Business, Education, Engineering, Nursing, and Career Development, and was recognized for its Equity and Inclusion.

U.S. News & World Report:
In the 2024 Best Colleges rankings by U.S. News & World Report, Otterbein has once again ranked in the top 20 among 164 peers in the Regional Universities – Midwest category. It is in the top three regional universities in Ohio and 20th in the Midwest. Additionally, Otterbein was recognized on the following lists: Best Colleges for Veterans (ranked sixth, top 4%); Best Undergraduate Teaching (ranked 12th, top 7%); Best Value Schools (jumped 11 places to rank 26th); and A+ School for B Students. View the entire survey at

Teaching Award:
Chemistry Professor Joan Esson was named the 2023 Ohio STEM Educator of the Year by Ohio Project Kaleidoscope. The awards committee cited Esson’s implementation and invention of evidence-based pedagogies; generation of student interest via real-world applications of chemistry; advancement of chemistry teaching though research and publication; mentorship of early-career chemistry educators; and leadership on campus and in local chemistry education organizations.

Uniting for the Common Good

On Aug. 15, 2023, a little more than a year after first announcing their intentions, Otterbein President John Comerford, Ph.D., and Antioch University Chancellor William Groves, J.D., stood before an audience of faculty and administrators to reveal the formation of the Coalition for the Common Good, a first-of-its-kind national, private, non-profit system of higher education.

With affiliated universities convened around a shared mission rather than geography, the Coalition for the Common Good focuses on educating students not only to advance their careers, but also to promote our pluralistic democracy, and social, racial, economic, and environmental justice.

At a time when divisive politics drives our nation and higher education is under attack for its work in building diverse, equitable, inclusive communities, the Coalition is standing up for the common good — something its founding institutions have long histories of doing.

“The histories of our institutions are deeply rooted in providing equal access to all learners,” said Comerford, the newly appointed president of the Coalition for the Common Good. “Otterbein and Antioch were among the first colleges in pre-Civil War America to enroll Black students and women to learn side-by-side with White, male students and today Antioch and Otterbein continue that same focus of equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging.”

Comerford has frequently expressed his disdain for some aspects of American higher education, especially the pursuit of prestige and rankings by a narrow subset of exclusive universities who have an outsized impact on the American public’s view of higher education. “Otterbein University provides opportunity to low-income, first-generation, and Otterbein President John Comerford and Antioch University Chancellor William Groves during the coalition signing. Otterbein University and Antioch University representatives. marginalized students — as we have done from our founding — unlike these universities that chase prestige by denying as many students as possible to create an air of exclusivity. Higher education should be a common good, not a private good.”

President John With Chancellor William

Otterbein President John Comerford and Antioch University Chancellor William Groves during the coalition signing.

Comerford’s remarks are echoed by Lynn Pasquerella, president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, who said, “The Coalition for the Common Good offers an exciting, innovative model of excellence for revolutionizing and reimagining higher education in ways that position all students for success in work, citizenship, and life in the 21st century.”

Pasquerella was so impressed with the Coalition for the Common Good that she accepted an offer to become the Coalition’s ninth, independent member of its Board of Directors.

Built on the faculty expertise of both institutions, the Coalition combines members’ graduate programs to form a graduate division with a national scope, operated by Antioch University.

“Our universities have moved from being competitors to collaborators for the betterment of our students and communities,” said Comerford.

“We will leverage what each institution does best by bringing Otterbein programs to Antioch’s markets and Antioch’s programs to Otterbein’s central Ohio market. We will also collaborate on building or acquiring new programs that will benefit our students,” added Groves, the newly named vice president of the Coalition for the Common Good.


The Coalition for the Common Good also provides some immediate benefits for Otterbein undergraduate students. Those students now have access to Graduate Early Admission Pathways in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Art Therapy, and Business Administration (MBA), which allow students to apply during their junior year at Otterbein and then take three graduate courses during their senior year that count toward both their undergraduate and graduate degrees, accelerating time to graduation and reducing cost for the graduate degree.

There are immediate benefits for alumni, too. Otterbein alumni are eligible for a 15% tuition discount when enrolling in Antioch University degree programs.

Commission (HLC) and the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) came earlier this summer. The Coalition for the Common Good will expand to include other colleges and universities that share the universities’ long-standing commitments to preserving democracy; furthering social, racial, economic, and environmental justice; and providing access to those seeking to advance their lives and communities through education.

For more information about plans for this new national university system, visit

Jefferson Blackburn Smith

Jefferson Blackburn-Smith is the Executive Vice President for Strategic Initiatives. He has developed and implemented new partnerships with Central Ohio school districts and community colleges to create new opportunities to underserved populations to earn a higher education degree.

Alumni Shine at the Tony Awards

Three alumni from Otterbein’s Department of Theatre and Dance had a big night at the Tony Awards this year. Jordan Donica ’16 was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical for his role as Lancelot in Camelot. Donica kicked off a live performance by the show’s cast at the ceremony, and his solo was widely praised by critics and viewers alike. Leopoldstadt took home the Tony for Best Play, thanks to its talented cast, which includes Corey Brill ’17 as Civilian and Ernst (understudy). Finally, Annie Schroeder ’17 is the assistant company manager for & Juliet, which was nominated for Best Musical. Congratulations to these accomplished alumni!

Jordan Donica ’16

Corey Brill ’17

Annie Schroeder ’17

Lauren Lichtenauer ’11 rolls out new bikes for kids with life-threatening illnesses

Christopher’s Promise celebrates 12 years of helping kiddos get on bikes and JUST BE KIDS.



Christopher’s Promise celebrates 12 years of helping kiddos get on bikes and JUST BE KIDS.

As an Otterbein junior Life Science and Education major, Lauren Lichtenauer ’11 felt she had her future mapped out: she was going to be a biology teacher. After careful introspection, however, Lichtenauer decided she wanted to change the lives of children, but not in the classroom.

More than a decade later, scores of kids with life-threatening illnesses and their families are glad she did. That’s because Lichtenauer founded the non-profit Christopher’s Promise, with a mission to “allow all kids, despite physical limitations, the ability to experience the same hallmark childhood memories as their peers. Helping kids, Be kids.”

Christopher’s Promise is now celebrating its 12th year of granting children such memories. The organization has facilitated the funding of and matched 157 kids with adaptive bikes in that time.

Malachi Parsons Anderson

Malachi Parsons-Anderson joyfully receives his adaptive bike on campus.

Malachi Parsons Anderson

Lauren Lichtenauer with her inspiration, Christopher Buzinski.

Always humble, Lichtenauer describes herself as “simply a matchmaker for Christopher’s Promise. I find a kid who needs a bike and then identify the best organization to fund it.”

Lichtenauer is a recipient of this year’s Otterbein alumni Rising Star Award, honoring those who have contributed excellence in their post-graduate careers. In addition to running Christopher’s Promise, she is vice president, clinical sales for Curonix. It’s all a great ride for Lichtenauer, who loves cycling.

Christopher’s Promise has its roots in the summer of Lichtenauer’s junior year at Otterbein, when she interned as a summer counselor at Camp Sunshine in Maine for nine weeks. Children facing a multitude of life-threatening illnesses and their families attend Camp Sunshine to connect with other families experiencing similar challenges.

“I heard about Camp Sunshine and resonated with its cause,” Lichtenauer said. “I was a one-on-one counselor with the children at the camp who faced cancer.”

One child she worked with was Christopher Buzinski, an 8-year-old with cerebral palsy, optic glioma, and neurofibromatosis, a rare genetic disorder that causes tumors of the nerves.

“He was a super happy and cute kid. He melted my heart,” Lichtenauer said. “I had a feeling he was going to be my life-changer.”

At the end of the Buzinski family’s week at camp, Lichtenauer returned to Westerville and wrote her senior thesis: The Effects of Therapeutic Camps on Children Facing Life-Threatening Illnesses.

While attending Otterbein, Lichtenauer worked in bike shops and continued to do so throughout her senior year. However, she missed the work she did at Camp Sunshine. She decided to volunteer at Flying Horse Farms — a camp for children with serious illnesses located in central Ohio.

“One day I got a call from my friend while she was at Flying Horse Farms,” Lichtenauer said. “I picked up the phone and heard Christopher’s voice for the first time in several years.”

Lichtenauer’s friend recognized Buzinski from Lichtenauer’s stories and photos. A week after their phone call Lichtenauer and Christopher reconnected at the Buzinski home in Parma, Ohio.

“I still remember that day. Chris, his family and I spent the day at the park,” Lichtenauer said. “After the kids went to bed I caught up with his parents and asked them if there was anything I could do to help out their family.”

The family knew of Lichtenauer’s background in cycling and work in bicycle stores throughout college. The Buzinskis asked for one thing: a bicycle for Christopher. Cerebral palsy restricted him from pedaling on the typical two-wheeled bicycles sold in stores and his disability left him unable to join his siblings as they rode their own bicycles. But the cost was prohibitive.

After conducting research Lichtenauer found an organization, Athletes Helping Athletes (AHA), that would fund an adaptive bicycle for Christopher. The cost was more than $2,000 but Lichtenauer completed the application and was surprised that Christopher and his brother, who also has a neurofibromatosis, would receive new bikes.

With an established relationship with AHA, Lichtenauer realized she could help give other disabled children the quintessential childhood experience of riding a bicycle.

Although Lichtenauer had fine-tuned the process, she had no network to find children who needed bikes. Recalling her Otterbein connections, she asked Shelley Payne, her former Health and Sports Sciences (HSS) professor, to put her in contact with any physical-therapist colleagues who worked with disabled children. Payne referred her to physical therapist Catie Christensen.

Christopher’s Promise was established and began the ride it is still on today.

“It was in 2012 that Catie began referring kids to me,” Lichtenauer said. “We worked together to get the first 20 Christopher’s Promise kids their specialized bikes.”

One of the more recent gifts again reconnected Lichtenauer with her Otterbein past.

Lichtenauer joined another HSS former professor, Joe Wilkins, during a fall HSS professional development day. After speaking with Lichtenauer, Wilkins had the idea that the department would donate money to gift a bicycle instead of buying each other holiday gifts.

“It was a natural fit for our department since we deal with health disparities and access issues,” Payne said. “Our department embodies health in a productive way.”

The HSS bicycle recipient was a miracle boy from Mansfield, Malachi Parsons-Anderson. When he was born, he was given less than a year to live due to his spinal muscular atrophy, but he recently celebrated his eighth birthday.

His mother, Tina Parsons, heard of Christopher’s Promise through a friend whose daughter received a bicycle. Because of his disease, Parsons-Anderson is unable to stand and has little muscle tone, which meant he needed an atypical bicycle with a backed chair and three wheels.

“It makes my heart happy to see him be able to do something that he can participate in with other kids,” Parsons said.

The Parsons-Anderson family was able to visit Otterbein’s campus along with Christopher’s Promise volunteers to meet Wilkins and to celebrate Malachi’s new ride and taste of freedom.

“Bikes really enrich these kids’ lives,” Parsons said. “The bikes give them a sense of independence where they feel they have no limitations.”

In addition to managing Christopher’s Promise, Lichtenauer enjoys a successful career in medical device sales. She takes no money from her countless hours heading Christopher’s Promise. “I believe all the funding given to the organization should go to the bikes so we can get as many kids on bikes as possible.”

The Columbus Firefighters Association and other community groups are involved now too. Two Otterbein alumnae, Catherine Mueller Eisenbrown ’10 and Ashley Gregg Taylor ’10, have also funded bikes. There’s an infinite need.

“Even in 2023 there are access difficulties for kids with disparities,” Payne said. “The adaptive bikes give the kids something to do with their families after dinner. They can be life-changing.”

That’s something Lichtenauer hopes to roll with for years to come.

Watch a news story about Malachi receiving his bicycle >

Find out more at

Thrift Store Funding Scholarships for 55 Years

Mary B. Thomas Award Honorees 2022

The Columbus Otterbein Women’s Club, founded in 1921, originally limited membership to alumnae and former women students. A lot has changed since then. Now called the Westerville Otterbein Women’s Club, it is open to members of any gender, and it runs a Thrift Shop on campus that has raised over $1 million for scholarships for Otterbein students.

Opened in 1952, the Thrift Shop is the oldest sustainability initiative on campus. All merchandise is donated, all staffing is volunteered, and all proceeds are returned as gifts to the University. The first scholarship — the Westerville Otterbein Women’s Club Scholarship — was established 55 years ago in 1968 and is still awarded annually to two or more first-year students who graduated from Westerville City Schools.

The Club is accepting new members, and the Thrift Shop has your next treasure in stock.

Research To Relieve World Hunger

Eunice FosterEUNICE FOSTER, Ph.D., graduated from Otterbein with a degree in Elementary Education in 1970. After teaching at Main Street Elementary School in Columbus for four years, she was called to a new career. Now a crop physiologist at Michigan State University, Foster has broken glass ceilings as the first African American and the first female associate dean in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. She works to lift others up as a founding member of the National Society for Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS) — an organization she emphasizes is inclusive of everyone — which now has 65 chapters in 35 states.

She also has made significant contributions to addressing the global food crisis with her research on drought resistance and nitrogen utilization in soybean, dry beans, Bambara groundnut, and cover crops in corn. In 2021 she was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science — one of the most prestigious distinctions in science.

We talked to Eunice about her experience:

We talked to Eunice about her experience:

What led you to your career in crop Physiology and agriculture?

I was teaching sixth grade and I loved it, but I was telling my students that you could do anything you wanted to do, and you could make a difference. World hunger was an issue (and still is) particularly in Africa in the ’70s, and I became interested in it. I found out that, as a land grant university, Ohio State had money for research in agriculture. So, I got my master’s at Ohio State. Then I was offered a job in California with Dow, which had an agricultural division, but I really wanted to continue on.

I went to meetings of our professional society, American Society of Agronomy. I met someone from the University of Arkansas who said they were looking to recruit, particularly Blacks because they had none —most of the schools didn’t. I met with them and was recruited, so I did my Ph.D. at the University of Arkansas.

What does your research entail?

When I was at Ohio State, the associate dean of the department asked me, “Do you want to study horticulture or agronomy?” I didn’t know what either one was, so I said I want to study whatever is going to teach me how to grow the foods that people eat. He said agronomy, so I studied agronomy (the science of soil management and crop production) at Ohio State.

I wanted to study more about the issues that plants have: How do they grow better? What governs the growth of plants? That’s physiology, which is what I studied at the University of Arkansas. When I came to Michigan State University, I taught crop production, introduction to crop science, and crop physiology.

In terms of research, I worked with soybeans, dry beans, kidney beans, Navy beans, and those kinds of beans. I looked at a drought resistance and cover crops and was able to have some involvement with Mexico in a research program, some with Malawi and students from other parts of Africa, and so forth.

Why is your research important in today’s era of climate change?

Even before the almost-crisis that we’re in right now, areas would have periodic episodes of drought. When that happens, the plant doesn’t grow and develop. It may die. You don’t get the yield. In some parts of the world, it was even more often than it was happening here. Now it’s happening more often everywhere with extreme temperatures, excessive moisture, and all of those different issues.

We now have 8 billion people, and it has been projected to reach 9 or 10 billion by 2050. We need to feed those people. I’m a Trekkie, but I don’t expect to get the Starship Enterprise or any other ship anytime soon that’s taking us to different places. So, we’ve got to be able to feed ourselves here and now and it’s got to be nutritious food. With climate change that’s going to be even harder than it has been.

It was already going to be hard enough trying to increase yield, but with having serious drought at times, excess rain, tornadoes, it will be even more difficult. So, my discipline is extremely important, and the unfortunate part is that most people don’t know anything about it.

When most people think of agriculture, they think of farming. That’s fine, except that in the U.S. less than 1% of the people feed the rest of us and grow additional food to export. Plus, we also need the people in the other countries producing enough food to sustain themselves.

That means that this discipline needs to look at: what do we need for the crops to grow, for soils to be fertile? There are also issues with fertilizer and fertilizer run-off, with pesticides and pesticide run-off, diseases and insects. We need to be able to deal with all that and grow food. So, this discipline is extremely important.

What challenges have you faced as a black woman in your field?

When I first I came to Michigan State, I was the first female in our department and the first person of color in our department. There are times when you say something, and they don’t hear it. I am a very assertive person, and I became even more assertive. I think over time people knew that when Eunice speaks, I’m going to tell you what I think and I’m going to be very assertive about that.

But when I had one-on-one interviews with people, someone said to me, “Are you applying for this job because you want to be the first woman and the first Black here?” Now that’s not a legal question. But I smiled and I looked at him and I said, “I applied because you have a job and I need a job.”

I didn’t say it to be offensive but to me it was a common-sense question. You apply when people have a job, and you need a job.

I can’t remember if it was the same man, but someone later said to me, “I should have known we were going to have to hire a woman sometime because we have these women students.”

People would say things that they didn’t realize were offensive, and some of these people were men I came to like, in fact many of them. But I did have to work to change things.

There were there was a course in another college, Women in Science, and the people had asked me to put up flyers in our department. A person in my department took them down and said, “We don’t want our students taking this course.”

There was hostility towards women in science and so you had to be a strong person. But I didn’t come into agriculture for people to like me. I came into it for a purpose. I grew up in the 1950s, and the hostility towards Blacks was not so different — I would hear my parents talk. You couldn’t be a frail, weepy person. You can’t run me away.

We ended up founding an organization called Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences, and it’s still going strong. We had 1,000 members at our last national meeting. There are many professionals of color that are operating in universities, government, industry, and non-profits who have come through this organization and been nurtured.

The students at MSU were the impetus. It’s been amazing for me to see the growth and the national impact, and from the beginning it was students of color saying, we want to know who else is out there and we want to recruit.

But it always has been open to everyone and nurtured everyone. We have Caucasian students, we have African Americans, Latinx, Native Americans, Asian Americans. We also have high school chapters now, which build a pipeline.

Why is it important to include minority scientists and scholars in conversations in your discipline?

In every discipline we need all of our human capital. Intelligence is not in any one race.

I gave a three-minute presentation on this recently. I started with Lue Gim Gong. In the 1890s in Florida, there was a terrible freeze, and they pretty much lost the citrus crop. This young man who came here as an immigrant by himself at age 12 from China, did research and came up with varieties that were that were freeze tolerant. He’s called the “Citrus Wizard of Florida” and most people have never heard of him.

Then I mentioned Ynes Mexia. In the 1920s, she started college when she was 51. She collected 145,000 species, 600 that had never collected before, and over 60 of them have her name in them somehow. Suppose we didn’t have her.

Then I mentioned an African American woman named Gladys West. In the ’70s and ’80s, she did some mapping with the stratosphere and the Earth’s gravitational pull and other things that led to foundation of the GPS that we have in cars and phones. Suppose we didn’t have her.

Then I mentioned a lady named Robin Wall Kimmerer, who is working with Native American concepts of plants and nature and what we’ve lost, what we need to regain, and how that we can use that.

Intelligence is not scarce and it’s not in any one race, nor any one gender. We need different viewpoints, different ways of looking at things, different ways of thinking, so that we challenge each other in a positive way.

There’s a saying that if you and your partner always agree, one of you is unnecessary. It’s not my saying I but I love it. We need constructive, positive criticism and thinking and we need everybody’s ideas.

What have you done to support and encourage minority scientists in your field?

We have a grant that’s finishing up now from the National Science Foundation to recruit more students into seven disciplines, including agronomy.

Many people don’t know of the need for science. We don’t have enough people coming into these disciplines — people of any color. The grant is for everyone, but I’m proud to say that we had 34% diversity and we’ve been very successful with 82% of our students graduating in four years or less. We spent a lot of time nurturing, encouraging, meeting monthly with the students, and bringing in speakers. We built in money for them to do internships, study abroad, and go to professional meetings.

We also go into high schools, especially three high schools in our lower socioeconomic district once a month with hands-on activities. And our college also has some summer programs. If a student finds something that interests them, we want to be able to build upon that.

I’ve gone to an Afrocentric school and talked to their first, second, third, and fourth graders about seed science and they did a garden this summer. My goal is to create a pipeline because even though I’m retiring, I would like this program to continue in high schools.

How has your lifelong commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion been meaningful to you?
As an African American woman, it could not be otherwise to know from whence we’ve come and the challenges we’ve overcome, even in my lifetime. I want to know history and we have to know it. Unfortunately, it isn’t taught in school; you can’t teach history with just one race or another.

I know the struggles that my parents went through. I know that any struggles that I’ve had have been miniscule compared to what they had, and theirs were miniscule compared to the people before them. And that I know that it was not accidental. There were laws that

Plant Physic Woman

New Faces in Athletics

New Faces in Athletics

There are plenty of new faces on campus this fall — including three notable individuals taking over primary roles in the Athletics Department.

Greg Lott, Ph.D.

New Director of Athletics

Lott was an All-American sprinter at the NCAA Division III level for Dickinson College before competing professionally on the European Circuit and with Team USA. He then obtained a plethora of coaching experience through stops at West Point, the National Training Center, Valparaiso University, Buffalo State, and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

The scholar-practitioner hopes to continue blending (and relaying) that knowledge along with many other administrative skill sets, including his most recent six-year stint as associate athletic director and a professor of health, exercise, and sport studies at nearby Denison University.

“The tradition in this department is special,” Lott said. “I noticed so much passion in our exceptional group of coaches and administrators — pride for where they have been and excitement about where we can go. I’m humbled to join the team as we strive to enhance the culture, student-athlete experience, and competitive results.”

Tommy Zagorski

Football Head Coach

Coach Zagorski began generating buzz simply with the announcement of his hire back in January. The wellrespected coach launched his career with a stellar rise at fellow Ohio Athletic Conference school John Carroll, helping elevate the Blue Streaks to national prominence as a coordinator.

A former standout offensive lineman at Case Western Reserve, he then dabbled in the Division I ranks before returning to Ohio and starting a family. His journey has now led him back into the Division III landscape with his first college head coaching job, tasked with rebuilding the Cardinals.

“I’ve seen a gritty group of guys. many that have been counted out before,” Zagorski said. “But we are just focused on who we are — between the lines, in the classroom, in meetings, and across campus. Challenges always emerge, but this is a growth-oriented team that is going to make the University proud.”

Matt Sutton

Cross Country Coach

Matt Sutton also arrived over winter and began learning the ropes as a first-time head coach. He previously spent three years as a cross country distance specialist at Adrian College, growing the roster from 12 to 32. Under his guidance, the Bulldogs recorded their highest finish at the MIAA Championships in over a decade. A graduate of Georgia College, Sutton was a four-year runner and two-time member of the Peach Belt Conference All-Sportsmanship Team.

“The goals have been to make an immediate impact on recruiting and just add natural energy,” Sutton said. “We want to keep providing an environment where student-athletes grow and ultimately thrive.”

When you are on campus this school year, stop by to say hello or drop a note to these new faces as they begin putting their stamp on Otterbein Athletics.