Building a Foundation for Healing

“Pick up the baton and LEAD this community with courage”
— Shawn Harper

Racial Healing Circles Serve as the Foundational Work to Build Upon Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging.

When Otterbein was selected by the American Association for Independent Colleges and Universities in 2020 as the first university in Ohio to host a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center, it challenged its community to begin the difficult work ahead.
Shawn Harper

Since then, the TRHT program has trained facilitators, hosted Racial Healing Circles and other programs, and completed an oral history project. Four student fellows, working with faculty mentors, recorded interviews with alumni of color about their Otterbein experiences. The Otterbein University Alumni of Color Oral History Project embodies the “Truth” component of TRHT in seeking to look honestly at the ways educational institutions have embodied racial hierarchy. The goal of the project was to assemble the fullest, most honest account of Otterbein’s history, because understanding its history is necessary in order to dismantle racial hierarchy and transform the culture of its campus and community.

Last summer, Otterbein’s co-founding partner in the Coalition for the Common Good, Antioch University, was named a TRHT Campus Center. With that addition, Otterbein’s TRHT team saw an opportunity to serve even more people through collaboration. On Jan. 16, 2024, the joint team held a day of coordinated conversations online, reaching 100 participants in Ohio and at Antioch’s campuses in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Seattle, and Keene, New Hampshire.

“We held an all-day TRHT event in honor of the seventh National Day of Racial Healing that incorporated a number of faculty, staff and students participating in Racial Healing Circles from both Otterbein and Antioch,” said Otterbein’s Chief Diversity Officer Frank Dobson Jr., Ph.D. “That was a great 2024 starting point for more TRHT-related programming in collaboration with Antioch.”

Racial Healing Circles are discussions that allow participants to work toward equity and inclusion. The Coalition held Racial Healing Circles from morning to evening, scheduled to accommodate everyone who wished to participate regardless of their location.

“This experience allows community members to listen for understanding. In addition, healing circles­ — a form of restorative practice­ — serve as a safe space where individuals can freely express their emotions, fostering connection, empathy, and understanding among participants,” said Dobson.

“Racial Healing Circles serve as the foundational work to build upon Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging,” added Lemuel Watson, Ed.D., Antioch’s senior associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and vice provost for community engagement.

Selethia Benn, Ed.S.

Selethia Benn, Ed.S., director of Otterbein’s Office of Social Justice and Activism, has worked extensively to plan programming around issues of TRHT,  including Otterbein’s annual Martin Luther King  Jr. Convocation.

This year’s convocation featured Shawn Harper, a former NFL offensive lineman and motivational speaker. Harper invites individuals to find their own purpose as they fulfill a calling to serve others.

“My encouragement for you today is to pick up the baton … and lead this community with courage,” Harper told the campus community, holding up a baton to emphasize the importance of his sentiment. “I will not go with the flow. I will fight injustices and be a superhero. The darker the night, the brighter the light.”

Harper’s passion for helping others is a reflection of King’s legacy.

The 2024 Pack Scholar-in-Residence, Brian Smedley, also has connections to upcoming TRHT programming. April is National Minority Health Month, which coincides with the visit of Smedley, an equity scholar and senior fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. He has studied unconscious bias and stereotyping among healthcare providers in the U.S., which lead to lower quality of care for patients of color.

Otterbein is continuing to explore these and  other issues of social injustice independently and collaboratively with Antioch University through Otterbein’s TRHT programs and initiatives, continuing the University’s rich history of confronting issues of equity dating back to its earliest days.

Watson said he is encouraged by Otterbein and Antioch University’s shared commitment to education for a more just society — including building and preserving democracy. “College campuses serve as the ideal setting for students to develop skills and connect with others from diverse backgrounds. Through active listening and understanding, students can create meaningful relationships and foster a sense of community that promotes healing and growth.”

Signature Series Scholars Engage Audiences

Otterbein’s Signature Series packed the seats this spring, engaging audiences in discussions on some of the most relevant topics of the day.

The George W. and Mildred K. White Science Lecture Series

What happens when the pharmaceutical drugs we take end up in wastewater? How do “forever chemicals” from consumer products end up in surface water? And what will we do about the emergence of “superbugs” that are resistant to treatment? Renowned environmental chemist Diana Aga answered those questions and more when she visited campus for the George W. and Mildred K. White Science Lecture Series.

Aga is the Henry Woodburn Professor of Chemistry and a State University of New York (SUNY) Distinguished Professor at the University at Buffalo (UB). She also serves as the director of RENEW (Research and Education in eNergy, Environment and Water) Institute at UB.

On Feb. 21, Aga packed the seats at two special talks for STEM students before presenting her public lecture, “Free Drugs,” “Superbugs,” and “Forever Chemicals” in the Environment: Occurrence and Implications, that evening.

Watch the lecture at

Diana Aga

Donja Thomas

Lynn Pasquerella

The Kathy A. Krendl Distinguished Lecture Series

On March 19, the Kathy A. Krendl Distinguished Lecture Series welcomed Lynn Pasquerella, president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), for a lecture about Educating for Democracy. Pasquerella is one of the country’s most prominent public voices and forceful advocates for the value of liberal education, the importance of access to resources and pathways, and the need for career training for jobs and citizen education for justice.

Her most recent book, What We Value: Public Health, Social Justice, and Educating for Democracy, examines urgent issues — moral distress, access to resources, and the conflict over whose voices and lives are privileged — and argues that liberal education is the best preparation for work, citizenship, and life. Pasquerella is a member of the board of directors for the Coalition for the Common Good and a past-president of Mount Holyoke College.

Vernon L. Pack Lectures

April is Minority Health Month, and to address the important issue of equity in the American healthcare system, Otterbein hosted Brian D. Smedley for the Vernon L. Pack ’50 Distinguished Lecture on April 4.

In addition to his public lecture, Place, Race, and Health: Addressing the Root Causes of Health Inequities, Smedley met with Otterbein students in public health, allied health, nursing, and other health-related majors to discuss what they can do as healthcare professionals to ensure equitable care for their patients.

Smedley is an equity scholar and senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, where he conducts research and policy analysis to address structural and institutional forms of racism that impact the health and well-being of people of color.

Learn more at

Brian D. Smedley

Teaching Awards


Each year, Otterbein honors outstanding teachers for their impact on their students, colleagues, and the University. These dynamic and dedicated full- and part-time faculty contribute so much to the Otterbein community both in and outside the classroom. They help students find their calling and grow as young professionals; celebrate their colleagues’ achievements; and show their support for the staff who are often working behind-the-scenes.

Teacher of the Year – David Sheridan

David Sheridan, Biology, Teacher Of The Year

“One thing I want my students to take from my classes is to be inquisitive and always keep learning. I always learn something new every time I teach a course.”

David Sheridan

Associate Professor of Biology

“Sheridan made his animal systems physiology class especially interesting and engaging by using a variety of teaching methods to discuss a normal and diseased state. He described asthma, gave a demonstration, and then had students simulate the experience by providing small straws to breathe through. It was obvious that he held the interest of all students in the classroom.”

– from nomination

How would you describe your teaching style?
Fast paced, energetic, mostly flipped-classroom model. Students do the readings and take a pre-quiz prior to discussing the material in class. It allows us to tackle the difficult subject matter in class with mini-lectures and then follow up applications like a case study.

What inspires you to teach?
Most of my students are going into nursing, medicine, veterinary medicine, physical therapy, dentistry, etc. I remember taking anatomy and physiology and was fascinated by it. I hope I am helping them start their journey into their future careers that are heavily rooted in anatomy and physiology with that same fascination and base knowledge.

What do you hope your students take from your classes?
An appreciation for the body and its processes, be it human or animal, and the fact that we are all similar, but the uniqueness of each person or species is amazing.

Why are you passionate about the subjects you teach?
Anatomy and physiology are at the crossroads of so many disciplines — biology, chemistry, physics — and we can see these structures and functions and processes in our own bodies.

What is your favorite class to teach?
All of them, but mostly whichever one I am currently teaching. I always learn something new every time I teach a course.

What do you think students get from Otterbein faculty that they can’t get anywhere else?

What is one lesson you want students to carry with them not related to the subject matter?
Be inquisitive and always keep learning.

New Teacher of the Year – Bennett Grooms

“When I teach a course, I view it as an opportunity to connect with future peers and colleagues. My teaching style is very discussion- and application-based. I focus on providing students opportunities to take what they have learned and use that knowledge in real-world scenarios tied to their career interests. I want my class to be a space of mutual learning, where I ask questions and have conversations to guide students into new areas of thought.”

Bennett Grooms

Assistant Professor of Biology

“Dr. Grooms is most likely one of the best things to have happened to the Zoo and Conservation program just because he is so passionate about what he is teaching. His attitude and devotion to animal work is contagious and makes me want to be a better student.”

– from student course evaluation

David Sheridan, Biology, Teacher Of The Year

How would you describe your teaching style?
When I teach a course, I view it as an opportunity to connect with future peers and colleagues who will be joining the field shortly. Under that mindset, my teaching style is very discussion and application based, and I work to go beyond just “learning the material.” Instead, I focus on providing students opportunities to take what they have learned and use that knowledge in real-world scenarios tied to their career interests. Additionally, I prioritize discussion and tying material to previous experiences. I never want a class to be just me talking “to” students, rather, I want my class to be a space of mutual learning, where I ask questions and have conversations to guide students into new areas of thought.

What inspires you to teach?
Mostly it’s the passion and enthusiasm I see from the students. I’m very fortunate to work in a field where there are so many opportunities for students to pursue individual interests. Having a student share about their favorite animal to work with or about their internship experiences is so enjoyable to hear. Similarly, hearing the aspirations these students have for helping wildlife and conservation, and witnessing their immense talent while working in class makes teaching a truly enjoyable experience that I look forward to doing every day.

What do you hope your studentS take from your classes?
One of my primary goals for students who take my classes is help them understand that success is so much more than just a grade or title. I believe success is progressive movement towards a worthy goal, and I try to emphasize to my students how worthy of an endeavor it is for them to think about what they want to do with their lives and trying their best to achieve those goals. If students leave my classes more confident in their knowledge of the world, as well as feeling more confident in themselves, then I consider that a very successful class.

Why are you passionate about the subjects you teach?
I truly love working in conservation, and think it is critical to the health of our planet to connect people to wildlife and nature. I come from a family that is wildlife-oriented and spent much of my time growing up visiting zoos, state parks, and going camping. There is so much diversity in the animals and plants we share this planet with, and I find it fascinating to work with students in understanding how those animals behave, and what we can do to best conserve them. It’s a very rewarding experience to come full circle with my passion for wildlife conservation, and now be on the side of engaging students in this material and work.

What is your favorite class to teach?
My Animal Behavior (BIO3050) course; it’s so much fun between the in-class discusses, lab experiences, and film project that I have students do. I’m constantly thinking of topics and field experiences for the course.

What do you think students get from Otterbein faculty that they can’t get anywhere else?
Compared to other universities, I would say Otterbein students receive an awesome benefit of becoming part of a professional community almost immediately in their program. Considering my department alone, we have students as early as their freshman year working with faculty to take care of aquariums and animals, conduct research, collect field data, and present their own research at conferences. Faculty also see students regularly through organizations, events, and research projects, which makes it feel like we are building connections vs. just pushing students out into the workforce.

What is one lesson you want students to carry with them not related to the subject matter?
That their self-worth goes far beyond their grades or academic performance. I hope students will remember that everyone is worthy of feeling confident in themselves without judgement or comparisons, and that everyone has something worthwhile to share and learn.

Excellence in Part-Time Teaching – Amy Karns

David Sheridan, Biology, Teacher Of The Year

“Teaching is more than the simple transfer of knowledge from one individual or group to the next. As a classroom leader, it’s my job to create a learning environment in which students belong — feeling valued and respected. A sense of classroom community is crucial to form a safe learning environment where students may consider other perspectives with growth, empathy, and kindness.”

Amy Karns

Psychology Instructor

“I would advise any student, psychology or not, to take this course because it really solidified my understanding of the topic of development, and it was a very fun and interactive course!”

– from student course evaluation

How would you describe your teaching style?
My teaching style is student-focused and highly interactive. I believe learning happens through various methods, including lecture, discussion, problem-solving, and real-life situational labs. I strive to engage the class while giving many opportunities to learn from one another.

What inspires you to teach?
I am motivated by the shared experiences in the classroom integrating course content to real-life application. I enjoy helping students problem-solve, think critically, and challenge their own perspectives while encouraging them to try something new or step out of their comfort zone. I hope my love and excitement for the field of psychology encourages personal growth and lifelong learning as it relates to their personal career goals.

What do you hope your students take from your classes?
I hope that students leave my class feeling accomplished in their knowledge of how human behavior and mental processes affect their lives each day. I hope they look back and remember how fun the process of learning can be even if it requires them to think past the traditional way of college teaching.

Why are you passionate about the subjects you teach?
There is a common myth that psychology only encompasses the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. I love teaching how human behavior and mental processes are relevant in day-to-day interactions through relationships, motivation, emotion, attention, and our abilities (intelligence).

What is your favorite class to teach?
This is tough as I enjoy different classes for various reasons. My favorite is probably introduction to psychology for many of the reasons listed above. I get excited to debunk many of the myths associated with the field of psychology — especially with students who take psychology to check off a requirement.

What do you think students get from Otterbein faculty that they can’t get anywhere else?
We care about the whole student. Otterbein is a family. Faculty and employees care about each other and the well-being of students.

What is one lesson you want students to carry with them not related to the subject matter?
You do not have to be perfect to be successful.

Exemplary Teaching Award, United Methodist Church General Board of Higher Education – Cynthia Laurie-Rose

“I’m inspired by seeing the satisfaction on students’ faces when they have worked through a complex set of ideas, and they suddenly show understanding. I can see the students gain confidence in that moment and I know that they will begin to trust their ability to understand concepts or complete tasks that they may have previously felt were too difficult.”

Cynthia Laurie-Rose

Professor of Psychology

“It is staggering how dedicated she is to this high-impact practice of experiential learning. She does this work because research is essential for our students who wish to pursue graduate study, and Cindy wants to support them in that endeavor.”

– from nomination

David Sheridan, Biology, Teacher Of The Year

How would you describe your teaching style?
My teaching style is a hybrid of the traditional classroom lecture with a healthy mix of activities that illustrate the concepts I am teaching. When appropriate, I include independent research activities within the class. In an Honors course I teach, I ask students to conduct independent research using archival data; in my last seminar course on working dogs, the class conducted a study with college-aged participants and therapy dogs from Pet Partners.

What inspires you to teach?
I’m inspired by seeing the satisfaction on students’ faces when they have worked through a complex set of ideas, and they suddenly show understanding. I can see the students gain confidence in that moment and I know that they will begin to trust their ability to understand concepts or complete tasks that they may have previously felt were too difficult.

What do you hope your students take from your classes?
The excitement and fun of learning.

Why are you passionate about the subjects you teach?
I teach courses in experimental psychology. I enjoy showing students that research methods and core experimental courses such as physiological psychology and perception have relevance outside the classroom. As an example, I teach a unit on dyslexia in my physiological course, exploring its basic neurological underpinnings. I then introduce students to the surprising controversy of using dyslexia as a diagnosis in public schools. Owing to the tireless effort of grassroot parent organizations lobbying states to recognize the science, we end this unit discussing the new “dyslexia laws” requiring schools to use dyslexia as a specific diagnosis.

What is your favorite class to teach?
I love to teach perception. Perception is a topic students know very little about coming into the class. It is interesting that humans do not routinely reflect on how or why we see or hear the world the way we do. I enjoy introducing topics that are brand new to them and help them make connections between what they see and hear and the science behind those experiences. Students enjoy the many fun demonstrations in this class, including optical illusions.

What do you think students get from Otterbein faculty that they can’t get anywhere else?
Owing to our small classes, a community often emerges from our close work together. That sense of community persists long after the semester is over. We will see many of these students in other classes we teach, and some will work alongside us in our labs. We build long-lasting relationships with our students well beyond graduation. We continue to serve as mentors to our students and continue to help them in their professional endeavors.

What is one lesson you want students to carry with them not related to the subject matter?
In my classes, I emphasize the relationship between science and authority — whether that authority is religious, political, or societal. I want students to understand that science can be trusted and that they must become informed consumers of science and engaged citizens.

Investing in Their Future

Scholars and Scholarships are a bright pairing for these seniors from the Class of 2024.

These scholars have bright futures. Each admits to feeling a little overwhelmed right now, but mainly, they’re just excited about the future. They’ll tell you their hopes to better their communities and to make a difference in their professions. Each will also explain how the support of donors helped them discover their passions at Otterbein and how that has made all the difference.

Congratulations to the Class of 2024!

Olive Schnittker, whose pronouns are they/them, was set on medical school until they fell in love with organic chemistry. Their love of research followed during the summer between their sophomore and junior year. “If I wouldn’t have had the chance to do research, I wouldn’t have been able to discover what I want to do with the rest of my life.” Schnittker knows research is the focus of their future. “I’m extremely grateful for our donors, their support, and the awards that made it possible for me to do research.” They are the first member in their immediate family to earn a bachelor’s degree and an advanced degree in the sciences.

OLIVE SCHNITTKER ’24, Chemistry and Biochemistry/ Molecular Biology

Schnittker has already been accepted to four graduate school programs. They are deciding between a master’s degree or doctorate degree pathway with long-term plans to join research and development industry work in medicinal or pharmaceutical chemistry.

Olive Schnittker, whose pronouns are they/them, was set on medical school until they fell in love with organic chemistry. Their love of research followed during the summer between their sophomore and junior year. “If I wouldn’t have had the chance to do research, I wouldn’t have been able to discover what I want to do with the rest of my life.” Schnittker knows research is the focus of their future. “I’m extremely grateful for our donors, their support, and the awards that made it possible for me to do research.” They are the first member in their immediate family to earn a bachelor’s degree and an advanced degree in the sciences.

OLIVE SCHNITTKER ’24, Chemistry and Biochemistry/ Molecular Biology

Schnittker has already been accepted to four graduate school programs. They are deciding between a master’s degree or doctorate degree pathway with long-term plans to join research and development industry work in medicinal or pharmaceutical chemistry.

Did you Know?

Individual endowed
scholarships = $2.6 million

Otterbein works to match students with scholarships that support individual educational goals.

“My work with the New Student Transition Team ignited a spark in me to help introduce others to the potential they may not see in themselves.” Angel Proehl said she’ll miss the relationships she established here. “They saw something in me. It meant a lot to know the staff had faith in me.” An advocate herself, Proehl also works to make sure more students know about Otterbein’s Opportunity Scholarship.

ANGEL PROEHL ’24, Criminology and Justice Studies and Psychology

Proehl will begin work on a master’s degree in Social Work at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. She plans to spend her career advocating for children in foster care and adoption services.

Lily Cowie says her Otterbein professors were spectacular. “They make me want to keep on learning.” She plans to work in a research position while she decides which graduate psychology program to pursue. Cowie also said were it not for all the scholarship support, she likely wouldn’t be here. “Thanks to our donors, I had an incredible experience.”

LILY COWIE ’24, Psychology and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies

In addition to her studies, Cowie is a trained and certified OhioHealth Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO) advocate and Coordinated Community Response Team member. She proudly served as the president of the Psi-Chi Honor Society and as co-president of Tri-Iota Honor Society.

“The experiences I’ve had really make you think how science rotates the world in a new direction. It’s enlightening to be around people who share the same goals.” Last year, Mason Nolan was inducted into the national honor society of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. This year, he’s in medical school. “I want to thank donors for giving us experiences, professional opportunities, and the chance to see things we ordinarily wouldn’t be able to see.”

MASON NOLAN ’24, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

As part of the Early Assurance Program, Nolan will be finishing his first year of medical school at Ohio University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine around the same time he graduates from Otterbein. His 3+4 pathway is giving him an amazing experience and an early start on medical school.

“There is nothing better than the smile of an athlete after their first game back following an injury,” Conner Ruff said. “It’s very gratifying.” Ruff’s proud of the work he’s done on his clinical rotations in area high schools and with Otterbein’s trainers. “I want to thank the donors for giving me the opportunity to do what I love. Without their support, I wouldn’t be here.”

CONNER RUFF ’24, Athletic Training

Ruff will continue his studies at Otterbein to complete his master’s degree in Athletic Training. He hopes to return to his hometown to support his school’s athletic trainer who he regards as a vital role model.

The gift that continues ..

“Fourteen years ago, my family and I came to the United States as refugees from Nepal where we were living in refugee camps. All we had were some clothes and photographs. It feels unreal that I went from no hopes of finishing college to now having graduated with two majors. Today I am in my dream job. Donors don’t know how impactful they can be. Not only have they given me a life, they’ve given my family a life.”

BHAWANA KHATIWADA ’23, Computer Science and Communication

Khatiwada graduated a year early. She is an IT programmer analyst at Denison University in her dream job. She says without Otterbein’s support she wouldn’t be where she is today.

Otterbein Homecoming and Family Weekend September 20-21, 2024


& Family WeekendSeptember 20-21, 2024

Mark Your Calendar for Homecoming & Family Weekend!

Save the date to come back to the “nest” for every Cardinal’s favorite weekend on campus! This year’s celebration will feature many of your favorite events and more, including:

  • Class of 1974 Golden 50th Reunion.
  • Class of 1999 25th Reunion.
  • Alumni Awards and President’s State of the University Address.
  • Homecoming Parade, OtterFest, Cardy Zone, and Cardinals Football.
Homecoming Image

Make sure you have the latest Homecoming details by updating your email at:

Home coming Class of 1973 Reunion
Homecoming Gathering

Cardy’s Homecoming & Family Weekend WORD SEARCH

Puzzle Word List:

  • FOOD

The first five readers to send us your completed Word Search will receive Otterbein swag bags! Send to: Otterbein Office of Engagement, ATTN: Alumni Office, 1 S. Grove St., Westerville, OH 43081. *Be sure to include your address!

SEPT. 20-21

Learn more at

Letter from President Comerford, Spring 2024

​Dear Alumni and Friends,
I’ve discovered the spot where the first shoots of green appear on campus. It always gives me hope that we’re almost through another long, gray Ohio winter. It’s also a reminder of renewal. The flowers grow back every year in this spot. They may grow a little differently, but they come back every year.

This is a reminder to me about life at Otterbein. Some things are constant, like Towers Hall. It’s always standing there. But like flowers that grow differently, the things that happen around Towers are also changing and evolving. Much like the news you’ll read about in this issue of Towers — some things are constant, and some things are evolving.

Faculty excellence.

  • I know you’ll enjoy reading about some of our newest award winning professors who have been recognized by their peers and students. I often hear stories from you about how one of your professors made all the difference. These faculty members are creative and impressive in how they are challenging and guiding our students.
  • The tradition of sabbaticals is an idea rooted in renewal. Sabbaticals give faculty members time to focus their expertise and curiosity to test an idea, to create something new, to travel, or to enrich knowledge for their discipline or in new learning experiences for their students. News of this kind of work will remind you why learning is different at Otterbein.

Student opportunity.

  • Another Otterbein constant: our students. We’re always proud to recognize a small group of our graduating seniors. The Class of 2024 started here amidst a global pandemic, but they leave resilient and ready to do big things. Not only are they accomplished, they’ve benefitted from the scholarship support made possible by you. I know I’m biased, but if you want to invest in doing something good for the future — you’ll never go wrong by investing in Otterbein students.

A more just society.

  • Otterbein’s commitment to opportunity and equity was celebrated alongside the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at our annual convocation. Shawn Harper, a former NFL athlete and our keynote speaker, challenged students to show leadership and courage in building the kind of community we all want. As you’ll also read, Antioch University has joined Otterbein in the national work of serving as a Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Campus. I’m proud that Otterbein was the first school in Ohio to earn this designation in 2020. You’ll also read about ways things are growing and changing that may look different than the past but are no less rooted in Otterbein values and traditions.

Renovations for the Campus Center.

  • Plans for more renovations to the Campus Center are underway as Phase Two shifts our attention to the student dining experience on the second floor. While that means the space you remember will look different — the vision driving this work is to create a refreshed space that still brings students together. It’s a new dining program, a new flow, a new kitchen, and a new layout — but memories of students around the table laughing with friends or studying for class are still on the menu.

The Coalition for the Common Good.

  • Finally, we’re answering questions we know you have about Otterbein’s co-founding of the Coalition for the Common Good. I’m eager to continue sharing more with you about why Otterbein is doing this, why Antioch University (not Antioch College) is the right partner, and how this allows us to focus on what Otterbein does best. We’ll keep on changing lives through a meaningful, residential undergraduate experience while our partner takes Otterbein graduate programs to a bigger audience of adult learners and professionals.

Spring is coming and I look forward to renewal and working together to grow all the possibilities that Otterbein inspires.


John L. Comerford, Ph.D.

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!

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.

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 >

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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.