Faculty Receive Awards for Excellence

Each year, Otterbein honors outstanding teachers for their impact on their students, colleagues, and the University. Professor of Music Jennifer Merkowitz, the recipient of this year’s Teacher of the Year Award, was recognized for striking a perfect balance between theory and application that leads her students to land jobs and careers they are passionate about.

Associate Professor of Communication Eric Jones received the Exemplary Teaching Award, a national honor sponsored by the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Higher Education. In addition to creating an inclusive, equitable, and understanding learning environment in his classes, he has offered his time and expertise to Otterbein’s Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center. He has mentored undergraduate TRHT Fellows as they collect and record oral histories from Otterbein alumni of color, a project at the center of TRHT’s efforts to create narrative change and reckon honestly with the past.

Art Professor Emeritus Nicholas Hill has been visually chronicling the COVID-19 pandemic since it began, creating The Pandemic Portraits Series (2020-present). An exhibition of the portraits premiered at Otterbein in spring 2021. Now a catalog containing 105 portraits from the series is available, with proceeds benefitting Otterbein’s Frank Museum of Art. Click here to order the book.

An internationally acclaimed art exhibition that premiered at Otterbein co-created by English Professor Patricia Frick and Director of Museum and Galleries Janice Glowski is traveling to Chile for its next engagement in Valparaiso in Spring 2023. Lands, Real and Imagined: Women Artists Respond to the Art and Travel Writings of Maria Graham, features five female artists. It is based on Frick’s research on Graham (1785-1842), an accomplished Victorian travel writer, historian, illustrator, and amateur scientist.

Equine Teams Add Another Strong Season to Impressive Program

Otterbein University’s equine teams were back in competition for the first time since 2019 due to the pandemic. All teams had impressive finishes. The dressage team won the Intercollegiate Dressage Association’s national championship — the team’s second consecutive title — and the hunt seat team completed their season as zone and region champions. The hunt seat team placed 13th in the national tournament.

New Center Offers Safe Space and Peer Advocates for Otterbein Students

Otterbein has established a new Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Resource Center with community space, a furnished safe room for any student living in an unsafe situation, and housing for Peer Advocates. Peer Advocates are students who have completed 40 hours of training including trauma informed crisis response, particularly trauma informed response for sexual violence victims/survivors and are qualified to help in many situations.

“We’re the only school in the state of Ohio that we know of that has a trained peer advocate staff,” said Associate Professor Tammy Birk, director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program.

Spring Fling: Otterbein Laces Up for Unique Semester of Athletic Competition

Nearly 20 varsity sports competing in the same semester during a pandemic. That’s exactly what Otterbein University and its Department of Athletics found a way to implement this spring.

Due to ongoing issues regarding COVID-19, the Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) decided to postpone all fall/winter competition until after the calendar flipped.

“Athletics has a unique ability to shape people, especially younger student-athletes,” said Dawn Stewart ’98, vice president for student affairs and director of athletics. “Finding a way to implement that experience safely was very important, to keep them engaged and allow them opportunities to keep growing. I’m proud of everyone for staying the course and seeing this through.”

Unique conference-only schedules were devised for each sport. In compliance with OAC medical protocols, student-athletes and other Tier 1 personnel, including coaches, athletic trainers, and support staff, were tested either weekly or multiple times per week, depending on the sport. If a team’s positivity rate exceeded a certain threshold or enough “at-risk players” were missing due to contact tracing, a contest would be canceled.

“It’s certainly been tough,” said Colin Hartnett, men’s lacrosse coach. “You have to make sacrifices and ask college kids to do things that college kids don’t necessarily want to do. Sometimes you have answers and many other times you don’t. But I think each program, and our department as a whole, found leadership in multiple ways to help us remain focused.”

More than 450 student-athletes, and respective coaches, needed to get creative and share facilities even more than they already do. Schedules were compiled to use the Rike Center, Clements Center, Memorial Stadium, and other important spaces. Teams took turns practicing at 6 a.m. before class, and rotated in the late slot at 9 p.m. It wasn’t uncommon to see the stadium lights still on approaching midnight.

“I’m proud of the guys who stuck it out, and proud of our coaches for keeping us invested,” said junior linebacker Greg Nolder, a football team captain. “Sports has the power to bring people together and provides something to look forward to. No matter the circumstances, it’s so much fun being with my teammates.”

Support staffs were stretched thin. Athletic trainers helped oversee COVID testing while providing athletes with regular care. With no fans initially permitted at events, the Sports Information Office had to be creative through social media, website, and live video coverage to share the latest Cardinals news.

Otterbein TV rallied a crew, mostly comprised of students, to stream as many home games as possible online. Equipment, facility, and event management staff ran ragged. Administrators handled troubleshooting behind the scenes.

Otterbein Football in a Pandemic

Otterbein Women’s Basketball Set New Points Record

Beginning Jan. 22, women’s basketball launched the most hectic 18-week stretch in the history of Cardinal sports, setting a new program-best for most points in a single game on Jan. 23 against Marietta. The seasons started with no spectators, but a limited number of spectators was allowed just in time for Senior Night for men’s and women’s basketball.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” said senior guard Abby Zerkle, becoming emotional when asked about seeing her parents back in the crowd. “This year has been difficult with a lot of uncertainty, ups and downs, you name it. Being able to have my family at a game meant everything.”

Attendance ultimately increased to a two-ticket allotment for each participant, and the competition became full throttle into March, April, and May. There was at least one event every day of the week. Frequently, multiple sports programs were suiting up at home or on the road in a 24-hour sequence.

Fall and winter sports played condensed schedules, and unfortunately saw their NCAA Championships canceled by Division III management.

Traditional spring sports, which were also impacted by the abrupt shutdown in 2020, attempted to play full slates as best they could.

Some teams were forced to play shorthanded at times due to illness. A handful of events were canceled or altered, but the Cardinals pressed on and spirit remained alive.

Fans who weren’t on the “pass list” found creative ways to set up outside the official premises to watch and cheer from beyond the gate.

“Our biggest takeaway has been gratitude,” softball coach Brooke Donovan said. “Gratitude for the game, teammates, coaching staffs, and overall opportunity to compete. We appreciate all that our athletic administration and University leadership did for us to be on the field. We tried our best to make it count.”

Ultimately, the NCAA issued a “blanket waiver” for all student-athletes in 2020-21, meaning they are not docked a year of eligibility. Some will utilize it and others will likely not, especially in Division III where there are no athletic scholarships.

There were victories, defeats, laughter, tears, thrills, heartbreaks, broken records, championship runs, and all that encompasses the natural character-building of athletic competition. Regardless of the circumstances, Otterbein found ways to play — with one another and for one another. They play for how it shapes people, for what it means to a college campus, and for a true love of the game.

Adam Prescott MSAH’15 is the sports information director at Otterbein, and has more than a decade of experience promoting the Cardinals. He holds a bachelor’s degree in sport management from Mount Union and a master’s degree in allied health administration from Otterbein.

Leaving a Legacy

Alumni and friends who include Otterbein in their estate planning are celebrated through the 1847 Society. Planned gifts are vital to Otterbein’s future. We acknowledge and thank the following who have recently provided for the University:

  • Westerville resident and alumnus Steven Leonhardt MBA ’05 documented an estate bequest, estimated at $75,000, for Otterbein’s scholarship endowment fund. Steve and his wife, Julie, have been donors for more than 15 years contributing annually to the Otterbein Fund. Steve said, “The value of the MBA program at Otterbein and the interaction with peers during the program made this decision easy for me.” Steve works as a senior manager consultant for Sogeti USA.
  • Dr. Lynn Corbin ’75 has established through her estate The Edith Peters Corbin ’48 and Lynn Ann Corbin ’75 Fund for the Department of Music. The fund, estimated at $100,000, will support students with domestic or international touring costs. Lynn’s parents, Bob and Ede, were loyal Otterbein benefactors. This gift serves to honor their memories and their spirit of giving and service. Bob passed away in 2014 and Ede passed away in August 2019. This endowment comes from Lynn’s inheritance and commitment to also give back to the institutions that provided inspiration for her life and career. Lynn retired in 2018 after more than 42 years of teaching, including as a faculty member for several universities. At one time, she also was the music consultant for the Ohio Department of Education. She has been active as a choral director and professional singer in several churches and community choirs, most recently at First United Methodist Church of Madison, Florida, where she and her husband, Rollie Seiple, have lived for the past 15 years.
  • Last fall, Otterbein lost beloved Professor Emerita of Art, Joanne Miller Stichweh ’67. Her award-winning artwork was exhibited locally and regionally. Otterbein alumni from every decade credit Stichweh with inspiring their lives as artists and creators. She generously committed her estate, more than $600,000, to benefit The Frank Museum of Art and the Miller and Fisher Galleries at Otterbein. To honor her life and impact on countless students and fellow faculty and staff members, Otterbein University and the Department of Art and Art History dedicated the Joanne Miller Stichweh ’67 Gallery adjacent to the Miller Art Gallery located at 33 Collegeview Road. A formal dedication ceremony will be held in person once the University is permitted to host in-person events.

Joanne Miller Stichweh ’67

We Are More Resilient Than We Think

The coronavirus pandemic has brought into stark relief our individual and collective vulnerability. That we are vulnerable is indeed true. But it is not the whole truth. On the other side of our vulnerability is the truth of our deep resilience.

The concept of “psychological resilience” describes one’s success in going through adversity without suffering debilitating effects. For instance, at-risk children demonstrate resilience if they nevertheless achieve certain social competencies (for example, the ability to trust others) or developmental tasks (for example, school success).

Contrary to popular perception, resilience research with both children and adults has shown that human beings are robust in the face of adversity. We have evolved in a dangerous environment, and our faculties are therefore adapted to dealing. Human psychological functioning is a well-buffered process — that is, designed by evolution to succeed even under difficult conditions. Most individuals who experience collective or individual trauma end up adapting, recovering, and returning to normal health. Resilience is not a bug in our software but a feature of our hardware.

It is tempting to think of resilience as chiefly the property of individuals — something one has more or less of. And indeed, individual characteristics such as intelligence or sociable temperament have been shown to predict resilience. However, current research suggests that resilience is not so much a trait but a dynamic, reciprocal process, in which individual qualities interact with contextual conditions. A good driver is more likely to survive bad weather if the road they’re driving on is good.

One factor that matters greatly to resilience is social relationships, both past and present. For example, children who grow up under conditions of chronic adversity are much more likely to recover successfully if they had at least one positive relationship with a competent adult during their childhood. The past informs the present.

At the same time, current relations are at least as important. Human beings are social creatures. We are strong to the extent that we are connected. Social support aids resilience in various ways. For example, it may motivate people to adopt healthy behaviors, help them appraise stressful events as less threatening, and improve their self-esteem.

The take-home message from this rough summary is two-fold:

First, your own resilience in the face of adversity is not wholly up to you. Much of your success (or failure) will depend on the luck of the draw — whether the particular demands of the specific threat fit well with your particular skills, experiences, and tendencies. Moreover, past and present external conditions (both of which are significantly out of our control) factor heavily in our ability to develop and deploy effective coping skills. Thus, your success is never yours alone, and a failure to achieve a certain resilient outcome does not mean that there is something inherently wrong with you. At the same time, some aspects of your resilience are indeed up to you. For example, the decisions you make matter, and certain types of decisions tend to work better during stressful times.

Rather than…

Isolating —
nurture and invest in your social relationships (intimate, familial, communal). Be kind and useful to others.

Self-flagellation —
increase self-care and compassion; become intentional about incorporating into your routine those activities that give you a sense of meaning, joy, peace, and solace.

Freezing in rigidity —
open up to flexibility. Bend so as not to break; accept your feelings and consult your values and goals in making decisions; seek to adapt and learn; assess your situation fairly in a broad perspective.

Avoiding or worrying —
take problem-solving action. Focus on those aspects of your situation that are under your control; accept and face the challenge the world has placed before you. Instead of reacting from conditioned habit, respond from conscious choice.

Noam Shpancer is a professor of psychology at Otterbein and a licensed, practicing clinical psychologist in Columbus. He is also a published novelist and screenwriter, and an official blogger for the online magazine Psychology Today at Insight Therapy

Otterbein Donates Much-Needed Medical Supplies to OhioHealth

Two of Otterbein University’s healthcare programs put their values into action this week, focusing on the care of patients while also helping take care of their fellow professionals.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is desperately needed by healthcare providers during this unprecedented health crisis. Since Otterbein students are completing their courses online for the remainder of the semester, the Department of Nursing and the Athletic Training Program gathered surplus supplies from their respective clinical labs to donate to the OhioHealth Distribution Warehouse.

“At Otterbein University, we are committed to fostering a culture of social responsibility, civic engagement and meaningful service to our community,” said Jason Purvis, director of the Nursing Arts Lab. “As our community is going through these times of unchartered waters and our healthcare workers are in dire need of PPE supplies, we knew it was the right thing to do to give back to our community.”

Purvis worked with Assistant Athletic Trainer Danielle Kilboy on behalf of Otterbein because of their shared desire to help their fellow healthcare workers and the central Ohio community.

“We have a close working relationship with OhioHealth Sports Medicine and OhioHealth Physicians Group, so we were thrilled to provide our surplus Personal Protective Equipment to those healthcare providers who support us every day and are doing important work,” Kilboy said.

Thanks to their hard work, Otterbein donated the following supplies on March 24:

  • Isolation gowns – 466
  • Blue Plastic Isolation Gowns – 40
  • Face Mask with Shields – 34
  • Face Mask with Ties – 940
  • Face Mask with ear loops – 100
  • N95 masks – 93
  • Gloves – 2,500 gloves

Otterbein students have also volunteered to provide childcare for central Ohio first responders, and the Otterbein community is exploring a variety of other ways others during this time of great need.

See what Purvis and Kilboy have to say about the donation.

Leading through Crisis

How Otterbein plans to bring certainty during uncertain times

When Otterbein University found itself facing two crises spring semester, President John Comerford stepped up with strong leadership to overcome a myriad of challenges.

According to Comerford, higher education fosters a very collaborative environment. Leaders welcome buy-in, input and feedback as faculty and staff are highly educated individuals avid for involvement, independence and entrepreneurship. But a crisis demands decisions, clear direction and a top-down leadership style.

“In a crisis you need to move fast. There is no time to meet with a committee and take a vote, which is not the typical way you lead in higher education,” said Comerford. “The key during these situations is to be able to leverage the trust that, hopefully, you have built by being inclusive, honest and transparent so people know that decisions are made with the best possible intention for everyone.”

See more of the interview with President Comerford.

Leading in times of crisis 1

Leading in times of crisis 2

Leading in times of crisis 3

When the year began, no one could have imagined that a pandemic would define almost every aspect of our lives. Towers lanned on talking with President Comerford about the University’s new strategic priorities. Instead, we found ourselves in a global
health crisis that moved this conversation — along with classes, meetings and events — into a new virtual reality. What follows are insights about Otterbein leaders’ initial response to the COVID-19 crisis that kept learning at the forefront.

Right now, people everywhere are witnessing a catastrophe of a global scale. We have learned about how this novel coronavirus pandemic has destroyed jobs, ended lives, and affected the global supply chain. From the meatpacking industries to manufacturing, the economic impact of the pandemic has been overwhelming.

What is more, just gathering data about COVID-19 has been a colossal task. According to the Pew Research Center, the organization is “struggling to adapt to a new reality” after suspending face-to-face surveys internationally to avoid risking pollsters of contracting the novel coronavirus. Similarly, Otterbein University stopped in-person classes to protect the health of students, faculty and staff.

Overnight, the University found itself coping with two crises simultaneously — one caused by a network outage due to a cybersecurity incident and another involved sending students home when Ohio Governor Mike DeWine mandated universities teach online and work remotely, transforming Otterbein’s operation in days.

According to President Comerford, there is a contrast in leadership styles during normal times as opposed to exceptional ones. Typically, higher education fosters a very collaborative environment. Leaders welcome buy-in, input and feedback as faculty and staff are highly educated individuals avid for involvement, independence and entrepreneurship. On the contrary, a crisis demands decisions, clear direction, and a top-down leadership style.

“In a crisis you need to move fast. There is no time to meet with a committee and take a vote, which is not the typical way you lead in higher education,” said Comerford. “The key during these situations is to be able to leverage the trust that, hopefully, you have built by being inclusive, honest and transparent so people know that decisions are made with the best possible intention for everyone.”

Comerford immediately convened his leadership team, which has met almost daily since early March, to manage both the network outage and coronavirus crisis and provide direction and strong communication to all stakeholders.

Otterbein’s academic leadership also implemented smart decisions early on. Gathering insight from faculty, communicating often, collaborating with partners on-campus and being able to transition into a virtual environment helped students complete the spring semester from home.

“To support faculty as they worked to convert their classes to remote learning, the Center for Teaching and Learning offered hundreds of workshops and one-on-one
sessions, starting March 11 and continuing through the spring and summer terms. Although spring semester is over, faculty and the CTL continue to prepare for the future,” said Kathryn Plank, director, Center for Teaching and Learning and interim associate vice president for academic affairs and dean of university programs.

Plank said that creating resources for the faculty was very important as well. For instance, Associate Professor Jeff Smith produced two instructional videos and created other resources such as LibGuides, which are digital guides hosted on a platform managed by the Courtright Memorial Library staff. He was a critical partner to the Center for Teaching and Learning during this crisis as he supported the faculty by assessing their distinct levels of technological ability, meeting their needs and building their confidence. Even though Smith had to transition his own classes online, he spent 80% of his time making sure that he was helping his colleagues.

“Luckily, I had taught online before, so it wasn’t as large a leap as it might have been for other colleagues,” said Smith. “One of the greatest challenges was reminding colleagues how it was like when they were first learning how to teach earlier in their careers.”


The greatest challenge he said, is to deliver a unique Otterbein experience so students can enjoy a sense of normalcy during these turbulent times. “Education is not only about touching a shoulder, but it is all about reaching the heart and mind of a student, and you can do it via distance learning,” said Smith.

There is a sense of hope for the future. “Now we have a little more time and we can engage people to plan for our near future,” said Comerford. Otterbein’s summer term, delivered exclusively online, saw a 70% increase in undergraduate enrollment. Comerford also announced that Otterbein plans to welcome back students to
campus this fall.

“Traditional-age undergraduate students are still going to want to go to college. There is something about athletics, fraternities, sororities, residence halls, and campus activities that a traditional-age student is still going to want,” he said. Comerford believes that the care and focus on learning will guide Otterbein through the days ahead.