An Authentic Call to Serve

These alumni use their life experiences to help others as leaders of non-profits.

How do people find their calling — their passion to serve? For these alumni, some of it came from personal challenges and pain. With insight, support, and experiences from Otterbein, they found themselves and the inspiration to help others.

Please note: This story includes content related to suicide and self-harm.

Tyler TerMeer ’05

“One of the things I have learned over time is that you only have control over so much. Every decision you make in life should come from your authentic self,” said Tyler TerMeer ’05, CEO of the Cascade AIDS Project (CAP) in Portland, OR.

Growing up, TerMeer struggled to understand his racial identity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. His journey to becoming his most authentic self began at Otterbein University.

As a theatre design and technology major, TerMeer once dreamed of becoming a production stage manager. During his senior year his life took a new direction when, at the age of 21, he was diagnosed with HIV.

This diagnosis would not stop his ambitions, but it did shift his focus — it was important to continue to live life as a strong and inspiring openly gay man of color and a powerful voice in advocating HIV policy.

“When I learned of my HIV diagnosis, I did not know what my future would be. The people around me taught me that I was going to live and empowered me to be the best version of myself,” TerMeer said.

Soon after graduating, a unique opportunity came along to start a small retail clothing business, which he ran for six years before taking his career in a new direction. After receiving support and services from a local HIV organization, he decided to put his efforts into helping “those living with HIV have the best chance at living and thriving with their disease.”

Over the next several years, he worked for HIV-focused non-profits in Ohio, Arizona, Washington, D.C., and finally Portland, OR, where he leads CAP.

“I saw this amazingly progressive, well-respected non-profit that had so much potential. I had seen an amazing transformation beginning to happen in Portland and I wanted to be a part of it,” said TerMeer.

CAP provides compassionate and inclusive health and wellness services to the LGBTQ+ community, those affected by HIV, and others. Recently, CAP opened the PRISM Health clinic.

“This new healthcare experience was designed for and by queer people to be a resource that is life-affirming and life-changing for LGBTQ+ people,” said TerMeer.

In recognition of his many contributions to the community and those around him, TerMeer was recently named the 2021 Executive of the Year by the Portland Business Journal.

“Life throws curveballs both good and bad,” said TerMeer. “It’s up to us to be open to a new unexpected journey.”

Amber Horton ’16

When the virtual meeting starts, the two 10th-grade football players aren’t saying much, but the meeting leader, Amber Horton ’16, keeps trying to connect with them as they work on their art project about Black History Month.

“Where are we with cutting out our letters?” asks Horton.
“I’m on ‘C,’” responds the one student with his video on.
After an excruciating pause, a shy student puts in the chat, “‘A.’”


Horton knows how tough it is for teens, especially those who struggle with mental health issues, to express themselves. That is why she wanted to create an outlet for students and co-founded findingBLANK in 2017 in Cleveland with her mother, Debbie. Along with several volunteers, she plans and administers after-school and pop-up programs for grades K-12.

Her awareness for this issue grew from a painful place back in high school with a friend who spread lies about her. Once a social butterfly, Horton would walk into empty classrooms, early for every class because no one would talk to her.

“I felt like no one would miss me. I took a handful of pills, and I thought that would have ended it all,” said Horton.

Fortunately, Horton’s mother found her and took her to the emergency room. A psychiatric hospitalization became the turning point in Horton’s life.

She graduated from high school and enrolled at Otterbein, where she majored in sociology with minors in psychology and anthropology. A life-changing study abroad trip made her decide to start her own non-profit, findingBLANK, after she graduated.

“I feel like if I can give teens the tools to express themselves … through writing poetry, or journaling, or painting, or creating music, or dance movements,” said Horton, “that’s a way for them to not only express themselves, but also connect to other people to combat a lot of the issues that they’re going through.”

“It’s relaxing,” says a boy as he glues letters to a poster board. He’s soon telling Horton he has a job at a restaurant, he plays football, he’s curious about why slavery started in the first place, and that George Floyd’s death made him afraid of the police.

The student holds up his finished art. Yellow letters spelling “Black” are dotted with small, cut-out pictures. Pieces of paper with “BLM” and “We want peace” stand out in greens and yellows against the black poster board.

He says, “I’m going to hang this in my room.”

Catie Duzzny ’21 graduated from Otterbein with a bachelor’s degree in public relations. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in business administration in Otterbein’s Graduate School.

Julia Grimm ’22 is a double major in public relations and journalism and media communication. She is an active member of Otterbein’s PRSSA chapter and is editor-in-chief of T&C Magazine.

Student Fellows Creating Open Dialogue About Race through Oral History Project

Four student fellows are working with faculty mentors to collect oral histories of alumni who are People of Color (POC) in a unique project for Otterbein’s Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center.

Over the summer, the students conducted phone or virtual video interviews with alumni about their experiences before coming to campus, while they were enrolled, while participating in student activities, and when interacting with the community of Westerville. The calls were recorded to be transcribed and archived by the Courtright Memorial Library for future academic use, and the project will continue into 2022.

Otterbein Starts Grant-Funded Work on Sexual Violence Prevention

Last fall, Otterbein was awarded a $298,658 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) to improve prevention education, awareness, and victim-survivor services in response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking (DVSAS) in the Otterbein community. 

According to Associate Professor Kristy McCray, “The OVW grant gives us the resources needed to truly shift the campus culture in how we both respond to and work to prevent DVSAS by working as a community. Together with the Westerville Police Department and the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO), Otterbein will create a Coordinated Community Response team (CCR).”

Grant Director Susan Wismar is overseeing the effort, which includes representatives from Student Affairs, Human Resources (Title IX), the President’s Office, Otterbein Police, Academic Affairs, and more.

Westerville Community Diversity Leader Connects with Otterbein

The new executive director of Westerville for Racial Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice Engagement (WeRISE) has moved into an office provided by Otterbein’s Office of Social Justice and Activism.

WeRISE Executive Director Renée Thompson points to Otterbein President John Comerford’s words of how “we can do so much more when we are not siloed” in her vision for the organization, which was established with assistance from Otterbein, the City of Westerville, Westerville City Schools, and the Westerville Public Library.

“Being on campus and having the opportunity to learn from and work with young people is so important. These are the future leaders for our world, and they are not afraid to affect changes they see needing to happen. This campus space is the perfect fit for WeRISE,” Thompson said.

Otterbein Student Government Welcomes First Latinx President

Vice President Cayla Andrick ’22 and President Joseline Martinez-Cortez ’22
(pictured L to R).

The Otterbein student body elected two women to serve as the Otterbein University Student Government president and vice president for 2021-2022 — including the first Latinx president to lead the organization. President Joseline Martinez-Cortez ’22 and Vice President Cayla Andrick ’22 share their visions and hopes for the Otterbein community.

“We want to make sure to pay special attention to university transparency, diversity, student involvement, and mental health, as we begin to heal from the difficult pandemic semesters we’ve had recently,” Martinez-Cortez said. “Something near and dear to my heart is diversity and making sure that we are constantly working towards those goals and keeping our community accountable.”

Andrick said their team of officers is poised to achieve great things. “The combined backgrounds, as well as our willingness to meet other students in the middle, make us able to represent all of campus,” she said.

New Network Provides Family Connections and Support

Members of the Family Engagement Network, Kathy Cleveland Bull P’22, Tricia Ohler P’22, Mike Rudolph P’23, and Pate Rudolph P’23 (pictured L to R) welcomed families during new student move-in.

The Family Engagement Network launched in April 2021 to provide a voice for parents and family members of current students. This advisory network provides insights on communications and programming targeting our extended members of the Cardinal community.

Future opportunities for parents and family members include a virtual town hall with President Comerford and a session with the career development team on supporting your student in the job search process.

Contact to inquire about joining the Family Engagement Network, and be sure to check out our monthly Cardinal e-News just for parents and families.

Launching the LGBTQIA+ Alumni Network

For nearly 30 years, LGBTQIA+ Otterbein students have benefitted from the support, resources, and social interactions provided through the student organization FreeZone. But alumni connections were missing from their toolkit of resources.

The Alumni & Family Engagement team was approached by Suzanne Ashworth, professor of English and advisor to FreeZone, and James Prysock ’09, MBA’19, director of the Office of Social Justice and Activism, about starting an LGBTQIA+ alumni network. Their hope was to provide meaningful connections between alumni and students.

A series of small focus groups were held in spring 2021 that included alumni from multiple generations located throughout the United States. These alumni shared their personal experiences as students and highlighted what they hope to see in an alumni network.

A petition to formally recognize this network will go before Alumni Council in spring 2022.

Philanthropy in Action

Along with faculty member Dan Steinberg, communication students Felicity Boykin (left) and Malachi Brooks (right) met with former parent, donor, and CEO of Huntington Bank Stephen Steinour P’15 (center) at his office earlier this summer to express their gratitude for receiving the Kaitlin Steinour ‘15 Communications Endowed Scholarship, established by the Steinour family to honor their daughter and Otterbein alumna, Kaitlin, who graduated with a degree in public relations.

The Hargis Family Foundation, established by Jonathan R. Hargis ’79 and Gretchen Freeman Hargis ’77 and their family, have made a generous $100,000 pledge as the lead supporters of a new four-year initiative, Every Student Will. The program will provide a custom education and career path for every student at Otterbein.

In July 2021, Virginia Phillippi Longmire ’55 made a gift of $35,000 to support the Campus Center Renovation Initiative. Her support will help revitalize the Campus Center and make it the heart of Otterbein’s student community once again. We are also grateful for her continued support of the Otterbein Fund with a leadership gift of $10,000.


In honor of his retirement from Deloitte after 41 years of service, Kenneth and Lynn Weixel designated a donation to the Brittany Weixel Endowment. This fund, established by Jean Weixel Reynolds ’77, is named in memory of their daughter and provides critical support to the Office of Student Affairs’ eating disorder educational efforts.


The Class of 1971, in honor of their 50th Golden Reunion, has established the Class of 1971 Promise House and Community Garden Endowed Fund to help offset barriers to college success as a result of food insecurity.  Major donors include Jim ’71 and Linda Ancik ’71 Augspurger, Jim Francis ’71, David Phillips ’71, Wendy Roush ’71, Candace Scott Simms ’71, and Tom ’71 and Cheryl Kirk ’72 Turner.  The funds raised so far total more than $68,000.


Trustee Dr. Mindy Phinney ’85 made a generous $100,000 commitment to support the President’s Fund for Strategic Initiatives, which will help Otterbein launch special initiatives and capitalize on opportunities that will benefit the University and its students. The gift also supports the Otterbein Fund, helping to offset the University’s most pressing annual needs and opportunities.


Curt Moore ’64 made a $10,000 gift in support of Access and Affordability as part of the For the Love of Otterbein fundraising initiative. He also made a gift of $1,250 to provide flu shots to Otterbein students in need.


James Shilling ’77 and his wife, Hyo, have documented a $250,000 planned gift to support Otterbein’s unrestricted endowment. The couple has generously supported the University and the Otterbein Fund for 23 years. Shilling currently serves as the George L. Ruff Endowed Chair in the Department of Finance and Real Estate at DePaul University in Chicago.


Lois Szudy MAE’99, retired director of the Courtright Memorial Library, made a $52,000 gift from her IRA to endow funds for the Library and Department of Equine Science. She had previously made a planned gift to these funds in her estate.


Jack Whalen ’66 and Karen Persson ’67 Whalen made a $15,000 commitment over three years to expand the Every Student Will initiative. They feel strongly about investing in extraordinary out-of-classroom learning opportunities for students, including internships, research, study abroad, and other professional development experiences.


Otterbein is grateful to the Fotis Family for gifting $50,000 to endow two funds at Otterbein. The Eleanor Fotis Endowed Scholarship will fund a major in the Department of Sociology, Criminology and Justice Studies. The William Fotis Experiential Learning Endowed Fund will support students who want to expand their knowledge outside the classroom.


Deborah Banwart Lewis ’77 in Altadena, CA, gave a substantial planned gift along with a current use gift, both to the Department of Theatre and Dance.


Otterbein is grateful for $55,000 from William “Bill” Cole ’54, who established in the spring through an estate gift, the William E. Cole and Barbara Seabrook Cole Class of 1954 Athletic Endowment. This will be the first endowed fund for the Otterbein athletic director’s use. He also continued his gifts toward enhancing Memorial Stadium, which began with the Cole Victory Bell. Sadly, Bill passed away in September 2021 on his 94th birthday.


A lead gift from the late John Howard established a fund to honor two Otterbein families. The families were linked by marriage through multiple siblings. In total, 19 were alumni, trustees, and one was an Otterbein president. The Howard/Norris Endowed Scholarship Fund, at more than $41,000, was created in loving memory of these individuals.


Ann Harting P’94 established a fund with a gift of $25,000. She and her late husband, Bob, are parents of Annette Harting Boose ’94 and Robert Harting. Son-in-law, Andrew Boose ’06, and granddaughter, Elisha Boose ’14, are also alumni. The Robert J. and Ann M. Harting Endowed Award is created to continue their legacy.


Otterbein is grateful to William W. Davis and Ellen D. Gagne for an additional contribution to the Dr. William and Mary Davis H’01 Memorial Scholarship. William and Mary participated in numerous Otterbein activities. They leveraged their education to improve others’ lives; to honor this, their family made the endowment in 2019.


Annbeth Sommers Wilkinson ’56 has supported Otterbein with a commitment of $45,000 earmarked for the Campus Center Fund, Otterbein Fund, and Robert and Annbeth S. Wilkinson Scholarship. Wilkinson is a member of the Class of ’56, which celebrated its 65th reunion this year!


Grants, Corporate and Foundation Support

The Vida S. Clements Foundation

Otterbein remains grateful for the ongoing generosity of the Vida S. Clements Foundation, which recently pledged $30,000 to support the Department of Chemistry with replacing its nuclear magnetic resonance equipment. The Foundation also made a $3,000 gift to support digitization initiatives for Otterbein’s archives, in addition to support for the “O” Club.


This grant will fund six faculty liaisons from each division to focus and re-imagine the faculty role in student discernment of vocation in preparation for the implementation of Every Student Will in 2022. The six faculty liaisons will be charged with learning and understanding the role of vocation in higher education during the fall of 2021 and, in the spring of 2022, helping to develop and implement training to their faculty peers. The goal will be to transform the faculty advising relationship from one focused on transactional academic progress, to one that focuses on exploring vocation. Additionally, all faculty and staff instructors for the First Year Seminar and Senior Experience courses will participate in a retreat focused on vocational exploration for students embedded in their curricular experiences.



Jen Bechtold, Co-Principal Investigator
Kate Lehman, Co-Principal Investigator

The Council of Independent Colleges and the Lilly Endowment