Honoring ‘herstory’ at UD during Women’s History Month

Arts & Entertainment editor recognizes some of the university’s most innovative and inspiring women.

Lauren Durham
Arts & Entertainment Editor

To celebrate Women’s History Month, the University of Dayton recognizes a group of inspiring and innovative educators each year. Sponsored by the Women’s Center, various educational and commemorative events have taken place this month and will continue through the end of March. 

This year, the 2021 Women of UD Honorees embody the theme “Leading with Character and Resilience,” and have demonstrated what perseverance and creativity looks like during a year of uncertainty. The honorees were recognized in a virtual opening ceremony on Friday, March 19, via Zoom. 

Meet the inspiring women of UD:

Anne Crecelius

Associate Professor in the School of Education and Health Science: Health and Sport Science

Crecelius knows what resilience and perseverance looks like. In addition to dealing with the complexities and uncertainties of the pandemic, she also has been battling breast cancer for the second time. 

“Sometimes life hits you with big messy complex stuff that really doesn’t have a good answer,” Crecelius said. “You can wallow and complain or you can adapt and modify your life to become accustomed to it. That’s what we’ve all had to do the past year, and what I think I’ve tried to help others do.”

As an alumnae and faculty member, She has relied on her UD family to get her through this challenging year. 

“It’s a great community and I feel lucky that I have good relationships with the people who’ve been honored with this award in the past and on the list this year. I feel fortunate that I know many of them quite well,” Crecelius said.

Elizabeth Schwartz

Director of Employee Benefits and Wellness in the Office of Human Resources

Schwartz had a plethora of difficult conversations with faculty and staff this year during the pandemic. Although she has been at UD for 26 years and worked in human resources at Dayton Power and Light before, COVID-19 brought sudden, abrupt changes to people’s lives unlike any other time in Schwartz’s career. 

“The thing for me that was most important at that time was figuring out and preparing how to help them with their transitions,” Schwartz said. 

She was humbled to see people’s strength in the midst of life changing situations. 

“It’s not that there weren’t lots of tears, because there were, but I felt very thankful that people felt like they could do that with me, that they could be open,” Schwartz said. “The grace and the care and the way people handled it with me is reflective of the Marianist spirit.”

Gerica Brown

Director of the Multi-Ethnic Engineers Program in the School of Engineering

Shortly after Brown moved to Dayton two years ago, her students approached her at a movie theater. 

“It gave me a lot of joy to know they wanted to see me, and ran to give me a hug, and acknowledge that the relationship that we have is more than just me as the MEP director,” Brown said. “They felt like I was approachable enough to, you know, acknowledge out in public!”

She credits her students for giving her the motivation to pursue opportunities within the university to increase inclusivity and diversity, particularly in the field of engineering.  

“I left my job in corporate America to come to higher education specifically because I wanted to support students who were like me, who are underrepresented in engineering, to achieve their goals. I’ve always known that I wanted to change culture,” Brown said. 

Brown is currently pursuing her PhD, and her dissertation focuses on multi-ethnic students and the culture of engineering. 

“We have to involve everyone in these conversations in order to make progress,” Brown said. 

Julianne Morgan

Academic Engagement Lead in the Office of eLearning

“I knew I was going to remember that moment forever,” Moore said, referencing the moment her boss announced that students would be sent home abruptly in March 2020. 

Moore helped prep content and materials for professors weeks in advance to assist in the inevitable transition to remote learning. Since the start of the pandemic, the Office of eLearning has been working nonstop to support faculty and students. 

“Thinking back from March to November, I’d say that I was just running on adrenaline for those all those months. I was just going, going, going, trying to get everything done, helping people get everything done,” Moore said. 

“I’m really proud of our institution for taking on this challenge and doing an amazing job with delivering successful learning experiences to students in the worst possible conditions.”

Katherine Cleaver

Assistant Vice President for Compliance in Environmental Health and Safety

Cleaver is familiar with crisis management after working in Health and Safety and in Emergency Management for 20 years at UD. However, the pandemic was a different type of crisis. 

When you deal with an emergency situation, it could be a day, it could be a couple of days. But dealing with it, day in and day out, for such a long time, revealed to me a lot about tenacity and resilience and adaptation,” Cleaver said. 

She was instrumental in help UD return to campus in the fall. 

“I would literally be on the floor moving stuff, and putting tape down and stickers and signs, and decide ‘Let’s move this furniture.’ Some people were surprised I was doing that, but that’s part of rolling up the sleeves and getting it done,” Cleaver said. Many of us were doing that.”

Katy Kelly 

Coordinator of Marketing and Engagement; Associate Professor in the University Libraries

“When we realized that the students were not coming back, we knew we had to bring service to students where they were,” Kelly said, referring to services offered by Roesch Library. 

The team wanted to be sure that students could receive assistance throughout the entirety of the pandemic. Librarians meet with students virtually to discuss research projects and helps students find and check out books in a contactless manner. 

“In retrospect, it feels like things are always working out, but it took a lot of care and consideration to reach people, from all over, through our computers instead of being on campus,” Kelly said. 

“I pride myself on being a positive person and it does make me feel proud that I’ve been able to adapt in this way.”

Kelly Bohrer

Director of Community Relations in the School of Engineering; Acting Director of the ETHOS Center; Adjunct Faculty in the Sustainability Program

Although the summer of 2020 was filled with social unrest and painful reminders of systematic racism, Bohrer found comfort in controlling what she could control. 

That’s part of my work as a community engagement professional and as a social justice educator. Building skills of empathy, listening to other perspectives, and giving people the space to share those perspectives is a piece of what I do,” Bohrer said. “I can’t do community engagement work well if I’m not really listening and being in relationship with people.”

About 25 students were supposed to travel overseas with the ETHOS Center, so Bohrer and her team got creative in order to offer the students a meaningful experience. Not only was a virtual program able to operate, but partners stayed engaged, as well. 

I love that we were able to bring that mutual benefit to our students and to our partners. That’s important to the relationships we build in the ETHOS Center,” Bohrer said. 

Mary Buchwalder

Medical Director of the Student Health Center

The pandemic changed Buchwalder’s role in a short period of time. 

“Very quickly we realized we would have to pivot,” Buchwalder said. “Things happening at the state and national levels really looked foreboding, and we knew we would need to send students home. That moment, the world stopped.”

Buchwalder’s job has been never-ending, and she has relied on numerous friends and colleagues in the medical field for extra support and insight. 

“Robin (Oldfield) and I have joked through the last six months or eight months that we will figure out the vaccine before we figure out testing,” Buchwalder said. 

“I’m certainly honored and proud to be part of that team and to be the medical voice leading us from a lot of unknowns a year ago to a place where we had students on campus again last Fall.”

Rhonda Mercs

Director of ECHO (Empowering Children with Hope and Opportunity)

ECHO, a partnership between the University of Dayton for Catholic Education and local Catholics schools, works to remove non-academic barriers to learning. During the pandemic, Mercs saw an even greater need for the department’s services.

“We just wanted to get as many resources out to our families as we possibly could. They needed to know where they could get free WiFi, and even where they could get food, information like that,” Mercs said. 

Despite challenges of social distancing and remote interactions, Mercs has found joy and positivity during this past year.

“We got to see all these pets, and the kids just loved that we were ‘in’ their houses. That’s been the positive part of what’s coming out of this pandemic,” Mercs said. “I have always felt like God is always with us here at ECHO, and we’re on whatever journey He takes us on. We go with Him.”

Robin Oldfield

Associate Vice President of Audit, Risk and Compliance; Chief Risk Officer

As chief risk officer, Oldfield had pandemic plans in place before March 2020. 

“This was one of those events where I knew that I needed to take action and pull people together, ask questions, collaborate and plan for the worst-case scenario,” Oldfield said. “ As chief risk officer, that’s my job, right?”

One of Oldfield’s tasks was to create the Path Forward teams and agendas. She considered herself the “administrative liaison.” She expressed that she hasn’t stopped moving since last spring, so Oldfield is curious to see what impacts the events of the past year have on her and the rest of the UD community. 

“I hope that we see each other more as humans and now have some ability, especially the University, to help define what we want to be when this is over,” Oldfield said. “That’s the grace of it, right? We don’t have to go back to March 9th – before we made that decision. We are functioning in a new way. We’re a new university.”

Sangita Gosalia

Director of Campus Engagement for the Center for International Programs

Gosalia and her team looked after the international students who could not return home when the pandemic began. 

“Within a few days we witnessed travel stop across the globe. Inbound and outbound flights to many countries were canceled and there was limited mobility,” Gosalia said. “It was a devastating situation for our international students who wanted to return home.”

She knows firsthand how powerful international education can be. 

“My parents moved to this country from India in the 1960s to pursue higher education in the hopes of establishing a better life. I’ve witnessed their sacrifice and the emotional resilience and perseverance it takes to overcome obstacles,” Gosalia said. “Change can be a terrifying experience but it can also open up new opportunities to be creative and define your own path.”

Although Gosalia faced personal and professional challenges within the past year, she expressed gratitude to be in such a positive, impactful environment.

Sharon Davis Gratto

Professor of Music; Graul Endowed Chair in Arts and Languages

When students were sent home in March 2020, many of Gratto’s vocal students left their sheet music on campus.

“That, to me, has been the most challenging part of this experience: how long it has gone on. Every time you think about something that could happen after all, it doesn’t happen,” Gratto said. 

Gratto and other music educators have worked together to navigate the uncertainties of the past two semesters. 

“All of our UD voice faculty have had to teach voice lessons online. We rehearsed choral ensembles outside as soon as the weather got warmer in a huge rented tent because of the limited capacities of our indoor spaces,” Gratto said. 

Even in the absence of live performances and shared experiences, Gratto’s passion for music has not faded. 

“I have always been teaching music in any way, shape or form that I can. I believe in music education and I believe in arts education to really, really develop the creative skills of youth. And also to develop our humanity,” Gratto said. 

Shauna Adams

Executive Director in the Center for Early Learning; Associate Professor in the School of Education and Health Sciences: Early Childhood Education

“So 100% of my time was shifted to reopening the Bombeck Center during a pandemic. I had to develop those health and safety protocols, present them to the Path Forward team for approval, and then work with my directors to reopen the center safely,” Adams said. 

As executive director in the Center for Early Learning, she wanted to provide safe options for families who were weighing whether or not to send their children to the Bombeck Center during the pandemic. Parents, especially mothers, often felt the brunt of the changes and uncertainty. 

“I listened to families, predominantly moms, talk about how their life had been turned upside down,” Adams said. “The stress that it put on women at the University, and our society, was enormous – and the strife and anxiety that they faced!”

Adams is proud of the Bombeck Center team and their diligence during this past year.

“Most of them now have to work with a completely different educational team, but they used it as an opportunity,” Adams said. “They created some very good practices that we will keep as we move forward.”

Syanne Smith

Undergraduate Student. Sociology, Class of 2021

As a student grappling with new realities during the pandemic, Smith found herself searching for motivation. 

Prior to COVID, it was very easy to get around those things by physically having to walk to class; interacting with classmates; interacting with friends, colleagues, administration; going to the store,” Smith said. “But when we had to stay inside, it brought me face-to-face with a lack of motivation, a lot of ‘I don’t think I can do this’ thoughts.”

She has leaned on the UD Counseling Center to strength and direction during her time at the university. 

“At one point, when I thought about graduation, I thought, ‘I don’t think I’m going to make it.’ But here we are, graduating. Nice,” Smith said. “That’s tenacity. I try to make that a reality. Like I said, ‘little baby steps.’ Yeah.”

Smith is a sociology major, but has plans to attend medical school in the near future.

I think the fact that I’m a Sociology major is an advantage,” Smith said. “I now understand the social factors of why, for example, Black people are less likely to go to doctors and less likely to ask questions than another race or ethnicity, so maybe they would be more willing to ask me questions.”

Tiffany Taylor Smith

Executive Director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion

“The work I’ve been asked to perform at the University is important and it’s meaningful. Diversity, equity, and inclusion, right now, is a key part of our success, and our leadership is working to make sure that this remains a priority,” Smith said. 

A main component of the year for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion was the development of online training modules — something that her team was looking to do for a while. 

“Prior to the pandemic, we knew at some point we were going to want to offer our trainings online – we just hadn’t gotten to it yet. So I was like, ‘Guess what? I’ll do that now.’ I have a really small, but mighty, amazing team and we figured out how to do that,” Smith said. 

She expressed her willingness to adapt and grow during the past year. 

“It’s the way my parents raised me, the opportunities that they gave my sister, brother and me. They instilled in us what we call the ‘Taylor Tenacity,’” Smith said. “ I feel like I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. And I love it.”

For the honorees’ full stories in their own words, check out the UD Women’s Center website.

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