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Women in FIU history: a compendium

Women in FIU history: a compendium

January 8, 2019 at 12:00am


FIU has plenty of remarkable females to credit for its success. The individuals featured here are among an impressive group of trailblazers who embraced great challenges, led by example and set the foundation for the university’s phenomenal rise. This growing list—to which more names are added every March, during Women’s History Month—represents but a fraction of the many who have contributed to making FIU what it is today.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

bader-thumbnail.pngBarbara Bader has impacted the careers of hundreds of women and minorities who seek to advance within the field of higher education. She arrived at FIU in 1974 to serve as a faculty member in the College of Education and eventually took on administrative duties in the college and, later, the Division of Academic Affairs. She is best known, however, as the founding director of the university’s Educational Leadership Enhancement Program, a position she has relished for the past 20 years. In that capacity, she guides the personal and professional development of individuals within underrepresented groups who wish to advance within the ranks of university and college administration. Her unfailing dedication, wisdom and insight have created a foundation of lasting change for program alumni, many of whom hold leadership positions at FIU today. (featured in 2016)

 

rustybelote-555x600.jpgGlenda “Rusty” Belote arrived at FIU just five years after the first class of freshman enrolled. Having once catered exclusively to upper-division students, the university was still grappling with how to help new high school grads transition to higher ed. “More freedom, more choices, exposure to new ideas and people, academic life, a changing relationship with parents,” rattles off Belote of the challenges youngsters faced both then and now. Belote’s understanding of what was back then cutting-edge thinking—that students must be treated holistically, and that campus life and academics go hand in hand in turning out well-adjusted, workforce-ready graduates—came as something of a revelation at FIU. At the time many in Student Affairs and on the faculty did not recognize a shared goal, but with her help the university eventually embraced national best practices and took a more-integrated approach. Programming in the student union, comprehensive career planning, counseling services, leadership opportunities—these together, she made the case, contributed to retention and graduation. Belote eventually moved to Academic Affairs, as its associate director, but her push for coordinated efforts across the university might well be her greatest legacy. “Anybody who works at the university needs to know their mission,” she says, “to know their purpose in helping students succeed.” (featured in 2018)

 

judy-blucker.jpgAs a founding member of the education faculty and, later, a respected administrator who served FIU for 35 years, Judy Blucker broke new ground both inside and outside of the classroom. While the university opened with a handful of intercollegiate men’s sports programs ready to compete, there were no female counterparts. Blucker, a former collegiate athlete and coach, wondered why FIU had no women’s sports—and then took action to change that. Aware that Title IX legislation made equal opportunity the law, Blucker discussed the situation with the administration and helped launch women’s varsity sports at FIU, even coaching the inaugural volleyball and softball teams. “I was not thinking about what I could accomplish but more concerned with these young women and making sure they got the same opportunities as the men did,” Blucker said. “I assumed it should be fair play for everybody.” (featured in 2016)

 

josefina_cagigal-3-402x570.jpgJosefina Cagigal devoted 18 years to anticipating all that could possibly go wrong as she organized high-level events that put the university on wide display. “You have to worry about everything little thing,” says the former director of University Relations while recollecting the stress of presenting commencements, freshman and faculty convocations and ribbon cuttings. It’s the one-of-a-kind affairs, however, that she remembers most vividly, among them a standing room-only public lecture by then-Czech President Vaclav Havel—which required live simultaneous translation from Czech into English and Spanish—and no fewer than three weeklong visits by the Dalai Lama. The latter had Cagigal traveling to New York with then-religious studies professor Nathan Katz to meet with the Buddhist spiritual leader’s representatives and then, with limited budget, scouting local housing for a retinue of 30 monks and accompanying security personnel, and persuading South Florida restaurants to donate the skills and time of their kitchen staff to cook for the group. (“The Dalai Lama had a good appetite,” she recalls. “He loved everything.”) A force behind the scenes, the ever-positive Cagigal understood the often-thankless nature of her job, one in which no one notices what goes smoothly but everyone comments on the flaws. “That’s a given,” she says five years after retiring, but adds, nonetheless, “I loved it. It was exciting. We were bringing something beautiful to the students, to the university, to the whole public.”  (featured in 2017)

 

casines-2.jpgOne of the first people to graduate from FIU—in 1973, at the university’s first-ever commencement—Gisela Casines returned to campus seven years later with a Ph.D. in hand and a tenure-track job waiting in the very department, English, from which she earned her bachelor’s. An expert in 18th century literature, she moved in 1992 from the classroom to the then-College of Arts and Sciences’ dean’s office, where she became both the first Hispanic-American and first FIU graduate to hold the position of associate dean. In that role she wrote proposals for a seemingly endless number of new master’s and doctoral programs as the university rapidly expanded. Among the many initiatives in which she had a hand, applying for and helping to bring to campus the national student honor society Phi Beta Kappa—for which the university had previously been turned down—remains her proudest accomplishment. Retired since 2015, Casines still revels in having been “an active participant in history.” She adds, “One of the reasons I’m so glad that I came back to FIU was that there was always a sense of things that needed to be created.” (featured in 2017)

 

crowther-2-456x570.jpgConnie Crowther pitched news stories about FIU in the days before email, internet and social media. A journalist who previously worked for the Miami Herald and various news agencies, she served as director of Media Relations and then University Relations from 1980 to 1995. Having stood up for herself years before as a young reporter seeking work in a man’s world—“I had to prove that someone who looked like me,” blonde and all of 100 pounds, “could seriously interview someone and have them treat me with respect”—she applied the same tenacity to promoting FIU. Among many highlights, she placed dozens of stories related to the university’s tenth anniversary; persuaded CCN to do a piece on dietetics research; and wrote the remarks for and fielded media calls around then-President George H.W. Bush’s FIU commencement address at the Miami Beach Convention Center. To build bridges with other universities, she reached out first to the communications director at the University of Miami and then brought together counterparts at Barry, St. Thomas, Florida Memorial and others to work collaboratively on higher-education issues. “I was always excited about my job,” says Crowther, who ran her own PR agency for two decades after leaving FIU. “I like to think that the long hours, strong commitment and dedicated staff helped to lay the groundwork for what FIU is today.”  (featured in 2017)

 

yesim-darici-1.jpgYesim Darici is on a mission to bring as many women and minorities as possible to the lab table. In her nearly 31 years at FIU, the theoretical and experimental physicist with expertise in transition metals and clean coal technology has garnered research funding from the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation, written dozens of articles for peer-reviewed journals, presented dozens of scientific papers at national and international conferences and secured a patent. But her biggest contribution might well be her pivotal role in promoting diversity and new opportunities for others. The first female physics professor at a university in Florida, the Turkish-born Darici for six years served as the education officer for an organization dedicated to advancing and celebrating Hispanic-American physicists, sat on the American Physical Society’s committee to promote initiatives that attract women and minorities to careers in physics, worked with federally funded programs to engage South Florida high schoolers from economically underserved areas and coordinated physics workshops for local teachers. Currently the director of Women’s and Gender Studies and recently named assistant provost, she takes great pleasure in mentoring others. That includes one young man who claims Darici practically forced him to take a competitive internship at a national lab. “In this article he was saying that ‘she made me,’” Darici says. Years later, he is highly successful and “says he he owes it all to me,” Darici beams. “That’s what I’m most proud of—how I can help the students and how years later they appreciate it.” (featured in 2018)

eisner_toni-jpeg-400x570.jpgToni Eisner worked at FIU from 1974 until her untimely death in 1998, but her legacy lives on. She started her career at the university working with grant programs to provide race relations training for high school students and eventually served as FIU’s assistant vice president for equal opportunity programs. Her office ensured that all hiring, recruiting, advertising and other practices were inclusive and followed state and national laws. During much of that time she also served as the chair of Miami-Dade County’s equal opportunity board, for which she was honored twice, the second time with Toni Eisner Appreciation Day. The Brooklyn-born daughter of a public defender and a school teacher, Eisner came by her commitment to justice and equality naturally, says her daughter, Beckah Kennedy ’00. Eisner’s parents taught her never to judge people on their exteriors but, rather, “to look at everyone for who they were.” Darren Gregory, today an assistant director within FIU’s Career and Talent Development office, remembers Eisner giving him his first job on campus, as a student assistant in the 1990s. At the time he worried that his disability (cerebral palsy) might stifle his chances of having a voice in the workplace, but Eisner dashed those concerns by respectfully listening to what he had to say and and always encouraging him to share his viewpoint. That graciousness typified a lady whom Gregory recalls as “extremely jovial” and “light-hearted” despite having to deal with serious issues. “She was looking out for all people,” he says, “and making sure everybody got a fair shot.” (featured in 2018)

 

joyce.jpgFigure that it would take a pioneer in the study of computers—a woman who earned a tech degree in an era when few people even knew what a computer was—to launch FIU into the world of online teaching. A rare female when she entered the field, Joyce Elam rode her foresight to the top. In 1990 she came to FIU as the James L. Knight Eminent Scholar in Management Information Systems after teaching at the Harvard Business and Wharton schools. In 1997 she assumed the college’s deanship, a post she held for 15 years, during which time she founded the executive MBA program, oversaw expansion and established a pilot program of 10 internet-based courses. “The infrastructure for online education was very weak,” she says, looking back. “But I could see a future for teaching online, and I wanted us to be a leader in that space.” That ambition led President Mark Rosenberg to name her vice provost for FIU Online, a position that allowed her to set the stage for the university’s growth in web-based education. (More than 21,000 FIU students are enrolled in online courses, and more than 4,000 are enrolled in fully online degree programs.) Today the innovator is using her knowledge of information technology to develop a new database in support of the university’s strategic plan. (featured in 2016)

 

fahringer.jpgCatherine H. Fahringer was a local businesswoman whose initial introduction to FIU in the mid-1970s was less than auspicious. “I was at a dinner, a fundraiser,” she recalls, “and somebody tapped me on my shoulder and said, ‘Kay, you owe me one. I have heard that FIU needs a woman on their board.’” To that not-so-subtle demand she simply replied, “FIU who?” So began her 40-year relationship with the university. Already active in community work, Fahringer soon drove to campus to meet President Gregory Wolfe and, after getting to know the upstart institution, agreed to sit on the FIU Foundation Board of Directors. No token appointee, she took on the role of raising money, often first educating others about the promising young university. “I was a firm believer,” she says of her early commitment. “I knew something important was going to happen.” Fahringer, active on the board through 1990 and today a member emerita, served a term as chairwoman and eventually concentrated on securing donations for athletics, an area near and dear to her heart. “Our place in the community is so good now,” she says of FIU. “Now people recognize who we are and what we are.” (featured in 2016)

 

gallay.jpgUnknown to many at FIU, Deborah Gallay worked tirelessly behind the scenes—first at the state level and then for the university—and had a tremendous impact on education in Florida. Upon her death in 2015, President Mark B. Rosenberg acknowledged her as a valued mentor and friend. “Debi was one of the most respected policy and budget experts for our state education system,” he wrote of a woman who directly advised two Florida governors, every SUS chancellor for four decades (including Rosenberg) as well as members of the Florida Board of Regents and Board of Governors, university presidents, provosts and legislative leaders and activists from both political parties. “Millions of Floridians will never know how much her life’s work transformed their lives and made the opportunity of a good education possible.” Gallay served as vice chancellor of the Florida Division of Colleges and Universities amidst the reorganization of the state’s higher education system and was instrumental in the successful campaign to initiate and fund new colleges of medicine at both FIU and UCF. In 2003 she was approached to join FIU’s Government Relations team as associate vice president for education policy and budget. Continuing to work out of Tallahassee, she played a pivotal role in FIU’s efforts to understand and secure performance funding.(featured in 2017)

 

hamilton-2-400x570.jpgRuth Hamilton was the face of the Graham Center for decades. She started at FIU as a coordinator of activities in 1979 and helped bring to campus some of the biggest names the university has ever hosted, among them Pope John Paul II and singers Ella Fitzgerald and Celia Cruz. Later, as executive director of the student center, she ran the busiest, most diverse building at MMC, with its classrooms, offices, public spaces and commercial outlets. Ever-exuberant, she exhibited the perfect mix of determination and instinct to get just about anything done. Case in point: When her boss poo-pooed the purchasing of a piano for public use by students—she felt it would give them an important artistic outlet, and history has since proved her right—she bought a baby grand and hid it in a closet until the timing was right to bring it out. Among her accomplishments was a much-needed expansion of the GC, on which she worked closely with the architect and builder. Three years after retiring, she is remembered for her endearing charm and sincere devotion to students and staff. “Ruth was a visionary mentor and great leader who dedicated her life to FIU,” says alumnus Sanyo Matthew, GC senior director. “She has been such an integral part of my career and so many others. I will forever be grateful for her guidance and kindness.”  (featured in 2017)

 

hoder-salmon.jpgIn 1981 Marilyn Hoder-Salmon, finishing up a Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico, had just returned home to South Florida when she had a chance encounter that would lead to a 31-year career at FIU. “I got to campus through one of those life-changing moments,” she recalls. “I went to a luncheon and sat next to an FIU administrator.” Soon enough, she was tasked with conducting a study to determine interest among employees and within the community in the proposed Women’s Studies Center. By the next year she was its founding director, eager to draw in faculty who would teach courses that embraced the writings and achievements of women. “It’s a simple idea, but in practice there was resistance,” Hoder-Salmon recalls. “It was a struggle,” she says of those who made clear they thought little of her mission and preferred the standard texts of the day. “But we persisted.” As more faculty cross-listed their courses with the center and more students enrolled, Hoder-Salmon sought to offer a women’s studies degree. Buoyed by a growing national movement, she mobilized a letter-writing campaign in the early 1990s—still some years before the large-scale use of email and internet—that generated hundreds of missives to state legislators. One lawmaker tried to shame her by saying she was single-handedly responsible for killing more trees than anyone else in Florida. But her tactic worked. Today more than 4,000 students annually take a women’s studies course and in 2015-2016 two dozen earned dedicated degrees.  (featured in 2017)

 

jones.jpgRosa Jones’ legacy as FIU’s steadfast and most respected student advocate is unmatched. A founding faculty member, Jones retired in 2012 after 40 years of service to the university. In that time, she was a social work professor, department chair, dean and vice president of Student Affairs. With each step in her career, Jones helped lay the foundation of the university. A champion of women and minorities, she never lost sight of FIU’s original mission: an institution that was responsive to the needs of a diverse, rapidly growing community. Jones made relationships with students her priority, and says she’s proud FIU has remained committed to providing access to a high-quality education. She initiated pivotal student-focused initiatives at FIU such as Freshman Convocation, a model for increasing the ratio of academic advisors, the Common Reading program, parent programs and an expansion of student facilities. “I still get chills at graduation watching students achieve their goals,” she says. “The success of students are my proudest achievements. I’d be truly comfortable and satisfied if people characterized me as being responsive to students. I would hope that they’d believe that no matter what position I’ve held, I’ve always been an advocate for students. Period.” (featured in 2016)

 

sept-10.jpegLillian Lodge Kopenhaver arrived at FIU in 1973 as coordinator of student activities and helped create the Student Government Association, jumpstarted publication of the student newspaper and worked on plans for construction of what is today the Graham Center. “I love challenges, and I love the opportunity to try new things and go in a new path to explore new possibilities,” said Kopenhaver, still at FIU today. A founder of the university’s original department of communication, which evolved into the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Kopenhaver served as its dean from 2003 to 2011 and soon after made an exemplary financial contribution in support of the Lillian Lodge Kopenhaver Center for the Advancement of Women in Communication at FIU. “One of the reasons I made a pledge to the university was to give back and to help women achieve the pinnacle of their dreams,” she said. “I love working with students. It’s a joy for me to help them achieve their goals and their dreams.” (featured in 2016)

 

olgamagnusen-419x600.jpgThe late Olga Magnusen harnessed an innate exuberance to lay the foundation for a strong and effective career services office at FIU. Back before personal computers were commonplace and the internet had yet to be invented—no online job postings, no LinkedIn accounts—she understood that universities had to do more to connect young people with good positions. Recognizing that many first-generation students lacked a certain savvy—she herself was a child of Operation Pedro Pan and lived in Peoria, Illinois, until reuniting with her parents and moving to New York before earning undergraduate and master’s degrees and coming to work at FIU in 1973—she made it her mission to help jobseekers rise to the occasion and turned every concern raised by employers into a challenge to overcome. When interviewers complained that students didn’t seem prepared, she instituted a program of mock interviews that were recorded and critiqued in an effort to boost skills. When a recruiter mentioned that a young man had come to an interview with a price tag and labels still affixed to his suit jacket because, the job candidate explained, his tight budget had him planning to return it, Magnusen began collecting business attire for distribution to those in need. When another recruiter commented that students had trouble navigating table manners over lunch interviews, she began a series of popular “etiquette luncheons” during which an expert covered the finer points. Former colleagues and the students she guided still remember her as nothing short of remarkable. “Words cannot do her justice,” says Ivette Duarte, the current director of Career Services. “Her compassion for others and her enthusiasm for life were unmatched. Olga was a friend, a mentor and a one-in-a-million human being.” (featured in 2018)

 

dahlia-jpg.jpgDahlia Morgan needed just several hundred square feet in a corner of the concrete fortress known as PC to make an impact on the local arts scene. Back before South Florida was an arts Mecca, the founder of what is today the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum—now located in a 46,000-square-foot signature building—drew crowds by curating some 200 thought-provoking exhibits and running a lecture series that featured the hottest names in the art world, among them the directors of The Met, MoMa and the Louvre. The high-profile speakers attracted several hundred visitors to MMC on Friday nights, and many current alumni credit Morgan with their earliest exposure to modern painting and sculpture. Undeterred by tight quarters, the Canadian transplant harbored a vision to create “the most important gallery in the state” and promptly harnessed her own “avant-garde thinking” and innate confidence to boldly borrow artwork from around the world. Much of what she started—affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution, free admission, invitations to school and senior groups (for which she raised money to provide bus transportation), an outdoor sculpture park, the Art in Public Places campus initiative—remains in place today. Critical to her success: Morgan gave talks and attended luncheons on Fisher Island and elsewhere to stimulate intellectual discussion as well as befriend potential donors who could help the little museum grow—and it worked! Some 38 years later, the retiree recalls the excitement of arriving at a young FIU, where possibilities abounded and new ideas flourished unbridled. “I wanted to be where the action was,” remembers Morgan, herself a catalyst for so much of it. (featured in 2018)

 

nancy-olson-with-fiu-banner.jpgIn 1981 Nancy Olson became FIU’s first, and to date, only female athletic director, a position only about a dozen women around the nation held at the time. During her tenure, she hired key people, secured funding to build FIU’s much-needed arena, petitioned for Division I status for the baseball team and watched men’s soccer become NCAA champions. Most ambitiously, perhaps, she started FIU’s men’s basketball team from scratch, a move designed “to grow the athletic program and get some notoriety,” she recalls. And so she set about finding a head coach, ultimately selecting Rich Walker, a choice distinguished by the fact that most African-American coaches at the time worked almost exclusively at historically black colleges and universities. Finding a space in which to play home games proved another hurdle. “All we had was a ‘tin gym,’ an airplane hangar where the volleyball team would practice,” she remembers. So the team headed to a local high school that first season. “We all made it work,” Olson says matter-of-factly, adding that the former university mascot and team name—“Sunblazers”—perfecting captured that early spirit of FIU: “We were the new university blazing a trail.” (featured in 2016)

 

betty-perry-506x570.jpgBetty Laird Perry arrived at FIU in 1969 and, like her husband, founding president Charles Perry, assumed a brand-new position: first lady of a university years away from enrolling students. During that planning phase, when the campus featured only a small decommissioned air-traffic control tower, Mrs. Perry opened the couple’s private home to host the governor of Florida, numerous legislators and the chancellor of the SUS, all keenly interested in the progress of Florida’s newest public university. Mother to two youngsters, she found herself advising would-be employees, down for interviews, who looked to her for guidance at a time when few outsiders knew much about South Florida. “I had a lot to learn, and I was probably pretty naïve,” she says today, “but I loved Miami, and I loved the people.” Compounding her already-hectic life, Mrs. Perry undertook coursework to earn a BS in nursing from FIU in 1974. “It was just such an exciting time,” she recalls of the seven years she and her husband spent getting FIU off the ground. “There were so many frontiers to conquer. It was the best time of my life.” (featured in 2016)

 

peterson2.jpgJoyce Peterson spent her entire 40-career at the Biscayne Bay Campus where she labored to create a vibrant atmosphere for both students and faculty. As an associate dean in the then-College of Arts & Sciences, she pushed for the expansion of courses there, including marine sciences, which continues to have a strong presence. She also supported cross-disciplinary collaborations among professors that resulted in greater camaraderie and encouraged an important sharing of knowledge. A professor of history, she early on helped make the case for establishing the Women’s Studies Center to meet the needs of interested students at a time when such studies were taking off nationally. Similarly, she worked with others to bring to campus a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa because of what it could do for young people. FIU’s eventual inclusion in the national honors society, she says, “was a measure of the quality of the institution in terms of undergraduate education.” For student inductees, the payoff was huge, she adds, as employers began to understand that FIU turned out competitive graduates. Retired in 2016, Peterson still recalls the Spartan environment—a single-room library, a trailer that housed faculty offices—that preceded a campus building boom, not to mention the sheer beauty of the bayfront campus. “Sometimes I would pinch myself that I could take a walk along the water,” she says. “It felt like you were in a special place.”  (featured in 2017)

 

meri-jane-rochselson-485x570.jpgMeri-Jane Rochelson’s so-called retirement was nothing short of an excuse to find more time for research. The English professor emerita with a specialty in Victorian literature left FIU in 2016 and soon will have out two new books published by prestigious presses: a scholarly biography of her late father and a contextualized edition of the 1908 play The Melting Pot by British author and political activist Israel Zangwill, on whom she is a renowned authority. Those latest successes follow a 32-year career at the university during which Rochelson not only turned out several volumes, nearly three dozen journal articles and 20 book reviews, but also made presentations at 52 conferences and served as a moderator, panelist or organizer at 43. And all that was in addition to her extensive teaching, devoted participation on the committees of 45 Ph.D., MFA and MA candidates across several disciplines, major service to the university (most notably as associate department chair for eight years) and committed service to her profession (most notably as president of the Nineteenth-Century Studies Association for six years). “Both of my parents loved literature and language. I guess I got that energy from them,” she says of her American-born mother and immigrant father, a Holocaust survivor of great tenacity whose own fascinating paper trail she excavated. Once stationed primarily at BBC, Rochelson taught “the best students in the world,” with whom for more than three decades she shared an enriching experience. “I loved introducing those things I care about to the people in my classes,” she says. “I learned a lot from the students, and I hope that they learned a lot from me.” (featured in 2018)

 

russo-story-1-1.jpg-1.jpgWhen Cindy Russo retired after 36 years at FIU, her legacy as the most successful coach in the university’s history and one of the great women’s basketball coaches of all time was clear. Under her leadership, the Panthers made six trips to the NCAA Tournament, won eight regular season conference titles and seven tournament crowns, and had a run of 22 consecutive winning seasons from 1981-2003. Russo called it a career in January 2015 with 707 wins (667 of them at FIU, the others during a two-year stint at Lamar University), which ranks 15th all-time in Division I women’s basketball history. “From the time I came to FIU, the university always had a lot of good energy – people were excited to be here. I had the chance to come in and make a mark on this university,” she said. “It’s a priceless feeling, being able to make a difference in these young women’s lives and seeing them go out and be successful and positive contributors in the world.” (featured in 2016)

 

salokar-2-460x570.jpgAt the time an Army reservist and former active duty drill sergeant, Rebecca Salokar in 1981 received a bachelor’s degree in political science from FIU. After adding a master’s and Ph.D. from Syracuse to her resume, the South Florida native returned to begin a three-decade career as a professor who would influence a host of future movers and shakers, among them judges, Florida legislators and lawyers. A noted scholar who wrote on the role of courts in the United States, Salokar in 2009 earned a JD from the FIU College of Law, after which she established and directed FIU’s Pre-Law Advising and Training Office. Her untimely death in December left colleagues and alumni reeling, but her legacy lives on. “She was such an enthusiastic teacher,” remembers Catherine McManus ’86, assistant general counsel, 11th Judicial Circuit Court. “Professor Salokar was one of the reasons why I stayed in political science.” John Stack, a friend of 38 years and the dean of the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs, in which Salokar taught, says an innate ability to connect with others “made her one of the most effective teachers I have ever known. She had a huge impact on careers and aspirations.” (featured in 2017)

 

altheasilverafiulibraries-1.jpgFIU has no bigger packrat than Althea “Vicki” Silvera. On her office shelves and desk, assorted handcrafts and knickknacks compete for space with books and folders. On the walls hang more than 40 works of art (with others stacked in the corners), among them a collage made with African fabrics, a painting bought long ago from an FIU student and at least a dozen drawings, watercolors and prints from her native Jamaica. And that’s just the personal stuff. The director of Special Collections has spent three decades amassing priceless treasures in support of faculty and student research, and her department on the fourth floor of the Green Library teems with her finds: handwritten letters, genealogy records, deeds to historic South Florida homes, Medieval volumes and pre-Columbian figurines, to name a few. And while she has made plenty of strategic purchases, Silvera has found her niche in getting collectors comfortable with the idea of giving their prized possessions to FIU. Case in point: After bonding over a cup of tea with Cuban-American collector Elena Kurstin, the latter donated hundreds of pre-revolutionary magazines, postcards, city maps and restaurant menus she purchased in exile from dealers. In Silvera’s role as university archivist, she likewise keeps alive institutional memory by lovingly filing away (and digitizing) documents such as commencement programs and every issue of the student newspaper on the chance that an alum or someone else will come digging. Surrounded by so many reminders of her own history, she knows the value of preserving the past. “I think everyone is trying to find a little something to connect to.” (featured in 2018)

 

simunek.jpgLinda Agustin Simunek didn’t worry about the lack of perfect facilities in which to teach nursing students. The founding dean of the School of Nursing—FIU’s earlier, smaller nursing program had been discontinued—arrived in 1982 and cared only about the quality of education. “We started out in a trailer, and I remember having to use an outhouse,” she says of the days when a proper space, then at BBC, was still under construction. “For our first lab day, I had to get the linens from my home. The students learned to make beds with rainbow designs.” Despite those little challenges, Simunek “always knew the school would flourish.” An immigrant herself, from the Philippines, she understood the importance of cultural diversity and made it a priority to recruit and retain a diverse body of multicultural students and faculty. Case in point: She developed and implemented a program to help RNs from Cuba apply for licensure in Florida even when obtaining their nursing school records was all but impossible. “I am most proud of having produced successful FIU nursing alumni,” she says, “many of whom now serve in leadership positions in health care facilities and in nursing schools in Florida and throughout the nation.” (featured in 2016)

 

judith_stiehm-2web-2.jpgJudith Stiehm is the only woman to have held the job of provost at FIU, a fact that also made her the first female provost in SUS history. She arrived in 1987 from the University of Southern California and moved FIU forward on many fronts during her three years in the top academic post. She appointed three vice provosts, named FIU’s first two eminent scholars and helped oversee the implementation of several master’s and doctoral degree programs. She also oversaw the revision and approval of the faculty tenure and promotion guidelines and procedures, completion of the 18-month-long university reaffirmation of accreditation self study, and a positive review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools site-visit committee. Today she is a full-time professor of political science and working on a biography of former Attorney General Janet Reno. “I came from USC, a very old, very well established institution. I knew it would be crazy at FIU, and it was,” said Stiehm, who added that she loved the adventure of those early, formative years. “The university has matured, of course, but back then it was a bit like a frontier.” (featured in 2016)

 

maida-watson-1.jpgMaida Watson landed at FIU in January of 1973 to direct an intensive Spanish language program for faculty and staff. Perceiving a value in such skills in multicultural South Florida, the administration sought to advance employees’ knowledge with noncredit courses. While not everyone appreciated the directive—some saw the mandated instruction as a burden—Watson has remained a strong proponent of Spanish as a second language, something she views as a “practical tool,” especially for anyone living and working in the region. Undaunted, the Panama native completed her Ph.D. in language and literature from UF with a specialty in Latin American studies, and soon she found her stride at FIU as a full-time faculty member and a contributor to the mission of the then-new Latin American and Caribbean Center, now a U.S. Department of Education-designated National Resource Center. She brought in directors and playwrights for the first international theater festival in 1977 and since then has annually produced one or more conferences on topics such as 19th century Latin American writers and Cuban literature while actively publishing in both English and Spanish. Now at FIU for 45 years—a university record—Watson is proudest of having successfully advocated for FIU’s Spanish Ph.D. program, which debuted during her tenure as department chair and has educated some 40 alumni who have gone on to leadership positions around the country. (featured in 2018)

 

mira1.jpgMira Wilkins joined FIU’s faculty in 1974 as one of the few female experts on the history of foreign investment in the United States, a subject she continues to research and write on today, in retirement. She has published numerous journal articles and several books, including four with Harvard University Press, and her co-written volume, “American Business Abroad: Ford on Six Continents,” first released in 1964, was republished by Cambridge University Press in 2011. Her scholarship has received wide acclaim. She was the first woman recognized with the Worlds Ahead Faculty Award, FIU’s highest honor. Among other distinctions, she earned a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Business History Conference, an international organization that annually awards a prize in her name. As a lifetime researcher, Wilkins delighted in FIU’s recent Carnegie ranking in the highest tier of research universities. “We are hiring excellent faculty,” the professor emerita says. “They are the core of an institution.” (featured in 2016)

 

wolfe.jpgMary Ann Wolfe had a history as a pathbreaker when she arrived in South Florida in 1979 with her husband, FIU’s third president, the late Gregory B. Wolfe. A 1944 graduate of UCLA who went to work for the federal government in the newsroom of the Office of Inter-American Affairs, she in 1971 was appointed by the the labor commissioner of Oregon to the State Advisory Council on Sex Discrimination in Employment. A writer, she worked as a Newsweek stringer in Honduras and later for Miami Today in addition to drafting many of her husband’s speeches. So it came as no surprise when she quickly and ably inserted herself into the life of the university by joining her former-diplomat husband to host breakfasts for students and welcome to campus such dignitaries as former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig. Mary Ann Wolfe’s passing in July 2016 prompted President Mark B. Rosenberg—who as a young professor of international relations thrived under the Wolfe administration—to recall her contributions alongside those of her husband and how their combined efforts helped make clear that the university’s aspirations went well beyond the local: “Together, they put FIU on the map – giving us an identity and direction.”  (featured in 2017)