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New group of faculty advisors ready to kick off fourth year of women’s scholars program


It was nearly 150 years ago that Margaret Boyd enrolled at Ohio University, making history as the University’s first female student and, in 1873, its first female graduate. Today, Boyd’s legacy lives on – not only in the dozens of undergraduate women who have been selected for the scholars program that bears her name, but also in the faculty advisors who have been instrumental in building the program and ensuring its and its scholars’ success.

Launched in 2013, the Margaret Boyd Scholars Program serves as OHIO’s first and only women’s scholars program. The four-year program seeks to inspire and encourage undergraduate women to become engaged, confident and connected leaders at Ohio University and beyond.

A total of 60 undergraduate female students have been accepted into the program over the past three years. Another 20 first-year students will be welcomed into the program this semester. (See sidebar)

At the heart of the program is academic enrichment and leadership development opportunities, provided in large part by the faculty advisors who have committed their time and talents to these young scholars.

Stepping up to serve in the program

This past year saw the welcoming of three new faculty advisors to the Margaret Boyd Scholars Program.

Cindy Anderson, a professor of sociology; Michelle O’Malley, an assistant professor of linguistics; and Nancy Sandler, an associate professor of physics, are the second group of OHIO educators to serve on the program’s faculty advisory board.

Faculty advisors to the Margaret Boyd Scholars Program (from left) Nancy Sandler, Michelle O’Malley and Cindy Anderson are pictured outside of Bryan Hall.

Faculty advisors to the Margaret Boyd Scholars Program (from left) Nancy Sandler, Michelle O’Malley and Cindy Anderson are pictured outside of Bryan Hall, the residence hall that houses the scholars during their sophomore year. Photo by Daniel Owen

They follow in the footsteps of Gerardine Botte, distinguished professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering; Melissa Haviland, associate professor of art; and Miriam Shadis, associate professor of history – all of whom served on the board during the program’s first two years, have served as guides for the new faculty advisors and continue to contribute to the program.

“The contributions of the faculty advisory board are some of the most significant benefits to the students in the Margaret Boyd Scholars Program,” said Patti McSteen, director of the program and associate dean of students. “The faculty are able to contribute to the outside-of-the-classroom learning while serving as mentors, role models and advisors to this very diverse group of students.”

Members of the faculty advisory board are charged with everything from reviewing applications, conducting interviews and selecting students for the program to participating in the retreat for the new scholars as well as the program’s common reading discussions.

The 20 first-year female undergraduates selected for last year’s cohort of Margaret Boyd Scholars are seen during the new scholars’ retreat, held just prior to the start of spring semester.

The 20 first-year female undergraduates selected for last year’s cohort of Margaret Boyd Scholars are seen during the new scholars’ retreat, held just prior to the start of spring semester. Photo courtesy of Patti McSteen

But the faculty advisors’ greatest responsibility is collaborating to teach the program’s first-year seminar and the senior-year capstone seminar. 

Anderson, O’Malley and Sandler taught their first Margaret Boyd Scholars first-year seminar this past spring semester. They collaborated to create coursework that focused on the theme of women and women’s advancement and that explored their individual areas of expertise. 

O’Malley’s portion of the seminar delved into language and gender. She challenged the scholars to explore how our language and responses to others relate to our gendered self-perceptions combined with the language we hear used about ourselves. 

“I feel like this program and, more specifically, the first-year seminar is an opportunity to fully embrace what a university experience is supposed to be for undergraduate students,” O’Malley said. “It is about opening your mind and being exposed to things that might make you uncomfortable, that might be completely unfamiliar, that may or may not be something you pursue, but this is your chance, and these students get to do that with the guidance of a small number of faculty who have access to resources on campuses and who are willing to share them.”

Anderson’s seminar classes focused on the gender pay gap, building on her research involving women and work. In her classes, the scholars explored sociological and economic theories of the pay gap and used United States Census data to build profiles of occupations that piqued their interests.

“We teach the students about issues that are directly related to our research and overall scholarship,” explained Anderson. “So we’re helping them to learn critical thinking skills and to become scholars, but we’re doing it in a place where I bring my passion for what I do.” 

Anderson ended her portion of the seminar by charging the scholars with disseminating their findings. 

“I believe that this is a great chance for the students to not only learn about an issue, but to do something about it,” Anderson said, “so I charged them with going out and creating some kind of social change.”

The scholars went above and beyond Anderson’s expectations, painting OHIO’s graffiti wall in honor of Equal Pay Day and creating a social media campaign in support of pay equity.

Pictured are some of the messages Margaret Boyd Scholars posted to social media this past spring in honor of Equal Pay Day.

Pictured are some of the messages Margaret Boyd Scholars posted to social media this past spring in honor of Equal Pay Day.

Sandler’s section of the seminar set out to combat the gender discrepancies that occur in the various fields of science – a phenomenon she’s witnessed observing how young children are introduced to science and math in elementary school, and how many of them feel about those academic disciplines when they enter college. 

“Somewhere along the way,” Sandler explained, “something breaks, and it breaks earlier for girls.”

During her classes, Sandler led discussions about the role women have had and continue to play in the field of science and about how the challenges women in science face mirror the challenges all women face. Sandler also exposed the scholars to the different labs in OHIO’s physics department, which provided an opportunity for the scholars to interact with some of the female graduate students conducting research in that department. 

“My impression is that the fear of or this negative reaction toward science may have changed for these scholars at least a little bit,” Sandler said. “Personally, I think that’s my role with the seminar.”

Being served by the program

Each of these faculty advisors volunteered to serve the program for various reasons. 

For Sandler, it was an opportunity to not only make a difference in the lives of the scholars but also in the field of science and for women as a whole. O’Malley, who works primarily with OHIO’s graduate students, joined the program seeking to connect more with the University’s female undergraduates. And Anderson set out to connect with undergraduate students in a new way – one that provides her a holistic view of the students.

“Learning more about the total student – the social, the emotional aspects – is really helpful because that’s where you tap into the energy of the students,” Anderson said. “These women have such energy and such passion.”

While each of the advisors embarked on their Margaret Boyd Scholars journey with a goal of service, they are all quick to note how they have been served by the program.

“I think the theme through this entire program is opportunity, and while our primary objective here is engaging with undergraduate women and providing them with opportunity, it is an immense opportunity for us as well,” O’Malley said. 

O’Malley noted what the students give to the advisors – an engaged learning environment where students’ hands are constantly in the air and collaboration among classmates is sought together with an opportunity for the faculty members to learn from them. 

“What young women bring to college these days is so different from when I was 18,” she said, adding that the experience has affected the way she approaches her students.

All three of the faculty advisors commented on how they’ve benefitted from the opportunity to socialize and collaborate academically with women outside of their individual departments and fields of study.

“This experience has opened a whole new window of opportunity for me,” Sandler said. “To be able to be around women with whom you can exchange very interesting and stimulating conversations is very rewarding.”

Anderson noted a community engagement program she and O’Malley are developing for spring break this year. The pair will be taking some of the scholars to Williamson, West Virginia, where they will work in the fields with local farmers and at the local farmers market, learning about the local economy and culture.

“I think the Margaret Boyd Scholars Program will have an impact on where these women as alumnae end up in the big picture – the types of career paths they lead, the self-esteem they continue to develop, their willingness to connect with the other scholars and with women,” Anderson said. “I think we’re building a program that will have a legacy at Ohio University and beyond.”

Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis and First Lady Deborah A. McDavis pose for a photo with the first-year students selected for last year’s cohort of Margaret Boyd Scholars as well as faculty and staff who serve as advisors to the program.

Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis and First Lady Deborah A. McDavis pose for a photo with the first-year students selected for last year’s cohort of Margaret Boyd Scholars as well as faculty and staff who serve as advisors to the program. Photo courtesy of Patti McSteen

McSteen, one of the founders of the Margaret Boyd Scholars Program, credits the success of the program to not only the faculty and staff who serve on its advisory boards, but also to the greater OHIO academic community.

“Having the support of all of the academic units in our efforts has been critical to what this program has been able to accomplish these first three years,” she said. “Without exception, I have found each academic college eager to support their students in the program, and the scholars are keenly aware of the connection to their colleges. This is truly a collaborative effort that I believe has been mutually beneficial to the students and the faculty.”

Program information sessions kick off Sept. 9

The Margaret Boyd Scholars Program is open to all first-year female undergraduates on the Athens Campus. Twenty first-year OHIO women from colleges and majors throughout campus will be selected for this year’s cohort. 

Students are invited to attend the following information sessions to learn more about the program:

Sept. 9, 10:30 a.m., Baker University Center 230

Sept. 14, 3 p.m., Baker University Center 341

Sept. 21, 4 p.m., Baker University Center 341

Oct. 5, 12:30 p.m., Baker University Center 341

Oct. 10, 2 p.m., Baker University Center 341

Applications for the program – available at https://www.ohio.edu/boydscholars/ – are due by Oct. 17.

The Margaret Boyd Scholars Program is a collaboration between OHIO’s Division of Student Affairs, the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, and University College.

For more information about the program, click here or email boydscholars@ohio.edu.