Published: March 29, 2007
By Robin Roger
Suzanne Hiebert asked a room of students, faculty and staff to conjure a
mental image of pioneering. The former dean of students told the
audience to think of all the images that accompany the Wild West and
apply it to women at The University of Tampa more than 50 years ago.
spoke on Wednesday in the Vaughn Center Crescent Club, where more than
100 women gathered to celebrate Women’s History Month. Each faculty
member or staff member who attended invited a female student to join
her. A document distributed at the luncheon recognized the contributions
of women to the University in the last 75 years.
to the past, while Maureen Rorech Dunkel, vice chair of the Board of
Trustees, and senior Melissa Wadley addressed the present and the
future. When Hiebert started working at UT, she said women made up only
10 percent of the faculty, and 2 to 3 percent of administrative staff.
There were few women in math and the hard sciences, and athletics were
“The things we had to struggle for are now part of everyday life,” Hiebert said.
and her friend, the late Sue McCord, founded the UT Women’s Re-Entry
Program. The program helped women who had dropped out of college or had
never had the chance to go.
They operated out of an office the
size of a closet, printing and distributing flyers themselves. They
offered the first two classes for free. Hiebert said she and McCord
often counseled women whose husbands forced them to choose between their
families and their degrees.
The women also founded the Female
Adventure Club Unlimited, made up of women faculty and staff who camped
in the rain, ran on the beach and climbed an active volcano.
are advantages to being pioneers,” she said. “There are fewer rules and
restrictions and fewer procedural maps. You have the freedom to go off
road, explore, make great discoveries, and make a safe pathway for those
A trailblazer herself, Dunkel, will be the first
female chairwoman of the Board of Trustees this fall. The president of
K-Force Staffing gave the students advice.
importance of the power of personal vision, remember to say ‘thank you,’
and never be afraid to ask for help,” she said. “And don’t be afraid to
celebrate who you are as a woman in the workplace.”
Feminine qualities, like compassion and empathy, can be assets on the job, she said.
implored her fellow students to reclaim their identities and not let
society tell them what they are worth. She also asked the faculty and
staff to serve as mentors, encouraging ambition and big goals.
hope people feel empowered to leave a legacy,” Wadley said. “It can
seem like a daunting task, but when you have the encouragement of women
who have been through it, you see it can be done.”
luncheon, images of women scrolled across a screen, including Sacajawea,
Indira Gandhi and Anne Cary, UT’s first student. Her daughter, Nathalie
Tomczak, sat in the audience. Her mother would never have dreamed how
much UT would grow, she said, when she first came to register for
Tomczak described her mother as unique and driven, especially at a time when most women didn’t attend college.
don’t think she gave it a second thought,” Tomczak said. “She knew she
was going to continue her education. I don’t think she was nervous about
it. She just went for it.”
She added that she was amazed by the
women who spoke about where the University has been and where it’s going
75 years after her mother became the first student to enroll.
awesome to bask in her memory and the legacy she left at the
University,” Tomczak said. “She was blessed to be the first. She was the
beginning of that long, fabulous line of women.”
Ten “firsts” at UT:
- First female student: Anne Cary, 1931
- Founding director of the library: Charlotte Anne Thompson, 1933
- First female student body president: Dorothy Thonnensen, 1942
- First female recipient of an athletic scholarship: Judy Alvarez, 1969
- First female trustee: Sylvia Vega, 1973
- First female dean of students: Suzanne Hiebert, 1983
- First female director of student activities: Linda Devine, 1983
- First female ROTC commander: Deirdre Dixon, 2000
- First female provost, vice president for academic affairs: Janet McNew, 2006
- First women’s national championship: Women’s Volleyball Team, 2006