Stevens honored two pioneers who helped women thrive on campus – and an outstanding new generation of current female students – at a Women’s Recognition Dinner on March 31 on campus.
The event, which included awards, a reception and an elegant candlelight dinner with dancing, attracted 150 people and was part of the 40 Years of Women at Stevens celebration that has been held this academic year. Women first entered Stevens as undergraduates in the fall of 1971.
The people honored that evening have all made a difference in the lives of both male and female students at Stevens. Two pioneers honored were Rev. Dr. Audrey J. Vincentz Leef, M.S. ’47, who earned a M.S. in Mathematics from Stevens and was among the first graduate alumna (Stevens admitted women to its graduate program staring in the 1940s); and Robert H. Seavy, M.S. ’48, who worked at Stevens for four decades and, as director of admissions, was an advocate for women on campus and was critical in the historic decision to admit the first class of undergraduate women at Stevens.
Four current female students received the Women of Distinction Award, given to undergraduate and graduate females who distinguished themselves by positively impacting the experience of women at Stevens. These honorees were: Amanda DiGuilio ’11, M.S. ’11, a first-year Ph.D. student in Chemistry; Bosede Omolayo, a graduate student with the Howe School of Technology Management; and undergraduates Kendra Appleheimer ’12, Allyson Mackavage ’12; and Melissa Wiegand ’12.
In addition, eight female students received the Service and Leadership Award, recognizing their great service as role models, leaders and agents of change. They were: undergraduates Caroline Amaba ’12; Molly Bennett ’12 ; Lauren Gutierrez ’12; Alecia Hart ’12; Suzanne Hartwell ’12; Lauren Mayer ’12; NancyMarie Santora ’13; and Systems Engineering graduate student Amanda Nauman, who earned her undergraduate degree from Stevens in 2011.
The evening’s master of ceremonies Dr. Maureen Weatherall ’78, M.T.M. ’78, Stevens’ chief administrative officer, noted that this event has traditionally been a women’s recognition brunch for the student community. But the event was expanded for this historic year at Stevens to recognize how successfully women have integrated into the university’s community. Indeed, a strong showing of alumnae – from the Classes of 1947 to 2011 – turned out for the dinner inside the Bissinger Room.
Seavy and Leef are simply “the two people who made it possible to be where we are today,” Weatherall said.
In introducing Seavy, who worked as a Chemistry professor, administrator and director of admissions at Stevens before his retirement in 1986, Weatherall said that it was his strong support and charisma that helped convince the faculty and the board of trustees that women could come to Stevens and succeed.
“Bob went to the Board of Trustees (and said) – ‘It’s time,’” she said.
When Seavy stepped up to the stage to receive his award, the audience erupted in applause and gave him a standing ovation.
The audience awarded their second standing ovation of the evening to Dr. Leef. An ordained minister and longtime professor of mathematics at Montclair State University, she is currently professor emerita in the Department of Mathematics at Montclair State University and pastor emerita at First Congregational Christian Church of Irvington, N.J., and of The Community Church of Mountain Lakes, N.J.
Dr. Leef comes from a Stevens legacy family, as her great uncle, Leon Guilloud, Class of 1887; her brother, Chester C. Vincentz ’33, M.S. ’37; and her nephew, Chester Vincentz, Jr. ’59, are all Stevens graduates. But years ago, as a math teacher at Millburn High School in Millburn, N.J., she decided that she wanted her master’s degree from Stevens, and she didn’t need her family legacy to lean on.
Approaching the dean of students, “I said, ‘How about letting me in?’ And he said ‘Okay,’ so I came,” she says.
Her talent and determination helped her thrive at Stevens in classes where she was the only woman. But she did recruit the two tallest men in her class to walk her to the Hoboken train station after evening class, as River Street was deemed unsafe for a woman walking alone back then.
“One guy got off in East Orange; that’s the one I married,” she said. Her husband, George “Bob” Leef, earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Stevens in 1953.
Leef credited her mother, who worked in real estate and took classes at Cornell at age 55, as instilling in her belief that she could do anything that she put her mind to. This mother of four, grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother previously gave this advice to female Stevens students: You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once.
But when she took the stage to be honored this March evening, an emotional Leef altered her philosophy a bit.
“I told them: You can have it all. You can’t have it all at once. That’s not true (anymore), because I feel at this very moment – I had it all.”
The student honorees carry on a strong legacy made possible by Leef and Seavy.
DiGuilio was honored for her outstanding work in the graduate school community. She serves as president of the Graduate Student Society of Chemistry, Chemical Biology and Biomedical Engineering; is an RA at the Lore-El Center, which offers a residence and various programs for women; and is a member of the President’s Advancement of Women Committee, which has been formed to help increase the number of female students and faculty on campus. She says that the committee’s work is going well.
“If you compare Stevens with other (engineering) schools, we’re leaders,” she says. “We’re at a really good point, but there’s still work to be done,” to increase the number of women on campus.
Appleheimer has left an indelible mark at Stevens, from her varied leadership roles as vice president of the Student Government Association, president of Gear & Triangle, captain of the tennis team and as a member of Stevens’ Strategic Planning Committee. Her leadership positions have taught her as much as her classroom work has, she says. The Strategic Planning Committee has been particularly rewarding.
“It’s a lot of work but a lot of fun,” she says. “The learning aspect of it is fun, and being a part of change for the better.”
Wiegand served as editor in chief of The Link, Formula SAE secretary, executive board member of Red Shift, the literary magazine, a reporter for The Stute, and a flautist with the Stevens Orchestra, Stevens Concert Band and the Stevens Dramatic Society’s Pit Band. The Chemical Engineering major, with a nearly flawless grade point average, will attend graduate school at Stevens and study materials engineering after graduation this spring.
“There is no real secret to my success,” she says. “The past four years have been a delicate balance of school work, research, co-op terms, and extra-curricular activities.” She gave thanks to her great Link staff – and her wonderful parents and boyfriend – for their support.
Santora was honored for spearheading the historic effort to affiliate Omicron Pi sorority with a national sorority. Mostly through her leadership, the colony of Theta Phi Alpha was born on campus on Sept. 12, 2011 and is now a full-fledged chapter.
“I wanted to come back in 40 years and see my sisters here,” she said. “I knew as a local, we may not be here. Sisters are forever.”
Hart received honors for her role on the executive board of the student government and acting as the liaison to more than 80 student organizations on campus. She helped the groups with budgets and kept the lines of communication open between student government and student groups.
Mayer was honored for her many leadership roles, from orientation leader and peer mentor, as well as leadership positions with the National Society of Black Engineers, Delta Phi Epsilon sorority, and other groups.
Mackavage was honored as a leader and innovator, from chair of the Boken Committee, co-founder of the Stevens Knitting Club, secretary of Tau Beta Pi and other groups. Her work as chair of the Stevens Honor Board was most visible, as she redesigned the Ethics course that helps rehabilitated students convicted of a violation, reformed the Honor Board Advisory Council, and scripted the Honor System Video presented at freshman orientation.
Omolayo has helped to invigorate graduate school life at Stevens, as an inaugural member of the Graduate School Council, and her work as graduate Orientation Leader and in clubs sponsored by the Office of Graduate School Affairs. And she’s done this while raising two boys, ages 16 and 17.
Nauman has continued to be a leader. Her most prominent role is as president of the International Council on Systems Engineering, which has seen an increase in membership and events.
Amaba has juggled majors in computer science and art & technology and has thrived as a Stevens leader. Her work as chairperson of the Entertainment Committee has resulted in its resurgence, and she has also held leadership roles with Gear & Triangle and the Computer and Console gaming Society. She also works and performs with the Performing Arts Department.
Gutierrez balanced variety field hockey with her duties on the executive committee of Phi Sigma Sigma. She’s also a member of the AFROTC at Stevens and will commission as a second lieutenant with the U.S. Air Force after graduation. She will work as an electrical engineer.
Molly Bennett was honored for her outstanding work as an RA and as a leader at the Lore-El center on campus, where she helped establish a variety of programs, such as tutoring and educational programs.
“It’s kind of great seeing girls working together,” she says. “I only cherish my memories.”
And Hartwell was honored for tirelessly working to bring about the re-emergence of the Stevens chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. SWE, which boasts many Stevens alumnae members, enjoyed a resurgence thanks to Suzanne’s efforts, after a recent period of inactivity. Today, the group has 70 members, offers a variety of programs and participates in regional and national conferences.
“It’s my baby,” she says of SWE. “I have nursed SWE so long … I’m a leader. I want to bring women to do what they can do, to the best of their ability.”