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3/25/2010 —

One student, one faculty member, two incredible women. Professor of English, Phyllis Cole, and senior Carolyn Johnson were both named Woman of the Year at the Penn State Brandywine Women’s Commission Annual Luncheon on March 25. The event featured keynote speaker Dr. Joanne Gillis-Donovan, who gave a funny, witty and insightful talk to the crowd of more that 100 students, faculty and staff.

Quoting from the many letters nominating Cole for the award, Women’s Commission committee member and Instructor in English Pamela Main, said, “What makes Cole most ideal for this award is the degree to which she has been an outspoken voice for women’s rights and women’s issues on our campus, setting an important example for all of us--female and male.”

Phyllis Cole (right) with Pamela Main

Cole was instrumental in bringing Afghanistan’s leading women’s rights activist Suraya Pakzad to campus on March 4, 2009, to discuss the struggles of women in her country. She also advised a noble group of students as they raised $7,000 to help build a water system in the war-torn country, via the efforts of campus alum Aldo Magazzeni and his nonprofit Traveling Mercies.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “She is a wonderful teacher and spends hours in her office talking and working with students,” Main went on to say. “She is creative, eminently thoughtful, well balanced and diplomatic.”

Johnson received an equal amount of praise. “She is an outstanding student teacher who captivates children’s interest with her creative lessons,” Associate Professor of Education Patricia Van Leuvan wrote in her nomination of Johnson, who is majoring in elementary education in multicultural settings (ELEDM). “She is president of the Black Student League, she organized a Jamaican dance troop presentation, the Cheyney Choir and the fundraiser for books for schools in Uganda.” Referencing Johnson’s work in one of Van Leuvan’s creative writing classes, the professor admiringly joked, “She was determined to master iambic pentameter, and by god she did!”

Carolyn Johnson (right)

The positive vibrations left by the praise presented to the award winners continued as Gillis-Donovan took the floor. The president and CEO of Melmark, which provides residential, educational, therapeutic and recreational services for children and adults with developmental disabilities, shared her wealth of experience as a clinical psychologist in a way that every audience member could relate.

Gillis-Donovan posed questions about what has and hasn’t changed for women since they entered the workforce, discussing everything from wages to sexual harassment to balancing new gender roles in the home.

One of the main messages in her speech: “Strong women can create a gentler world,” she said.

Dr. Joanne Gillis-Donovan

A topic that resonated with the audience: things men can learn from women--empathy, sensitivity—and something women should learn from men--not to personalize everything.

She discussed marriage, which she said, “often calls for more maturity than most of us have,” and bringing about change: “We can never change another human being. Change yourself to bring about the change you want to see in others.”

And a few things she told the audience to remember: “’No’ is never to be take seriously the first time,” and “When the door is closed, find a window.”

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