back to news Nov. 19, 2021

Arts and Sciences alumni share stories of thankfulness

Oval autumnWith the holiday season upon us, we asked our Arts and Sciences alumni to reflect on why they are thankful for their Buckeye experiences and how their time at Ohio State has impacted who they are today.

Jaya Pillai

Jaya Pillai ’16

I was an English major and now work for Congress in Washington, D.C., and I am thankful for the Department of English! As an honors student and English major, I had incredible professors who helped me become a better writer and thinker. Special shout out to Professor Kay Halasek and Associate Professor Thomas Davis, with whom I had the pleasure of taking multiple classes.


Mark Matyazic

Mark Matyazic ’87

Three professors really shaped my path and career after graduation in 1987: my advisor Bruno Kolodziej, my food microbiology professor George Banwart, and my water microbiology professor Olli Tuovinen.

Kolodziej steered me into choosing a major in microbiology, outlining reasons why it may have more career choices after graduation. Banwart and Tuovinen both initiated my interest in the food and dietary supplement industry. Upon taking a market development position with Danisco Corp., I was a member of a small team that developed the probiotic market within the United States. This team then grew that market from approximately $5 million in 2001 to over $100 million in 2012. While developing that market sector, we helped tens of millions of people realize and experience the myriad of health aspects related to probiotics, and that market and product benefits continue to expand. There is no way I would have been part of that exciting journey if not for those three influential instructors.


Kim Davies

Kim Davies ’96

I am thankful for being able to connect with so many who graduated from or love The Ohio State University no matter where I am.

I interact with Buckeyes all the time and often find it an easy way to make small talk with others in my role as dean of the Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Augusta University in Georgia. Moreover, I have a fantastic network of Buckeyes in universities across the United States who I reach out to in order to compare notes on programs, faculty, policy and more. Recently, I was able to poll several at a wide and diverse array of universities to provide information on an issue, which benefitted me and my faculty! Go Buckeyes from the sociology grad programs in the 1990s!


Ebony Caldwell

Ebony Caldwell ’97

I am very thankful for my education at Ohio State, and I believe my positive experience led to my employment here, as I currently teach at the university.

I remember a woman in admissions who assisted my admission process into Ohio State and my African American professors. I would not have attended Ohio State without her assistance, and my African American studies courses allowed me to learn about my true African American history and American history. I truly enjoyed my academic experience, relationships and overall quality education I received at The Ohio State University.


Denise BloughDenise Blough ’16

I’m thankful for Nicole Kraft, associate professor-clinical in the School of Communication. Some classes you take and forget about. Others stick with you. And then there are those like Professor Kraft’s “Intro to Media Writing and Editing” course, which literally follow you every single day. I have not spent a day in my career without using the news writing and interviewing techniques I learned from Professor Kraft. Going into an interview without recording it would be like eating tortilla chips without salsa!


Juan AbelJuan Abel ’15

I was lucky to have several professors who inspired me during my time as a student. However, if I only get one vote, it goes to Professor Joel Wainwright from the Ohio State Department of Geography. I enrolled in his "Making of the Modern World" class to satisfy a GE requirement and fill a gap in my schedule. Little did I know that it would turn out to be the BEST class I ever took.

I looked forward to attending Professor Wainwright's class every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon! He structured the course in a way that allowed for debate and discussion. The readings not only complemented the lectures perfectly, but they made me think deeper and led me to question things in new ways. I will be forever grateful for having taken his class and have recommended it to many students.


Matt Luby ’06

I am thankful for Matt Couch, associate dean of students in the Office of Academic Affairs. I played trivia for four memorable years on the Ohio State Academic Team. There were not a lot of faculty or staff who wanted to moderate a niche club for eccentric, uncouth weirdos. Matt made no claims about liking trivia, but he fit right in with his Star Wars vanity license plate. We eventually repaid his hours of service with trips to multiple Quiz Bowl national championships!


Jennifer (Spencer) Davis ’94

Sydney Walker was a professor of mine in the Department of Arts Administration, Education and Policy. Her teaching style and welcoming demeanor helped guide me into the world of art education. I even had a part-time job organizing art prints and other resources in the department. This was back in the day of slide projectors as a means of sharing artwork with students! Sydney, thank you for your guidance and for taking me under your wing. You were a kind and brilliant educator to us art education students. You were a blessing in so many ways! I graduated from Ohio State in 1994 with a Bachelor of Arts Education.

In 1999, I received my Master of Arts in Integrated Teaching and Learning from Ohio State, with a focus on integration of visual art with children's literature. I have been an art educator at Benjamin Logan Schools for more than 26 years. I taught elementary art for 11 years and am in my 16th year at the middle school level. I am passionate about integrating art with other academic subjects and enjoy collaborating with colleagues to develop cross-curricular projects. To this day, I continue to implement lessons learned from Sydney Walker concerning discipline-based art education.

Incorporating aesthetics, art criticism, art history and art production with my lessons continues to be valuable to students. I still remember a story box I created in Sydney's class, highlighting the life and art of Georgia O'Keeffe and focusing on discipline-based art education. Sydney well-prepared me for my first teaching position, setting me up for success at any grade level.

I am an avid grant writer and have received well over $100,000 in grant funding, the majority coming from Ohio Arts Council TeachArtsOhio grants. Bringing guest artists to my school has given my students unique learning opportunities made possible through grants. Several permanent works of art adorn Benjamin Logan Middle School, including a mural created with artist Richard Duarte Brown and many mosaic creations produced with artist Vicki Murphy. I find great joy developing artist-in-residence programs and collaborating with teaching artists. I remember well Sydney collaborating with others to give the art ed students a variety of learning opportunities in art education, including an experience to learn about art therapy. All were powerful experiences for us.

Some awards I’ve received in my professional career include: the Ohio Art Education Association's 2021 Distinguished Service Award for Business/Organization, awarded to LoCo Art, of which I am co-director; the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation's 2019 Jennings Master Teacher Award; the National Art Education Association's Western Region Middle Division 2019 Art Educator of the Year; and the Ohio Art Education Association's 2018 Middle School Art Educator of the Year.

I attribute this recognition to the support I received throughout my career — from people like Sydney who helped me see my potential to administrators who supported grants and artist residencies during my career.


Richard Felty ’15

I’m thankful for associate professor of political science Amanda Robinson. I took Robinson's African politics class in autumn 2014. I was assigned a case study on post-colonial Somalia, including failed interventions and ongoing political violence. I enjoyed that case study so much I wrote a few other papers on Somalia in other classes when possible.

I also liked learning from Dr. Robinson so much I took her nationalism and ethnicity course SP2015, even though I had finished my required coursework and could have graduated the semester before. In this class, I learned and practiced research methods truly for the first time, getting outside of textbooks and articles and into raw data. We designed qualitative and quantitative research projects and wrote memos on our findings, which were extremely meaningful and made me feel useful as an academic.

After graduating, I was teaching English abroad before a medical emergency brought me home. That totally interrupted my career plans. I spent a few months pondering what exactly to do next. I so respected Dr. Robinson that I thought she could give me the career advice I needed, despite being an alumnus. And she did! She came to campus on a day off and we talked through my goals and ambitions. I left her office deciding to travel back to the country I left — a tremendous decision only possible because of her support and guidance.

I then started working in international development. I was very confident in the interview for my first job, since the African politics class also included material on international development — political motives, sustainable impact and different academic standpoints of countries like the U.S. offering aid to countries like Somalia. I brought the research methods I learned from her nationalism and ethnicity course with me to track and report the impact of our work.

Dr. Robinson then wrote a grad school letter of recommendation. What I learned in both of her classes was very useful to my thesis and coursework, which focused on the geopolitics and political economics of international education.

After grad school, I found another job in international development on a project that just so happens to be in Somalia! I didn't know which country the project was in when I started my interview, but thanks to the case study I wrote in her class, I could speak knowingly on Somalia when I learned the project is there. I was also asked in that interview, and I quote, "How do we fix problems in Africa?" Thanks to the African politics class, I could tell the interviewer in so many words how frankly ridiculous and offensive that question is.

This reached an apex when I spent June 2021 doing field work in Somalia. I'm sure I wouldn't have been there if not for Dr. Robinson's courses and professional counseling. I can't help but smile with thanks at how she's helped shape every single step of my academic and career path.

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