Women’s History Month and Beyond: Six Michigan Tech Leaders Reflect on Their Work and Inspiration

Six women leaders at Michigan Tech in portrait for a story sharing their perspectives during Women's History Month.
Six women leaders at Michigan Tech in portrait for a story sharing their perspectives during Women's History Month.
Paige Short, Cassy Tefft de Muñoz, Brigitte Morin, Mary Jennings, Rachael Hathcoat, and Adrienne Minerick are among Michigan Tech leaders who inspire inclusion and innovation across campus and community.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating the changemakers and thought leaders across Michigan Tech’s campus who have made a powerful impact on the University’s past, present and future by creating environments where innovation can happen.

They are the leaders willing to dig into the data, dive into complex challenges and navigate the difficult but necessary conversations required to keep Tech moving forward.

In keeping with the 2024 National Women’s History Alliance theme, "Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion,” we asked some of our most outstanding equity advancers, bias eliminators and allyship advisors for their perspectives on the theme as it applies to our work here at Tech. Here’s what they had to say:

Cassy Tefft de Muñoz, Executive Director, Center for Educational Outreach

Cassy Tefft de Muñoz, Executive Director, Center for Educational Outreach is one of Michigan Tech's inspiring thought leaders.
Cassy Tefft de Muñoz says the students she's worked with over the years have been valuable teachers.

“I was a first-generation college student without a traditional family support system. This topic is so important to me. For me, advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion is about access and equity. Much of my work focuses on helping underrepresented students both discover opportunities available to them and feel like they are worthy of realizing them. My passion is primarily in working with young people to see that Michigan Tech is a place where they can create their own identity and journey regardless of any barriers they perceive. 

“So many people were influential in showing me how and why it’s important to advocate. My first professional mentor was Dar Morris (formerly Dar Slade), but I think I have learned the most from the many students I have worked with over the years, especially underrepresented and people of color, from youth to graduate students. Their stories always offer a chance to learn from and demonstrate compassion for the human experience.”

Adrienne Minerick, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Director of ADVANCE at Michigan Tech

Adrienne Minerick, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Director of ADVANCE at Michigan Tech is one of Tech's inspiring thought leaders.
Adrienne Minerick says it's important to meet her students where they are.

“Imagine how much more knowledge the human race would have accrued by this point in time if 100% of the population had been encouraged and provided similar support and resources to achieve their full potential. Equity is the future; the world urgently needs all creative problem solvers. In academia, our job is to develop and graduate as many of these individuals as possible — regardless of their background or identity. 

“This means advocating for each and every one of my students by meeting them where they are, demonstrating that I believe in their ability to get to the next level, and pushing them to try new things and face new challenges. 

“This means taking the risk to openly acknowledge bias and offer educational perspectives in mixed company, banking on the good intentions of so many people in academia to do what is best for each and every student. Sometimes this means openly acknowledging that the status quo is making an assumption that perpetuates disadvantage for people with certain life situations or backgrounds. 

“This means putting in time above and beyond the traditional faculty role to lead cross-cutting efforts that create the same infrastructure and experience for everyone — and better positions every individual to be as successful as possible. The other way of saying this is ‘eliminating the hidden gotchas.’ Our ADVANCE team launched a new era at Michigan Tech for faculty through the Early Career Management and Advanced Career Management committees. 

“This means listening and putting aside my own ego when someone voices that something I said or did harmed or hurt them.”

Paige Short, Associate Director of Operations, Office of Diversity and Inclusion

Paige Short, Associate Director of Operations, Office of Diversity and Inclusion is one of Michigan Tech's thought leaders.
Paige Short says active listening and relationship building are the keys to progress.

“There are people who go above and beyond in small ways, who plant a seed that never stops growing in us and urges us to give back. My high school guidance counselor paid for my college application fees, without which I could not have applied, been accepted and received my degree. By removing that barrier, tiny to her and massive to me, she changed my life.

“For me, advocating for inclusion means understanding two things: active listening is the best skill anyone can have, and building relationships is the key to real progress. This work has nothing to do with ideology and very little to do with politics. At the end of the day, we’re all neighbors who bring the benefit of our lived experiences and perspectives to each conversation. Every day, I work with people across the University to help the institution create a climate in which people matter and can thrive. Every person has something to contribute toward making our community more inclusive. Strong communities thrive when we’re all working toward something together while celebrating the unique journeys that brought us here. It’s about feeling valued for who we are, not just what we achieve.”

Mary Jennings, Director of the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts

Mary Jennings, Director of the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts is one of Michigan Tech's inspiring thought leaders.
Mary Jennings says advocating requires intentional use of positional power.

“At the Rozsa, we established four core operating values that are shared amongst our staff, and they influence how we make decisions and do our work. These values are responsibility, accessibility, dignity and joy. They influence how we treat colleagues, collaborators, volunteers and guests. They inform the purchases we make, the policies we put in place and the myriad of ways we show up professionally in our unique roles. Each one of these core values has a direct relationship with equity, diversity and inclusion, which is to say, DEI is foundational to all of the work done at the Rozsa. 

“Advocating for DEI means first doing the work to understand what these concepts mean personally and socially. In a leadership role, advocating for DEI means using your positional power to question whether the processes or systems currently in place were built in ways that reinforce exclusionary or inequitable practices, and then taking the time to intentionally build new systems rooted in DEI concepts. Embracing DEI not only strengthens an organization’s decision-making abilities but also enhances innovation, creativity and overall performance throughout departments, offices and companies. Ultimately, integrating these values into professional environments cannot just be a moral or personal choice, but should be viewed as a strategic imperative for building sustainable growth and innovation into your professional operations.

“I’ve been fortunate to be exposed to strong, dynamic leaders throughout my career — people who believed in me and gave me opportunities to be at the table, grow, try and sometimes fail at different stages of my professional journey. Some of these people have been supervisors or leaders within their own organizations, and some are industry colleagues doing exceptionally important, impactful work without leadership titles or corner offices. Because of these people, I’ve experienced the power of being granted access and inclusion, and I’ve learned that access, when given without intention, can perpetuate exclusionary and harmful cycles that are detrimental to organizations and communities. The higher up you go in an organization, the more intentional you need to be with embedding equitable decision-making practices into your operations, especially when it comes to decisions around access to power and resources.”

Rachael Hathcoat, Student and Multicultural Student Success Coordinator

Rachael Hathcoat, Student and Multicultural Student Success Coordinator is one of Michigan Tech's inspiring thought leaders.
Rachael Hathcoat says helping students recognize their strengths makes it easier for them to address challenges.

“As a student, my role is to listen, learn, and gain greater understanding. There’s such a rich, deep wellspring of knowledge to learn from that stems from different cultures. Since my research focuses on vulnerability in hip-hop as a way to create change and community, I’m fortunate for the opportunity to grow, learn and be influenced by pioneers such as bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Franz Fanon and James Baldwin, to name a few. I think it’s important to remember that for many folks throughout history, including women and people of color, education wasn’t accessible or available to them. And it’s imperative that we keep in mind that these issues continue today for many students. For those who have broken through systemic barriers for their education, educational spaces aren’t always the most inviting or welcoming. That’s why it’s so important to remember that barriers and challenges still exist for folks, and each one of us can be a catalyst for creating change, whether as a student, faculty or staff member.

“I’m so fortunate to be able to promote equity, diversity and inclusion in my role as a multicultural student success coordinator in the Center for Diversity and Inclusion here at Michigan Tech. For me, that means making sure our students feel like they belong, that they don’t have to prove their self-worth as a Michigan Tech student. In my experience, what that usually looks like is reframing students’ perspectives. Once a student realizes their strengths, how far they’ve come in their journey, what obstacles and barriers they’ve already overcome, the challenge they're facing at the moment becomes much more manageable. 

“When asked if there is someone in my life who was influential in showing me how and why it’s important to advocate for equity, diversity and inclusion, Dar Morris immediately comes to mind. She’s such a strong and powerful force within our community. What impresses me most about Dar is her quiet persistence in creating change. She consistently shows up for folks in seemingly small ways that make a huge impact. She’s a changemaker, no doubt, but does so with such humility and grace, and no fanfare. She has an internal and external beauty that shines and lights up a room when she smiles. Dar reminds me that kindness is contagious, and sometimes all it takes is a smile.” 

Brigitte Morin, Associate Teaching Professor of Biological Sciences

Brigitte Morin, Associate Teaching Professor of Biological Sciences is one of Michigan Tech's inspiring thought leaders.
Brigitte Morin says her students motivate her to create spaces where everyone can be successful.

“I have been surrounded by phenomenal educators at every single stage of my academic career who showed me why being a strong voice for equity, diversity and inclusion was important. From my parents, who both worked in K-12 education their whole lives and demonstrated what it meant to really care about their students’ futures, to my to absolute rock star middle and high school teachers, who were strong female voices of encouragement and role models during my most formative years, to my professors and instructors at Michigan Tech, who challenged me to question everything and never settle for less than I deserve, the most influential people in my journey have always been those who have a passion for breaking down barriers and creating more opportunities for future generations. And of course, my students have always been a motivating factor for my actions. Interacting with each of them and hearing their stories fuels my fire for creating a space where everyone has an equal opportunity for success.

“I have the opportunity to interact with students in meaningful ways all day, every day. My job requires that I create content for students to engage with on multiple levels, often for a large audience (my Human Anatomy & Physiology II class is one of the biggest in Biological Sciences). Obviously course material is a major driver, but with every lesson, I can challenge students in the context of our classroom. For example, we investigate why maternal mortality in the United States is so high, particularly for women of color. Not only is that question important for future health professionals to consider, it also correlates directly to the human body content we’re learning. I feel it’s my responsibility to give students the whole story, and allow them to consider what they’re learning on multiple levels, from scientific concepts to social and economic influences. 

“In the microcosm of my classroom, I also make it a priority to ensure my students feel seen, heard and respected. I try to create a classroom environment where everyone knows they belong, that their thoughts and reflections are valid, and that their individuality is celebrated. I do my best to be my authentic self whether I’m in front of the class or working one-on-one with a student, in hopes that they feel comfortable doing the same. I want my students to be as successful as they can be, and that the only concern they have on their minds is learning the content, not whether the instructor or their peers are going to question their pronouns. My position gives me the ability to shape the dynamics of the classroom, and I push myself to create a space where everyone can be themselves.”

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.