May 05, 2006

Two named Women of Distinction at SIUC

by K.C. Jaehnig

 CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Two Southern Illinois University Carbondale women will be cited as Women of Distinction at a reception honoring them Thursday, May 11, at the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center. Each will receive a commemorative plaque.

The designation, awarded annually by the SIUC University Women's Professional Advancement office, recognizes women who have demonstrated leadership, vision and action in their profession and a sustained commitment to diversity and who have served their university and community well.

This year's faculty honoree will be Murphysboro native Karen S. Renzaglia, director of the McNair Scholars Program and an assistant professor of plant biology.

The administrative/professional honoree will be Huntingburg, Ind., native Katherine L. "Katie" Sermersheim, director of student development.

Renzaglia, a faculty member since 1995, specializes in the development, systems, classification and evolution of mosses, liverworts, hornworts, ferns and horsetails. She is, in fact, an "international star" in this area, with 20 years' worth of "benchmark" contributions to the field, according to botanist Jeffrey G. Duckett, former dean of science at the British Queen Mary, University of London.

In a letter supporting her nomination for the distinction award, he wrote, "I think that she is now the pre-eminent world authority on the developmental cell biology and phylogeny of these lower land plants. There is no other living botanist with such a wide-ranging understanding of the early stages in land plant evolution."

Both Duckett and Daniel L. Nickrent, a plant biology professor at SIUC, mentioned Renzaglia's involvement in the "Tree of Life" project, a $17 million map of the evolutionary history of all Earth's species, funded by the National Science Foundation. Renzaglia is one of nine lead scientists involved in tracing cell-level changes in primitive land plants.

"To say that she is heavily involved…is very much an understatement," Duckett wrote. "She has an absolutely pivotal role in providing the morphological expertise essential to interpreting molecular data."

Calling her one of the superstars in the botanical disciplines, Nickrent wrote, "Karen's research represents a research cornerstone in that she is a major contributor of original morphological, anatomical and developmental data. Her ultrastructural research results have provided essential data towards understanding the phylogeny of many of the branches of the green plant tree."

Nickrent and SIUC colleague Andrew J. Wood both noted that Renzaglia had served, in Wood's words, as "the driving force behind an impressive suite of critical initiatives" aimed at bringing young people of both genders with differing racial, ethnic and class backgrounds into the academic fold, both as students and as future scientists, researchers and professors.

Summing up the qualities that made her a woman of distinction, Wood wrote, "She is a scientific pioneer with an impressive international reputation, an accomplished writer and author, an innovative leader and administrator, an inspiring teacher, and a dedicated and generous mentor to all her students."

Renzaglia is a three-degree graduate of SIUC, earning her bachelor's in 1975, her master's in 1977 and her doctorate in 1981. She is the daughter of Murphysboro residents Guy A. and Betty J. Renzaglia (325 Lake Drive) and is married to (Larry) Wayne Womac. The couple lives in Carbondale (330 Thunderstorm Road).

Sermersheim has worked in student development at SIUC since 1996. Hired by Jean Paratore, now retired from her position as associate vice chancellor for student affairs, Sermersheim showed a great deal of energy, intelligence, passion, commitment and humor right from the start, Paratore wrote in a letter supporting Sermersheim's nomination.

"Whether she is interacting with … students as they learn the skills necessary for leading a student group or student government, she does so with sincerity, care and, at times, compassion. Students know that she will support them and do all she can to help them succeed in whatever they are doing. They also know, however, that she will not overlook or ignore problems when they occur."

Sermersheim manages one of the most highly organized and well-run units in her division, encouraging productivity and creativity and supporting those with whom she works, Paratore wrote.

Carl W. Ervin, coordinator of Multicultural Programs and Services, described Sermersheim as a workshop facilitator, a conflict mediator and the "'go to' person for students needing help." He noted that she had helped set up internship opportunities for students in his area.

Sermersheim also supported adding to the commemorative history months already celebrated by the University months to honor contributions by both women and people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual. In addition, she worked behind the scenes to make sure that all commemorative months received funding.

Summing up, he wrote, "Her efforts played a significant role in the success of numerous MPS programs and initiatives. We would not have succeeded without her assistance and support."

Sermersheim earned her bachelor's degree in 1989 from the University of Southern Indiana, her master's in 1991 from Western Illinois University and her doctorate in 2002 from SIUC. She is the daughter of Huntingburg residents Jerry E. and Rita M. Sermersheim (4895 W. 750 S.) and lives in Carbondale (1220 W. Chautauqua).

Serving others is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.

Karen S. Renzaglia

Karen S. Renzaglia
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Katherine L. Sermersheim

Katherine L. Sermersheim
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