“Margaret Mead once said, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,’” Darlene Scott-Scurry, director of the University of Virginia’s Office of Equal Opportunity Programs, said Friday at the annual EOP Champion Awards celebration.
This year’s event marked the sixth year of the EOP Champion Awards, which began in 2008. Seven U.Va. employees and six graduate and undergraduate students were recognized as “champions” of equal opportunity programs, whose efforts supported women, LGBT, racial minorities and the mobility-impaired.
Before presenting the honorees with a plaque and medal for their accomplishments, Scott-Scurry said being a champion is challenging. Champions “possess exceptional courage, are passionate, energetic, and fully engaged in making our learning community welcoming and inclusive,” she said.
Professor Mool Gupta of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences was named an EOP Champion for answering a worldwide call for a solar-powered wheelchair design. Gathering both undergraduate and graduate students from the mechanical and electrical engineering departments, he embarked on a journey with United Cerebral Palsy to improve the quality of life for those with cerebral palsy who are confined to wheelchairs.
Gupta took on the challenge presented by a Turkish man suffering from cerebral palsy who no longer wanted to be limited to the battery life of his wheelchair.
Scott-Scurry noted that Gupta and his student team’s work “increases the range of batteries alone in a motorized device by more than 40 percent. The chair also includes USB power outlets to charge peripherals such as cellphones, GPS navigation and tablet computers, which can further aid people with mobility disabilities as they navigate their environments.”
Gupta, in turn, credited the students’ work on the project. “It is great for students to be involved in something that adds value to the human society,” he said.
Rebecca White, director of U.Va. Parking and Transportation, sees the impact of her EOP work directly on Grounds. From serving as a University Transit System student bus driver during her undergraduate days at U.Va. to her current position, she has seen transportation become increasingly accessible for all users, saying that the transformation to accessibility has been “25 years of a way of life.”
While White boasted about the 15- to 20-year lifespan of UTS buses, she also expressed her initial fear that it would take “forever” to meet the needs of the mobility-impaired. “We were thrilled when a new option came along called a low-floor bus, which is a design where at curb-level, a ramp will come out and back in allowing people to get on the bus and just ride,” White said.
On Friday, White was honored for her most recent work, which “provides [Americans with Disabilities Act] training to Yellow Cab drivers and dispatchers who serve as the primary providers of these services to ensure that students, faculty and staff who depend upon the service will have professional and safe transport,” Scott-Scurry said. It is clear that White’s goal does not end at accessibility but aims to provide transportation that is not only a comfortable, but also a professional experience.
Joining White and Gupta was Gary Nimax, assistant vice president for compliance and enterprise risk management, who “chaired the LGBT subcommittee of the diversity council, which has worked most recently around a campaign to end the use of the ‘not gay’ chant at University athletic events as well as working to better understand the needs of the LGBT community on Grounds,” Scott-Scurry said.
Pamela Joseph, research assistant, and Tammie Shifflett, HR generalist, both of the Department of Physics, worked “to enhance employment equity in physics and to actively recruit qualified females and minorities,” Scott-Scurry said. “Pam and Tammie are proactive in their efforts to incorporate best practices in hiring and recruiting in their unit and to continually work to improve all areas of their processes.”
Alfreda Morris of University Human Resources “spearheads the HR-sponsored College Intern Program, which places undergraduate students into U.Va. departments each summer,” Scott-Scurry said. Morris’ family joined her on Friday to recognize her as “a champion of inclusion and diversity, actively recruiting students to create a diverse pool for consideration. This work helps the University build its image as an equal opportunity employer and helps U.Va. build a diversely talented pipeline,” Scott-Scurry added.
Kelley Tobler, a senior HR generalist for University Advancement, received the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award on behalf of U.Va. “This work benefits the University by highlighting the efforts being made on Grounds to promote equal opportunity, equity and inclusion to all perspective faculty, students and staff as well as encourage those who are here doing this work to continue their efforts,” Scott-Scurry said.
Nearly 200 years after Thomas Jefferson founded U.Va., “Our champions work with us and with others to help the University uphold the principle that Mr. Jefferson wrote about in the Declaration of Independence – that all men are created equal,” Scott-Scurry said during the ceremony, held in Washington Hall.