Here’s Your Sign

The times they are a-changin’. How can you tell? Here’s your sign: For most of the 105 years it’s been in existence, the Cincinnati-based publisher ST Media Group International was simply a publisher of a trade magazine about the sign industry. Signs of the Times was its name. Those days, though, are long gone. Now, the company has evolved into a multimedia, high-tech, multiplatform communications firm, and Tedd Swormstedt is leading the transition.

“We’re not just about magazines anymore,” says Swormstedt. “That’s just one piece of it. We’re about books and a wide variety of media, whether it’s the web, the iPad or tomorrow, whatever. We publish in whatever platform the readers require.”

Swormstedt joins every other publisher in the country trying to make the transition, only his has something extra riding on the outcome—the family name. Swormstedt is the third-generation family member to run the company, something, he says, he never really intended to do. Educated as an engineer, he spent his time working for General Electric until he realized he could have more of an impact helping the family business.

“At that time I realized I wasn’t going to be Mr. G or Mr. E and that it might be a good switch to get into something where I could have more influence and play a bigger role,” he says.

So he joined the family business in 1990, two years before earning his MBA from Xavier and just as new media was making its way into the market. Under his direction, the company’s communications vehicles now include traditional print, web, email, social media and mobile devices like the iPad. ST publishes nine specialty trade magazines and associated digital communications that serve the graphics and visual markets industry, mostly in retail, hospitality and package design. The company also organizes related trade events.

All of which, of course, are signs of the times.

Amy’s Attitude

Amy Waugh is all about challenges. As a youngster, she would pick up her basketball, head outside to the driveway and take on her two older brothers, who found great pleasure in blocking her shots and pushing her around. Her only recourse: outsmart them by developing a shot and a game they couldn’t stop. She did.

As a player for Xavier in the early 2000s, Waugh was sidelined by a tendon injury during her sophomore year. The normal recovery time for that injury was nine and a half months. She couldn’t wait that long. Her only recourse: outwork the expectations. She did, coming back in three months. “I had to be kicked out of the training room,” she says.

As a senior, ESPN invited her to participate in a three-point shooting competition at the men’s Final Four. She beat seven other women to be the female champion and then faced men’s champion Darnell Archey of Butler University for the title. Her only recourse: outcompete him. She did, taking home the title of nation’s best three-point shooter.

And it’s precisely that kind of determination and attitude that propelled her to earn her place last spring as Xavier’s new women’s basketball coach. The 2003 graduate became Xavier’s sixth head coach and its first alumna.

But it’s also precisely that kind of determination and attitude she’s going to need as she walks onto the court this fall, still in the shadows of Kevin McGuff, who in his nine years as head coach developed Xavier into a widely recognized, nationally competitive program. Combined with what Melanie Balcomb accomplished before him, Xavier fans have grown accustomed to winning teams and now expect nothing less than titles and tournaments from the program.

Waugh, though, just shrugs and smiles with the confidence of someone who’s been in the pressure position before. And she has. As a sophomore under Balcomb, Waugh led Xavier to a record-breaking 31-3 record and the school’s first appearance in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. In 2010, she helped Xavier reach its second Elite Eight appearance as an assistant under McGuff, who was Waugh’s coach her senior year and brought her back as one of his assistants in 2009.

 

It’s unlikely, though, that any outside pressure could top what Waugh already feels internally. “The expectations we have for ourselves,” she says, then, hesitating for a moment, restates her comment, “We’re determined to continue the program at the level it is right now. We just lost two All-Americans and WNBA draft picks in Ta’Shia Phillips and Amber Harris. The team is determined to prove that the program can still play at a high level. I’m excited about it. We have a huge challenge in front of us, but we’re going to work hard and put in the time and get where we want to be.”

While it’s impossible to replace players like Phillips and Harris, Waugh’s brought in two new players—a freshman and a junior college transfer—to complement her three seniors. And six of her 12 players are more than 6 feet tall.

She smiles at the prospects such a roster provides. “I know what it takes to be successful here,” she says.

Wiley for her 29 years, she also knows it takes more than big players. It takes brains on the bench and a fire in the belly as well. And that she can provide. Guaranteed.

“I’ve always been very competitive,” she says. “I like it when people tell me I can’t do something. It’s even more motivating.”

Just ask her brothers.

Model of Optimism

Michael Blabac has an incredibly optimistic outlook. He also has a pretty decent wrist shot. And together, they’ve helped him get through a life that would crush most people. They’ve also helped Blabac mine some Olympic gold.

Growing up in Buffalo, Blabac spent his life as a diehard hockey fan, following the city’s NHL team, the Sabres, and taking to the ice for his own games. However, what Blabac has in enthusiasm he’s always lacked in health. Stricken early with juvenile diabetes, he’s been plagued with health problems, including temporarily losing his sight just as he was getting ready to start at Xavier.

“I woke up one morning and couldn’t see,” he says. “The doctors assumed it was related to the diabetes and that it would go away in four or five weeks. The first weeks at Xavier were difficult. I don’t know how I did it.”

After graduating in 1998 with a degree in political science, he got a job as a lobbyist for a health organization in Washington, D.C. However, he was forced to go on long-term medical disability after a year when doctors discovered he also had multiple sclerosis. “It was a dark period,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of doors slammed in my face. My life is a model of it. But when doors close, windows open.”

The window, it turns out, overlooked a hockey rink. One of Blabac’s contacts told him about sled hockey, a Paralympic sport for amputees and others with significant mobility issues.

It didn’t take long before Blabac’s talent and determination were discovered. In 2006, he was tapped to join the U.S. Paralympics Sled Hockey National Team, which won a gold medal at the Paralympic Games in Vancouver last year.

But fate always tests Blabac. Now 37 years old, the damage to his central nervous system from MS is permanent and progressive and has made it impossible for him to continue playing at that level. So he became an assistant coach for the U.S. National Junior Sled Hockey Team and speaks at schools and businesses, offering guidance and inspiration to others with handicaps.

“Doors close; windows open,” he says. “Never give up. You have to open your eyes and be ready for the next thing, even if it’s not what you expected.”

Help for Humans

Tammy Wynn was driving to a crematorium to retrieve her father’s remains in 2004. En route, she was praying and reflecting on her father’s life when her thoughts shifted to her beloved cat, Cagney, who died a year earlier. While she found plenty of support during her father’s death, she had to suffer through Cagney’s death all alone. Pet owners, she thought, could benefit from the same kind of hospice-style care provided to humans and the families of their terminally ill loved ones.

“Home hospice on the human side was so amazing,” she says. “I realized how amazing it would be to have the same service for pets and their owners.”

Wynn, a licensed social worker with a master’s degree in hospital and health administration from Xavier, soon took a job at Hospice of Cincinnati to learn more about the end-of-life care business for humans and also began taking classes to become a registered veterinary technician. With that knowledge, she opened Angel’s Paws, a hospice-style pet loss counseling and cremation business in Cincinnati, last year.

Wynn serves any type of animal-—her most exotic pet clients have included a monkey and an African gray parrot. No matter what the animal, she admits it’s tough when they die.

To help, she offers some helpful tips:

1. Cuddle something furry.

2. Cry.

3. Do something. Focus on a task so you don’t dwell on the loss.

4. Count your blessings. Good things are still happening in your life.

5. Eat something. Grief burns energy and you need fuel.

6. Avoid irrevocable decisions. If you can’t stand the sight of your pet’s toys, don’t throw them away. Put them in a box out of sight.

7. Think of the special moments shared with your pet, not its final moments.

8. Be honest with yourself. Losing a beloved pet is a big loss. You’re not weak, crazy or overly sentimental to feel sad.

9. Make a decision to work through your grief. You can’t control whether or not you grieve, but you can decide whether you let grief control you.

From Paper to Politics

Tom Niehaus, it seems, has lived two lives. The 60-year-old New Richmond, Ohio, resident lived first the life of a lowly newspaperman. Then, in January, he was sworn in to the lofty position of president of the Ohio State Senate. A steep climb.

Niehaus’ ascent began at a weekly Community Press chain in Cincinnati, starting on the production staff and working his way up to reporter, editor, managing editor and eventually publisher. “I remember going to an annual editors meeting for Suburban Newspapers of America,” Niehaus says. “It was in Pittsburgh. I said to someone, ‘Where do the publishers go?’ The publishers went to Hawaii, and I said, ‘I want to be a publisher.’ ” Niehaus didn’t waste time. He caught the eye of the chain’s general manager, who created a management-training program that gave him the chance to learn every aspect of the newspaper publishing business.

Along the way, he earned an MBA from Xavier and crossed paths with former state Sen. Rose Vesper who helped him launch his political career, which began with election to the Ohio House of Representatives in 2001. He served two consecutive terms before earning a seat in the State Senate in 2005. He was chosen by his caucus colleagues to serve as president after he won reelection last fall and Republicans regained majority control.

Niehaus has since won recognition from his former media pals as well. Columbus Monthly magazine ranked him the best listener in the legislature and one of the 10 most effective legislators. So how did he become such a good legislator? By being a good reporter. “The newspaper experience was very helpful in terms of learning how to listen and ask questions, knowing where to go to get information and challenging people to defend their positions,” he says.

Engineering a Career

Linda Bridwell’s career as a civil engineer took root as a child—in the backyard sandbox and on family vacations. “As a little girl I spent a lot of time in the sandbox building roads,” she says. “My dad was an engineer. On vacations he liked to take us on side trips to see new bridges and roads.”

The extra sightseeing paid off for the whole family. Not only did Bridwell and two of her sisters pursue a career similar to their father’s, but Bridwell also was honored with the Robert M. Gillim Professional Recognition Award from the Kentucky chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers earlier this year. She’s the first woman to receive the lifetime achievement award in its 45-year history. Her father received it 20 years earlier.

“I joked that I wasn’t old enough to receive the award,” the 44-year-old Bridwell says. Her crowning achievement—to date—has been a new water treatment plant outside Carrollton, Ky. The $163 million facility, which took 20 years to get regulatory approval, supplies up to 20 million gallons of water a day to the Lexington area. “Dad says he would have shown us more bridges and roads if he had known we were all going to be engineers,” she says.

Bridwell has no regrets on her career choice, although she considered switching to finance after earning her MBA from Xavier in 2000. “Engineering is a pretty fun profession for anyone,” she says. “It’s especially fun for girls. There is a lot of flexibility and opportunities, if you have the abilities.” She’s been trying to plant the seeds in her own daughter’s mind but, so far, the 5-year-old remains set on becoming a veterinarian. “Katie recently asked me what engineers do, and I told her we play in the dirt all day. She said, ‘I don’t want to get dirty, Mom.’ I’ll keep working on her.”

Letters of Inspiration

Nobody writes letters anymore, right? It’s an email or cell phone call or posting on Twitter. Heck, people don’t even scribble personal messages on Christmas cards anymore.

Perhaps, then, that’s why the letters the students of the Summer Service Internship Program receive are so special. They’re personal. They’re thankful. They’re unexpected. And they’re from John Pepper, the former chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble. Letters from one of the most powerful business leaders in the world don’t just arrive in the mailbox every day. At least not for most people. But for the interns, they’re one of the surprising benefits of the program.

Pepper has been writing the letters since coming up with the idea for the intern program and helping it get off the ground in 1995. He’s remained closely connected to the program over the years, consistently providing it financial support. Students in the program work directly for nonprofit community service organizations in Cincinnati. The goal is to raise awareness of those less fortunate while fostering among students a lifelong commitment to social justice and the betterment of society.

“It was a genius idea at the time,” says Gene Beaupré, the program’s first director. “John really believed in engaging young people in community service in Cincinnati.”

Student interns fan out across 20 different agencies, working directly with their client populations for nine weeks. The interns live together in a campus residence hall, allowing them to build their own close-knit community during the experience. Their hourly wages are paid through grants and donations procured by Xavier.

Living together gives interns the chance to share insights, reflect on their experiences and address societal issues. Weekly reflection sessions allow them to exchange stories about their experiences, pose questions and provide support for each other. Students also read articles and keep a journal during the internship to help them gain a broader understanding of the impact of their work.

The idea, of course, fits perfectly within Xavier’s Jesuit ideals of teaching its students to be men and women for others. But it does more, says Angela Gray, associate director for service and justice in the Center for Faith and Justice. “It gets those students out of the campus bubble,” she says. “It connects them to the city of Cincinnati.”

Many of the student interns do become active leaders in their communities after graduating, using their talents to address the city’s social needs.

“It’s a critical mission of the University,” says Mary Kochlefl, executive director for grants and academic assessment and planning.

And, says Gray, “I think the letters mean a great deal to the students.”

Knowing that such successful business leaders care about community service sends a powerful message.

A Sampling of Agencies Served

  • Catholic Social Services’ refugee resettlement program
  • Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education
  • Cincinnati Recreation Commission: Division of Therapeutic Recreation
  • Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati
  • Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired
  • The Drop-Inn Center Shelterhouse
  • Freestore Foodbank
  • Healthy Moms and Babes
  • Imago Earth Center
  • Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center
  • Kennedy Heights Arts Center
  • Ohio Justice and Policy Center
  • Peaslee Neighborhood Center
  • Project Connect Homeless Children’s Fund
  • Stepping Stones Center
  • Starfire Council
  • United Cerebral Palsy
  • Visions Community Services
  • Working in Neighborhoods

Profile: Desiree Demonbreun

DESIREE DEMONBREUN

Bachelor of Arts in organizational communications, 1999

Corporate Counsel, Wellcare Health Plans Inc.

Tampa, Fla.

Career Ambitions | After graduating from a high school that specialized in health sciences and engineering, Demonbreun thought she wanted to be a doctor. But the Nashville native changed direction after serving as president of the Student Government Association at Xavier. “It was that experience that really turned my attention toward the law and inspired me to go to law school.”

First at Xavier | Demonbreun was the first African-American woman to serve as president of the SGA at Xavier, an accomplishment she downplays. “I didn’t plan to run for president of student government,” she says. Active in Student Activities Council and former president of the Black Student Association, she was encouraged by friends and adult mentors to run. “I think I won by 10 votes, something really minimal.”

Future Lawyer | Demonbreun says her time in student government taught her about parliamentary procedure and how policies, procedures and regulations are developed, and how to negotiate. “I learned that my perspective isn’t the only perspective,” she says. “Other people’s opinions should be taken into consideration. It truly prepared me for my profession as a lawyer.”

Corporate Counsel | As a staff attorney for the Tampa-based Wellcare Health Plans, Demonbreun focuses on employment law. Wellcare provides Medicare and Medicaid managed care plans.

Employment Law | She chose her specialty after clerking in criminal and family practices in law school. “Family and criminal law were hard on me emotionally,” she says. “With employment law, I’m dealing with the same types of issues I would have dealt with in criminal or family law. It’s one area of law where I can still impact people and change things, but I can go home at night and sleep.”

No Typical Day | “My day is never the same,” Demonbreun says. “I’m either working on an investigation, having a heated conversation with opposing counsel, in meetings or on a conference call getting facts regarding a case, counseling, traveling to an investigation, reviewing documentation or creating documentation for a case. My life operates in one of those buckets. All day. Every day.”

6 Footahs | Outside of the corporate attorney world, she finds time to stay close to a group of female friends who socialize, network and donate to charities that help women. The group of six African Americans call themselves the “6 Footahs,” a play on words that references their tall, elegant appearance. While none of them is actually 6-feet tall, each is pushing that height and is known for her stylish dress and professional demeanor. Five of the six are attorneys and one is a volleyball coach.

Setting an Example | The friends formed the Footahs to support each other and set an example for other African-American professionals. “My ethnicity matters to me because you don’t see many African-American female lawyers,” Demonbreun says. “Others are coming behind me. My presence shows that there’s a door for them. I can be a role model.”

Touch Points

When it comes to teaching with technology, Stephen Yandell is torn.

On one hand, the professor of medieval English literature embraces the traditional classroom with its face-to-face instruction and eschews recent advances in web-based curriculum. On the other, he’s intrigued by the wide variety of user-friendly technologies transforming the form, feel and delivery of higher education in today’s globally focused, Internet-dependent world.

“I have a conflicted relationship with online learning,” says Yandell. “I am both skeptical and excited about the possibilities.”

Skeptical, he says, because online classes have a tarnished reputation for being too easy. Excited because today’s technology allows for innovative and creative ways to study almost any topic.

Even medieval literature.

“There is technology that allows you to explore medieval manuscripts,” Yandell says. “It can turn the pages for you. It’s great and that’s just the beginning. I was at a conference on medieval studies, and one presenter told us how she took her students to a Second Life space where she had designed a way for them to deal with various portions of the text while forced, as an avatar character, to confront the same issues of greed that the Pardoner addresses in Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale.”

In many ways, Yandell’s love-hate relationship exemplifies the fear and fascination sweeping campus as Xavier begins to chart its path into a realm now dominated by for-profit institutions such as the University of Phoenix.

Exactly where or how Xavier positions itself is uncertain because the University hasn’t outlined a clear strategy—yet. But it’s coming. Yandell is co-leading a group studying the issue. (See sidebar.)

“It will be a serious concern for Scott Chadwick, the new provost, to put structures in place to address Xavier’s proper place in online course delivery,” says Steve Herbert, a physics professor who co-chaired the University’s search for a new provost and chief academic officer to replace Roger Fortin, who’s retiring and returning to teaching this summer. “Everyone knows this is something we have to do and that’s been reflected in the provost search, but no one has stepped up or is capable of stepping up because no one really has the power.”

[divider]ONLINE (R)EVOLUTION [/divider]

To this point, Xavier’s foray into online classes has been a random, grassroots effort. It started seven or eight years ago, with a handful of pioneering professors who experimented with online tools such as podcasts and discussion boards to reach graduate students in business and education.

Now online classes, mostly graduate level, are offered through all three colleges. Xavier also is on the cusp of a watershed event. The University is expected to unveil its first online degree—a master’s degree in Montessori education—as early as Fall 2012.

“Our direct competitors offer online degrees, so we need to get busy,” says Gina Lofquist, director for Xavier’s Montessori Education program. “It fulfills the mission and broadens Xavier’s opportunities.”

The availability of online classes at Xavier varies greatly, however, depending on demand in a particular program and the ability and willingness of faculty to make the digital leap from in-class to online.

“Every university is in a huge state of flux,” Yandell says of online curriculum nationwide. “The field of online courses has been the Wild West for many years now.”

The result will no doubt define a revolutionary change in higher education but the process is evolutionary, a phenomenon akin to other major technological advances throughout history.

“Every new technology that has come along has made educators nervous and the public, in general, starting with the printing press,” Yandell says, “and later AV technology, email and the Internet.”

As a result, Xavier and most traditional universities also offer hybrid classes that incorporate traditional classroom instruction with online components.

“Hybrid courses concede the benefit of meeting face to face with an instructor to guide students along the way,” Yandell says. “No one seems to have clear answers about what kinds of courses have proven to be best suited for online components or what steps are being taken to ensure that the same level of rigor is maintained for online and traditional classes.”

Yet the direction is unmistakable, Yandell says. “More online offerings are clearly a key direction that higher education is moving in, and it absolutely behooves us as a faculty at Xavier to address these questions right now. Putting our heads in the sand won’t do anything.”

[divider]THE NEXT FRONTIER [/divider]

Online classes have caught on at Xavier—and elsewhere—because they offer students flexibility and require nothing more than a typical PC to participate.

“The technology is cheap and accessible,” says Cynthia Kelly, a longtime nursing professor who started teaching graduate classes online two years ago. “I’m 53 years old. When I started teaching, you had to be able to write a programming language to use the technology. Now you pick and click.”

Kelly insists that today’s technology is uber easy to use, for teachers and students alike.

“You don’t have to be a techie person to use the tools,” Kelly says. “It’s really old technology. What’s new is the application.”

Online also offers universities a way to attract more and different types of students, Lofquist points out. “The rest of the world is doing it. We need to offer people options.”

The online Montessori master’s degree program is making its way through the University’s curriculum approval process and must ultimately be reviewed by the Higher Learning Commission to obtain accreditation, says Mark Meyers, dean of the College of Social Sciences, Health, and Education. Approval for a traditional program typically takes a year to 18 months, he says.

Meyers isn’t sure how long it will take to get approval for the online Montessori degree because it is the first of its kind at Xavier.

“It could get stopped for discussion at any point along the way because it is new,” he says. “It will be the pilot.”

[divider]IGNATIAN IDEALS [/divider]

Traditional public and private universities—Jesuit among them—are moving into online programs at a rapid pace, particularly in the last year. The Jesuit universities with established online degree programs include Regis in Denver, Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., and St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia.

But how does Xavier—or any Jesuit university—incorporate and protect Ignatian ideals of pedagogy with online curriculum? It’s an important consideration among most faculty at Xavier.

“If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this right,” says Elaine Crable, a veteran business professor who champions Ignatian best practices for online curriculum. “It’s not going to be a correspondence course. We’re going to incorporate the Ignatian philosophy or pedagogical paradigm into it.”

The former chair of the Department of Management Information Systems got on board with online programs several years ago.

“When we started doing this we weren’t worried about the Phoenixes of the world,” she says. “That pressure started coming in the last year with so many pop-ups. We decided it was an important addition to the MBA. Our students needed it.”

Crable, Meyers and other online proponents believe strongly in the importance of maintaining high academic standards and the Ignatian pedagogical ideals for which Xavier is known with any class the University offers.

Proponents contend that a well-structured online class can be at least as challenging—if not more so—than its traditional counterpart. Students in an online class, for example, often are required to participate “in class” by posting comments on a given topic.

“The thing about online is you can’t hide,” says Meyers, who has taught online courses in Xavier’s Department of Educational Leadership. “As an instructor, you get direct reflective evidence from individuals, even more than in a classroom. Everyone has to comment.”

At Xavier, professors choose how much or how little technology to incorporate into their classes, but the University is making it easier for instructors to make the digital leap through a rollout of Wimba, a computer-based platform for online teaching. “With Wimba, your computer is your classroom,” says Bob Cotter, associate vice president for the Division of Information Resources. “The key is that Wimba uses consumer technology. It’s Skype-like.”

[divider]CRAWL, WALK, RUN [/divider]

No matter how easy the technology is to use, using it well enough to teach effectively takes time and practice, says Roger Effron, an adjunct professor in the School of Education. Effron has taught in traditional classrooms on campus and in a host of non-traditional venues, including Cincinnati-area high schools, in Xavier’s video conferencing studio and at an off-site location in Wilmington, Ohio. Last fall, though, he ventured out even farther, teaching a class to Xavier students from his second home in Venice, Fla. Effron says he even recorded a few podcasts of his lectures while sitting poolside.

“Getting used to being an online professor is very challenging,” says Effron, who received good overall reviews from his students. “You gotta crawl before you walk and walk before you run. I experimented with a few things this year. I made lots of podcasts. Next year I will probably add Wimba.”

To be sure, just because today’s students live in the Information Age doesn’t mean they all want to take online classes. To address both needs, Xavier offers multiple traditional sections for every online version of any class. Sometimes both online and traditional versions of the same course are available during the same semester. In other cases, such as with Effron’s classes, the online counterparts are offered during alternating semesters.

Kelly, the nursing professor, says it’s easy to get hooked on the technology with a little patience and some practice. “It’s like something you didn’t know you needed until you started using it,” she says, comparing Wimba to email. “If I can do it, anybody can do it. There’s really nothing special about me other than my curiosity.”

The interest in teaching online courses varies widely among Xavier’s 318 faculty, and the extent to which an instructor uses online components also varies.

“The focus is on good teaching,” says Kandi Stinson, associate provost for academic affairs. “It’s up to the instructor how much technology to use or not use.”

“I’m looking forward to experimenting with online options,” says Yandell. “The key is using the technology where it can make a difference and meet the goals.”

Profile: Shannon Starkey-Taylor

SHANNON STARKEY-TAYLOR

Master of Education in Administration, 2008

Vice President of Services, The Children’s Home of Cincinnati

Cincinnati

Career Path | The Children’s Home is the only place Starkey-Taylor has worked since graduating from college in 1995. She started as a student intern. “On the last day of my internship, I remember thinking ‘I’m going to be back here.’ In August, I got a call. They wanted to centralize the intake process for the programs. It gave me a great overview. We had five programs at the time. I was 25 years old and new to social work. Now we have more than 20 programs and are considered a medium-size multipurpose facility.”

Career Ladder | She’s worked her way up the company ladder, and in her current role as vice president of services she oversees 70 employees, a $5 million budget and services for 3,500 children a year.

Early Starter | “My mom used to say, ‘I think you were a social worker in diapers.’ ”

Early Inspiration | Her mother was a reading specialist for Cincinnati Public Schools and her father an executive-turned-entrepreneur. “Mom also tutored kids after school. I remember there was one boy who would hide under tables. I saw a lot. My dad worked at P&G and started his own food and candy brokerage business. I get my leadership and business side from him.”

Blended Family | Another early influence was Starkey-Taylor’s immediate and extended family. She is the youngest and only biological child of her parents. She grew up with adopted siblings and frequently visited an aunt, who was a foster parent. “I grew up with this big blended family. We used to have Thanksgiving dinner with my aunt and there was always a new cousin.”

Claim to Fame | In 2001, she launched the Early Childhood Center at The Children’s Home. The Center was the first in Greater Cincinnati to incorporate features such as family rooms, natural light and soothing color palettes to create a home-like environment. The Center also offered a variety of programs under one roof devoted specifically to the care and education of young children, another innovation at the time in Cincinnati.

The Next Step | To extend the impact of the Early Childhood Center, she formed the Consortium for Resilient Young Children at The Children’s Home in 2004. The Consortium also is an innovator as the first local collaboration of experts in early childhood and mental health. It is supported by six other local agencies.

Greatest Success | “The Consortium really impacts systems. The professionals in early childhood and in mental health weren’t always working as well as possible together. The Consortium allows us to get experts together so we can improve the social-emotional skills of young people.”

Kindergarten Rejects | She came up with the idea for a consortium because she was alarmed at the preponderance of children getting kicked out of kindergarten for social-emotional development issues. “We helped bring the issue to the forefront. Social-emotional issues weren’t being carefully considered as children were getting ready to go to kindergarten. The only way to systemically make changes is through collaborations. No one agency could solve all of society’s social-emotional issues.”