Dignity & Respect winner is praised as a perfect choice


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Paula Davis has dedicated more than two decades of work to the tenets of diversity, inclusion and acceptance.

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed, as the 52-year-old Stanton Heights resident was recently recognized as a Dignity & Respect Champion of Greater Pittsburgh.

The Dignity & Respect Campaign got its start at UPMC's Center for Inclusion in 2008 and expanded to spread multicultural awareness throughout Pittsburgh.

A council selects one champion per month from a pool of nominations made by citizens. Champions are role models who embody the traits the campaign is named for, according to Bracken Burns, chair of the Greater Pittsburgh Dignity & Respect Council.

"What we're looking for is folks who are out there in the community -- not necessarily recognized leaders or elected officials, just simply a person who lives their life in an exemplary fashion day in and day out," Mr. Burns said.

In her job as assistant vice chancellor for health sciences diversity at the University of Pittsburgh, Ms. Davis works to promote diversity recruitment and cultural competency within the six schools.

Her goal is to educate health science students on various topics -- gender power dynamics, racial and ethnic diversity and lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender rights -- to prepare them to care for patients of all backgrounds.

"We're mostly concerned with the students. We want to make sure they are aware of their own thoughts, feelings and biases, because we all carry them," Ms. Davis said.

While completing an undergraduate degree in English and a master's in communication at the University of Pittsburgh, Ms. Davis worked in the university's learning skills center. She "fell in love" with the opportunity to help students succeed and has worked in education ever since.

She has held various positions at the Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University in admissions, financial aid, minority affairs, academic advising and alumni programming.

In addition to her daily duties, Ms. Davis co-teaches anti-bullying classes once a semester for Pitt's faculty and staff development program. She also sits on committees at UPMC and the North Side Christian Health Center.

In her free time, she mentors teenagers in the Big Brothers Big Sisters and Smart Futures programs.

While Ms. Davis thinks her work is rewarding, she doesn't hesitate to name her children as her proudest achievement.

Kathryn, 20, is a gifted student in Carnegie Mellon's mechanical engineering program. Jason, 18, is autistic and enrolled in Point Park University's City Connections program. It was a "balancing act" making sure both her children's needs were met as they grew up, but she couldn't be happier with the people they have become.

"I'm very, very proud of what my husband and I have been able to do to support our kids," she said.

Ms. Davis was nominated as a Dignity & Respect Champion by her colleagues at the Office of Health Sciences Diversity, Mario Browne and Quinten Brown.

Mr. Browne, office director, said Ms. Davis is "a natural" at her profession.

"She epitomizes or embodies what it means to be an advocate of diversity and inclusion. She treats everyone the same," he said.

Ms. Davis will be recognized at the Dignity & Respect Council's annual celebration Oct. 2.

neigh_city

Emily Petsko: epetsko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1468.


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