Seton Hill University’s Mary Ann Gawelek says she is driven to improve the region and to expand programming at the school, strengthening the economy and health of the region.
“I believe it’s very important for folks to care deeply about improving the quality of life in their community,” said Ms. Gawelek, Seton Hill provost and dean of faculty who was honored this month with the Community Champion Award from the United Way of Westmoreland County.
She received the award at the organization’s 2013 Leadership Thank You event at the Waterworks Pub and Banquet Complex in Greensburg.
In addressing a room full of community leaders, Ms. Gawelek, 61, of Greensburg, said the award belonged to everyone there and that she just happened to be the person in the front of the room.
Each year, the Community Champion Award is given to a volunteer who has demonstrated selfless commitment to moving the community forward and leading by example and whose efforts have made the Westmoreland County region stronger and healthier.
“Mary Ann has been a role model of the Seton Hill commitment to service, both to the university and to the community,’’ said Bibiana Boerio, the university’s interim president.
Growing up in the Cleveland suburbs and influenced by the Vincentian Sisters who taught her, Ms. Gawelek said she realized early that she wanted to help others, either though social work or education.
She credits the United Way and its partner agencies, such as the Blackburn Center Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, for actively addressing social issues in the region.
Ms. Gawelek was on the Blackburn Center’s board of directors from 1997 to 2004, serving as its president from 2001 to 2004. She was the driving force behind the Social Transformation through Awareness and Resolve Project, or STAR, a collaborative between the Blackburn Center and Seton Hill that focuses on students volunteering to take action for social change.
One way male students have supported the STAR Project was to participate in last month’s “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” in which several wore women’s high heels to symbolize the daily difficulties women face with domestic and sexual abuse.
“It’s about asking the next generation to take on this issue to end gender violence,” Ms. Gawelek said.
As a founding member and former co-chair of the United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council, Ms. Gawelek has worked on several committees and in advisory roles. She said she supports the council’s Faith in Action program to support older adults in the community.
“It really looks at what will be a key issue in women’s lives — taking care of elderly family members,” she said.
Also a member of Greensburg’s Community Development Corp., she is focusing on the city’s recovery from its economic downturn.
“Our efforts are all about strategically planning the improvement of Greensburg by addressing how to bring businesses into the community and to develop and support our health care system [Excela Health] so that it can best support the community,” she said.
She said it’s important to examine how properties requiring improvement can be effectively used. The development corporation has a storefront improvement project to assist businesses in enhancing visibility, and the organization also has recently completed a health care study to address easier access and ways to make hospital areas safe.
Ms. Gawelek has seen growth in Seton Hill’s enrollment since arriving in 1996, an increase from 800 to about 2,500 students, and also has helped develop nine academic programs.
In 2010, she was one of the groundbreakers behind Seton Hill’s initiative to provide Apple iPads to every student. She also is credited with contributing to the success of the university’s Mobil Learning @ the Hill program, which provides the academic community with the tools necessary for 24-hour engagement.
“There are many accomplishments as she is a leader in many parts of the university’s operations. Perhaps foremost among them, Mary Ann has been a driving force for use of mobile technology to enhance the learning environment, taking advantage of its benefits while remembering the most important role of the faculty: expertise and commitment to the students,” Ms. Boerio said.
Ms. Gawelek is also a professor of psychology.
“Although not an alum, Mary Ann is a true Seton Hill woman, and there is no higher praise,” Ms. Boerio said.
Laurie Bailey, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.