2023 Women of Impact
The Women of Impact initiative, led by the Office of Research, Innovation & Impact, or RII, was created as an effort to embrace and empower women who, through their work at the University, are laying the foundation for a brighter, more equitable future. Each year, RII solicits nominations from across the University and selects 30 remarkable faculty and staff members whose expertise and recognition in their respective fields elevates the University of Arizona's status as a Research I, land-grant institution. Candidates are evaluated based on their unique skills in discovery and innovation, community impact, willingness to empower others and their commitment to the University's purpose, mission and values.
Director, School of Anthropology
Diane Austin, the director of the School of Anthropology, has been recognized for her exceptional work as a Distinguished Outreach Professor in 2008 and as a Distinguished Director in 2023 for her collaborative, empathetic and consultative leadership in the inclusive, intellectually vibrant and collegial School of Anthropology — a nationally-ranked, over 100-year-old program.
Austin has made a significant impact using her unique skillset to straddle academic and non-academic worlds, to create and apply innovative approaches to problem solving and discovery. She has nurtured relationships across boundaries and borders to demonstrate the value and efficacy of diverse and inclusive communities, coming together to identify and address grand and community-level challenges.
Her work has analyzed social effects of the offshore petroleum industry in the Gulf of Mexico. As Principal Investigator, she received the U.S. Department of the Interior Partners in Conservation Award "in recognition of outstanding conservation achievements attained through collaboration and partnership with others.” When the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in 2010, she teamed up on a longitudinal study to analyze social effects of the disaster on Gulf communities through Alabama and areas of Texas.
"Dr. Austin exemplifies university values. She leads with compassion, shows amazing integrity in her work and her approach is one of inclusivity and determination. Her desire to explore has led to important advances in the field of Anthropology," SBS Dean Lori Poloni-Staudinger said.
Associate Dean, Graduate College and Associate Professor, Department of Communication
With more than 50 scholarly publications, Pitts researches areas of interpersonal and intercultural communication and approaches the study of human interactions from a positive social scientific lens. She implements optimism in her study of human communication — asking questions like, "what is going right" and "how can we make good things even better?"
Pitts applies this unique approach to her program of research, which focuses on the ways people talk to each other as they navigate transitions in life (such as health decision-making, end-of-life and later life conversations and retirement). Currently, she is working with her doctoral students to build a grounded theoretical model of communication savoring — the "process of mindfully attending to a moment to enhance feelings of pleasure associated with that experience."
In their letter of nomination, the Graduate College commended Pitts' dedication to her work and "unwavering commitment to outstanding service for our students and wider community. This is reflected in her teaching, publications, committee service and student mentoring."
Director, School of Government and Public Policy
Edella Schlager is the director of School of Government and Public Policy and a globally recognized scholar who recently received the Elinor Ostrom Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Political Science Association in recognition of her lifetime contribution to the study of science, technology, and environmental politics. The award’s namesake was a Nobel Prize in economic sciences awardee in 2008 and the first woman to hold the award.
Schlager’s research focuses on the innovative ways people address collective action dilemmas through the creation and design of institutional arrangements. Schlager was recognized as one of the top 25 most cited scholars in the field of public policy/public administration in 2019.
Schlager has incorporated into all of her work and service the values of human dignity, treating people with respect and empowering them to make critical decisions about their own lives. She has embraced this perspective with the many students she has mentored and have gone on to successful academic careers and become exceptional mentors themselves.
In her letter of support, SBS Dean Lori Poloni-Staudinger wrote of Schlager's expertise and reputation. “Dr. Schlager and I share a discipline. She is among the most highly regarded in our field and an esteemed colleague around issues of water policy and environmental policy more generally. Her impact on the field has been immense."
Regents Professor, Department of Linguistics
Ofelia Zepeda’s career as a linguist and cultural preservationist along with her lauded poetry in English and O’odham is illustrative of the Women of Impact Award.
Zepeda is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Her early life and the loss of fluent speakers of indigenous languages in the U.S. has shaped her work deeply. Zepeda was recently named a USA Fellow by United States Artists and awarded $50,000 for her poetry, written in O'odham and English. She was a Tucson Poet Laureate (1999-2011), and for more than three decades has directed The American Indian Language Development Institute, or AILDI.
Professor Zepeda teaches Tohono O’odham language courses at the University of Arizona every semester. These courses fulfill UArizona students' language requirement and also provide a crucial source of community and mentoring to Tohono O’odham students.
In their letter of nomination, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences praised Zepeda's life-giving work in the field of Indigenous language teaching.
"Dr. Zepeda’s teaching of the Tohono O’odham language, along with her organizing of AILDI, is practically the definition of empowering others to carry lasting change forward," the letter stated. "The students who learn in her Tohono O’odham classes can go use the language in their families, work, and future parenting, and that increases usage of this endangered language."