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Desire to learn, drive to accomplish motivate Woman of the Year

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Mary Dwyer's father told her that by the time she was 21, there would be a woman president of the United States.

He may have been wrong about that, but many of the other lessons she learned from her family have proven true.

Dwyer, associate vice chancellor for research, shared some of those insights as she accepted the UIC Woman of the Year Award last week from the Chancellor's Committee on the Status of Women.

1) "You always learn from those you least expect to learn from."

2) "You must participate before you can expect anything to improve."

3) "Not to ever fail is to contribute little."

"I grew up in a family that didn't distinguish between what girls and boys can do," she said. "I was already reading about women's issues in high school."

She went to Mundelein College because it was important to her to be in the city, at a women's college.

"I thought it would encourage equal opportunity," she said.

Though she had thoughts of being an attorney, she was discouraged about pursuing a male field. Instead, she studied English and sociology, ended up student teaching and discovered she loved it.

"I liked teaching teenagers," said Dwyer. "Law school became secondary."

After graduation she taught English at three different private all-girl high schools.

"I taught at private schools because I thought I could be more creative and innovative," Dwyer said; she developed 17 different courses.

After six years, "I was ready for a new challenge," she said. She joined UIC in 1978 as an instructor in the Center for Educational Development and quickly moved up the ranks to associate director.

"I liked the place; it is constantly changing. Because of the youth, there is an acceptance of innovation.

"I always want to be in an environment that promotes change."

In 1987, she moved to the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research as assistant vice chancellor.

"I tend to move to interdisciplinary positions," said Dwyer. "I thought research was where my administration strengths could be used and it would offer the variety I like."

To keep variety in her life, Dwyer teaches a course in the Center for Educational Development, does consulting for the Kellogg Foundation and serves on many committees.

"It keeps me alive intellectually," said Dwyer of her teaching.

"It keeps me empathetic to teaching and the conditions that faculty deal with. It is important that the administration keeps up with the front line."

Until last year, she was also in the trenches with students finishing her doctorate in public policy analysis.

"Every weekend for seven years I worked on my dissertation," she said.

Her doctoral research charted the career progress of women faculty, concluding with recommendations she presented to Chancellor James Stukel.

Now she is learning to have a free weekend.

"I had to remind myself how to relax," said Dwyer.

"I learned you are not doing a favor to yourself or your organization if you work to a point where you wear yourself out."

Though she is more the type to recognize others than be recognized, Dwyer said she is honored to be named Woman of the Year.

"I am more of a behind-the-scenes person; I have never been comfortable with winning awards. I could think of a lot of women who deserve this award. It feels a little odd to be singled out."

More than 30 people wrote the awards committee in support of Dwyer's achievements, praising her integrity, fairness and willingness to take chances.

Dwyer easily fulfills the requirements for the award. Her service to women as part of her job includes working to establish the Center for Research on Women and Gender.

"It was a difficult thing to get approved because it was a center, but I don't think we were treated any differently. It required a lot of hard work."

She helped establish the Hypertension Research Center, which will focus on related health problems of women and minorities.

She's been a member of countless task forces and committees on sexual harassment, academics and curricular issues concerning women.

"It is critical that everybody be involved in governance. I was taught if you want things to change, you have to contribute. I think it is part of our responsibilities."

Though some people think committees never really accomplish anything, Dwyer disagrees.

"I am part of a committee on interdisciplinary research and it will make a difference in the way faculty receive credit for research and promote interdisciplinary research."

Being a mentor to other women is also important to Dwyer.

"I had two strong mentors who taught me that the most positive relationships are based on mutual respect. One mentor taught me that when you help others, you help yourself. He helped people at all levels."

In her UIC career, Dwyer was promoted at a young age to positions women had not previously held.

"Hard work certainly paid off," she said.

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