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Woman of the year finds 'home away from home'

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September 30, 1998

By Sabryna Cornish

Gwendolyn Duffin has spent most of her life trying to make things better for others, especially women and young people.

"Once we believe 100 percent that we have done everything possible and gone that extra mile, it is only then that I feel we've done our share," she said.

It is that kind of caring that earned her the 1998 UIC Woman of the Year Award, the first time the award has been given to a support staff employee.

Duffin, departmental information supervisor in the Urban Health Program, was chosen from among 17 nominees for the award, given annually by the Chancellor's Committee on the Status of Women.

Duffin's accomplishments include service on committees where she not only influenced policy, but made sure it was implemented.

She has served on the Chancellor's Committee on the Status of Women since 1990.

The committee was created to improve the status of women at UIC by advising and making recommendations to the chancellor on attitudes, policies and procedures that affect women on campus.

Duffin was involved in the committee's work on the campus sexual harassment policy.

She attended Leadership Illinois, a statewide conference, and came back with the idea of the Faculty Mentoring Program.

One thing she has learned from serving on those committees throughout her 18-year career at UIC: there are a number of people who leave work feeling unappreciated. If those people are encouraged, they will learn to put more into their job and the university, she said.

"We need to offer words of encouragement to those we come in contact with," she said.

Duffin said she sees the university as "a home away from home" and wants others to feel the same way."My interest is in making the university a comfortable place to live," she said.

Although Duffin believes the university has made significant steps toward equal and fair treatment of women, there still is work to be done, she said.

Career mobility and opportunities are two areas that have improved in the last few years, said Duffin, who earned a master's degree in public administration and is working toward a Ph.D. in health policy administration.

But the campus must recruit and promote more women faculty, she added.

"The university is moving toward acceptance of women in administration," said Duffin, co-chair of the minority concerns subcommittee of the chancellor's committee.

"I think there is much more that needs to be done, especially for minority women."

The selection committee for the $1,000 award included the past two winners, women's studies professor Margaret Strobel and physiology professor Kate Barany.

"Gwen stood out because she has done so much throughout the whole university," said committee co-chair Josephine Miller, associate professor of physiology in obstetrics and gynecology.

"It's sometimes hard to have the time and opportunity to influence policy.

"She is a real role model," Miller added.

Duffin, who has three children (Terrell, 23, Charay, 20, and Curtis Jr., 16), has been youth commissioner in her hometown of Country Club Hills since 1994. She is a former board member of the W.L. Jordan Community Youth Center.

"My grandparents instilled how important it is to be fair and honest and to have dignity," she said.

Duffin was honored at a reception Tuesday, where the award was presented by Chancellor David Broski.

"She stands as a strong advocate for the needs of women at UIC and especially for those women who have felt they had no voice and did not know how to bridge their education, experience and talents to get them where they wanted to be," Broski said.

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