By Phillip Milano
Start with what’s happening around you. Then look at the opportunities right next to you. Take action. Do that, and soon you’ll be happier, help your community and send your story out into the world.
That was the message Tuesday, March 26, of Dr. Edith Perez, Deputy Director of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, as she and others were honored at Jacksonville University’s 15th Annual Women’s History Month Luncheon.
“I’m honored to be recognized here, and especially I want to say to our young people, that I hope you, too, will give back to your community, today and in the future,” said Perez, who along with local journalist, breast cancer survivor and philanthropist Donna Deegan received the JU Community Woman of the Year award.
Others honored were JU Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Lois Becker (JU Woman of the Year) and JU senior Tayler Massey (the Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne Award for JU Women’s History Month Student of the Year).
New JU President Tim Cost congratulated each woman for their “extraordinary accomplishments” as they each received a special hand-blown glass artwork piece created by JU glass major Kayla Socha.
The awards this year mirrored the National Women’s History Month theme of “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).”
Event co-organizer Dr. Annmarie Kent-Willette, JU associate professor of communications, noted that the STEM fields can help women confront the challenges they face today in the work world, including the fact that 28 percent of working women earn below the poverty line, and that women today are paid just 81 cents for every dollar men are paid.
“Education is the single-most important indicator to improve the social and economic well-being of women,” she said.
Perez was honored for her game-changing work, recognized the world over, in diagnosing and treating breast cancer. In addition to her research role at Mayo, she is the Serene M. and Frances C. Durling Professor of Medicine at Mayo Medical School. Her roles extend nationally, including chairing the Breast Committee for the North Central Cancer Treatment Group, as well as other positions within the American Association for Cancer Research, the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the National Cancer Institute. Perez has authored more than 555 research articles in journals, books and abstracts.
Deegan noted that she “would not be here, or anywhere, if not for Dr. Perez’ work.” She and Perez collaborated on creating the 26.2 with Donna marathon that raises breast cancer research money.
“I would just say to you all, to always be open to things that will happen to you that are unexpected,” Deegan said. “In facing this terrible disease, I found my true purpose in life, to help others with this.”
Deegan, a three-time breast cancer survivor, is founder and president of The Donna Foundation, which funds the critical needs of underserved women with breast cancer. Her 26.2 with Donna is the nation’s only marathon distance race dedicated solely to breast cancer research and care. She is the author of “Through Rose Colored Glasses” and “The Good Fight,” whose sales help support breast cancer research and care.
Becker was singled out at JU for her work guiding JU through its reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). She was nominated multiple times by various JU faculty and staff, with endorsements by many others.
“This is a great institution, and we all need to be out front taking pride in it,” she said. “I’m so honored to be a part of this University.”
Becker began JU’s SACS reaccreditation process more than three years ago, helping it to be fully prepared with its data and statistics, according to her nominations. She shouldered much of the burden of writing the responses to the SACS standards. She is also extremely engaged with students and highly active on campus, attending many cultural, academic and sporting events.
Massey was applauded for her high level of accomplishment and engagement as a JU senior majoring in marine science. According to her nomination by Dr. Janet Haavisto, JU Director of University Honors and Enrichment Programs, Massey is “an intelligent, poised, disciplined, organized, well-rounded woman who will make the world a better place with her commitment not just to the study of marine organisms and habitats, but with her strong commitment to environmental conservation.”
Massey, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in marine biology, said afterward that she was a bit embarrassed by the award but glad to have received the recognition from JU.
“I’ve benefitted so much from this University because of its small classes and professors and students who I could always bounce ideas off of,” she said. “With all the individual attention, field trips, volunteering opportunities and more that I received here, I feel I’m well-rounded for my future plans.”
Among her activities and accomplishments, Massey will graduate with University Honors and as a Phi Kappa Phi member. She has presented her undergraduate research at a variety of venues, including at the upcoming National Council on Undergraduate Research, the Marine Benthic Ecology conference and the JU Symposium. She was an Honors Orientation Group Leader, and an Executive Board member of the Honors Student Association. In addition, Tayler has been a guiding force, worker and organizer for every Honors event since she arrived at JU, according to her nomination. She is a member of the Environmental Conservation Organization/Student Oceanic Society, Beta Beta Beta (the National Biological Honor Society), and Omicron Delta Kappa (National Leadership Society). Her volunteer activities while at JU include Dolphin Watch Research, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and Parkwood Heights Elementary School.
“Clearly, all our honorees show that if you focus on what is necessary, then on what is possible, that suddenly you will be doing the impossible,” Kent-Willette said.