Lancaster – Ohio University Lancaster Health Technology Assistant Professor Debra Smith was valedictorian of the Fairfield Union High School class of 1971. Muskingum College offered her a full ride scholarship, but she was not allowed to accept it.
"My dad would not sign to accept the scholarship," said Smith. "He felt it was a waste to allow a girl to take that opportunity."
Smith was the oldest of three children and the only girl. She grew up on a farm in Rushville. Even though her father would not let her take the scholarship, she understands that was the way things were at the time.
"It was just his world view," said Smith. "I was a girl. In his opinion, I was supposed to get married and have children. There was no way I was supposed to have a career to support a family. That was a man's role."
But with the help of an advisor at Fairfield Union, Smith decided she was going to get a college degree no matter what her father thought. That is how she ended up at Ohio University Lancaster.
"There was a young, energetic student advisor at Fairfield Union. When she heard about my father's decision, she took it upon herself to get the application for the Ohio University Lancaster Charles Kilburger Scholarship," said Smith. "For probably the only time in her life, my mom misrepresented herself and signed both my mom and dad's name on the application."
Smith then went to college for two and a half years without her father knowing about it. She scheduled classes at night and worked a full-time job.
"When I told him I was attending college, he was ashamed," said Smith. "He thought it was a waste."
But she graduated in three years with a 3.98 grade point average. Smith later got married and had children. She decided she wanted to further her education. Smith applied to Ohio University's Medical School. But, they were not accepting married women at the time.
"I then started working on a degree in Physical Therapy at Ohio State," said Smith."I completed that in Minnesota after my husband got transferred, and I eventually got a master's degree in Instructional Technology and Design."
Smith worked as a physical therapist, faculty member and program director at Ohio State University Newark and Central Ohio Technical College and assistant professor of Health Technology at Ohio University Lancaster.
Smith has been named the 2013 Ohio University Lancaster | Pickerington Outstanding Alumni. She will be given the award at the 2013 Honors Convocation on May 3 at 7 p.m.
Even though her story shows her determination through adversity, Smith said she never thought she would be considered for an award like this.
"I am very humbled. Humble is not a big enough word," said Smith. "Without Ohio University Lancaster, nothing I have done in my life would have been possible. I am grateful."