By George Mauzy
By launching the state's first public higher education institution, Ohio University's founders in effect created the first University System of Ohio, observed Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut, who delivered the keynote address Wednesday at the university's 25th State Government Alumni Luncheon at the Ohio Statehouse.
Launched in 1983 by Professor of Political Science Mark Weinberg, who directs the university's Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, the luncheon is intended to keep the large contingent of alumni in state government in touch with the state's first university.
Judging from the record crowd of nearly 200 alumni and friends who turned out, it's done just that. Ohio University Director of Government Relations Teri Geiger, who emceed the program, said it is hard to believe the luncheon attracted fewer than 10 people the first year.
At the luncheon, Fingerhut talked about the significance of Ohio University to higher education in the state and to USO efforts.
"Ohio University is not only the founding member of the USO," Fingerhut said, referring to its 1804 founding, "it is a leading member of the USO."
He said the university is a model for the service, collaboration and innovation the state expects from higher education institutions. The leadership of President Roderick J. McDavis and Executive Vice President and Provost Kathy Krendl in their roles with the Inter-University Council has been integral in the USO's launch, he added.
Following Fingerhut's address, Yvette McGee Brown, founder and president of the Center for Child and Family Advocacy at Columbus Children's Hospital, and State Senator John Carey Jr. received State Government Alumni Awards in recognition of their career accomplishments. The awards are presented annually to alumni who have provided outstanding service to the state of Ohio.
McGee Brown was the first African-American and second woman to serve as a Franklin County Court of Common Pleas judge and is a national voice and advocate for children's issues. A 1982 graduate, she said Ohio University taught her about hard work while giving her support and encouragement to develop her character.
"Education is nothing if it doesn't provide access to opportunity," McGee Brown said. "If Ohio University hadn't been there, I would not have had the opportunity to be who I am today."
Carey, a 1981 Ohio University graduate and chair of the Senate Finance Committee, was honored for his dedication to Ohio University and the people in Southeast Ohio. A member of the Ohio Senate since 2003, he served as mayor of Wellston and in the Ohio House of Representatives before assuming his current post.
"I'm very honored to receive this award," Carey said. "I just thank Mark Weinberg and the other professors I had as a student at OU who helped make me who I am."
Neil Clark, on behalf of the Ohio University Public Affairs Advisory Committee made up of past State Government Alumni Award winners, presented McDavis with monetary pledges (amount to be determined) to the Urban and Appalachian Scholars programs. Clark, cofounder of State Street Consultants, said McGee Brown and Carey are examples of how access to higher education can change the lives of students from urban and Appalachian areas. McGee Brown was raised in urban Columbus, while Carey grew up near Wellston.
The committee also honored Weinberg for his longtime dedication to students and alumni who work in state government, presenting him with a stained-glass rendition of the state seal. Scott Elisar, deputy legal counsel in the governor's office, followed with a proclamation from Gov. Ted Strickland that thanked Weinberg for his government affairs work in Ohio.
"I've been lucky to be linked to a wonderful institution," Weinberg said, "and it is a truly great honor to work at Ohio University."
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Updated at 9:45 a.m. May 9.