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Power in participation: Liza Reed

‘Why not me?’ Liza Reed asks herself, leading to a fulfilling role on the alumni board.

Someone else recognized Liza Reed ’06, ’10 MS would make a great addition to The Ohio State University Alumni Association Board before she saw that potential in herself. It wasn’t that Reed didn’t love her alma mater and want to serve. She just knew there were many deserving candidates among the more than 550,000 Buckeye alumni. “I could have missed this opportunity because in my head I was thinking, ‘Why me?’ instead of, ‘Why not me?’” she says.

That mindset — “Why not me?” — now permeates her personal and professional pursuits, including her ongoing work as a doctoral student in engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. It also drives her efforts on the alumni association board, especially in leading the nominating committee to fill three open seats.

“We’re all on the board to help the alumni association. We ask all applicants, ‘What should we be doing?’ We always want to be improving and to be honest with ourselves about areas where we need work, like diversity and inclusion. It’s important that we are not afraid to talk about gaps and how we are trying to address them. Always asking for more and better — that’s the only way we’re going to do more and be better.”

What’s your Ohio State story?

Every new experience gives me a different perspective on my Ohio State story. I grew up in Rhode Island, where everything was small, and I didn’t want small anymore. I took a tour of campus on the hottest day in August and still wanted to come! I knew I would never run out of people to meet and friends to make. That was my first story.

I got a full scholarship, and that was a huge part of making that decision even easier. That had a major impact on how I would engage with the university and still does. I didn’t realize then just how much that money changed my life. H.F. Krimendahl III funded my scholarship. He was an incredible man, and I met him multiple times, so as a student I was talking to donors and experiencing the impact alumni donors have on the university. When I graduated, that stuck with me. I changed my major as a student, and I didn’t realize that some students could not do so as easily since my scholarship had no departmental restrictions. I left math because I loved engineering, and I got to build a robot and design systems. I loved being part of a team working on real solutions. 

I met Patty Cunningham when I was a first-year student. She was a huge part of bringing me into different parts of the university and getting me involved in Student Life in general. She was the one who really made me aware of what diversity and inclusion means to people — not just as a broad concept or value. It’s not just representation. It’s how people feel they do or don’t belong and how both people and institutions impact that. Patty was a force; she didn’t mess around and did not apologize for always asking more of people, for wanting them to be better. (Patty Cunningham, a three-time Ohio State graduate who served as the university’s director of social change, passed away in 2017.) 

In the years since, I have moved to Virginia and back to Ohio. My husband, Brad, and I met here, and both of us are always changing how we engage with the university and the alumni association based on what we see as the most important issues at the moment. I love the university and always want more and better for it and our alumni.

Why did you decide to serve on the board?

I didn’t apply originally because I assumed I was too young, but then Student Life recommended me, and that was the push I needed. Then I applied and really started thinking about what it would mean to serve on the board. We want the university to constantly change and grow, and we should be changing and growing ourselves. I try to be a vocal advocate for Ohio State and what it can do for graduates and for the community, and serving on the board was an opportunity to have that impact. 

What’s it like leading the nomination process and helping to select new board members?

It’s awful! I’m kidding, but it is challenging, because we have an incredible, passionate group of alumni. We had 44 candidates, and we had to pick three. I am amazed at where they come from and what they have done. I am incredibly excited at what they are bringing to our board and our alumni. At the same time, there were valuable skills and experiences in all of our applicants. I had a great committee to work with and am super excited about the three who are joining the board because of the very different paths they have taken and the leadership experience they bring. (Read about new board members Margery Harris, Mark Eppert and Matthew Hall and the nomination process for future openings.)

What’s your advice for alumni who want to get involved, connect or reconnect with the university and the association?

Students find their passion here because we literally do it all. It also means that anything an alum wants to do, we can do, too. We have clubs, Pelotonia, scholarships that need support, educational forums and so much more. If you can’t find a club or society that’s a good fit for you, check with your college or department. If you’re passionate about something, whatever it is, people here want to find ways for you to be successful. I know because I have lived it.

I was at a board meeting a few years ago and heard a presentation on the Ohio Scholarship Challenge. (The challenge included a university match for scholarships funded at a minimum of $100,000 and agreed upon before June 30, 2016.) I was thinking, ‘This is not relevant to me because I don’t have a lot of money, so what impact can I have?’ Then I realized this was a barrier only in my mind. I can’t give $1 million or even $50,000, but over a five-year period, I knew Brad and I could give $10,000. My original goal was to find nine more people and each of us would give $10,000.

Our development team was supportive, but knew it would be hard, and they were right! We ended up bringing together four donors and then doing a broad matching campaign to reach the $100,000 goal, so it was a double match: first from the four donors and then from the university. The Ohio Scholarship Challenge was a strong motivator. It was our university agreeing to be our partner. And our students can take the scholarship with them to any department. It connects to them and changes their lives by removing burdens so they can make the right choices for themselves.

Article by: Dan Caterinicchia, chief communications officer for The Ohio State University Alumni Association and Office of Advancement.