Scientist-turned-dean Linda Peduto Petrosino '77, M.S. '78, makes mentoring a top priority.
by Wrexie Bardaglio
A practical streak characterizes the actions of Linda Peduto Petrosino '77, M.S. '78. When she became dean of the College of Health and Human Services at Bowling Green State University in Ohio in 2002, she knew she would miss the give-and-take of the classroom. Although she was invigorated by the idea of being a dean and offering a leadership model for other women in academia, she loved interacting with students. So she set up her office on the first floor of the health center building; its window looks onto a sward of green where students congregate on balmy days to lounge or study. She had a picnic table delivered to a spot beneath her window, and when the students sit down, she is out the door. "They don't usually know who I am," she smiles, "and I get a lot of feedback about what's happening on campus."
That same practicality brought the 1974 Auburn (New York) Community College graduate to Ithaca College in her junior year. She and her husband, Robert, already had two small children, three and four years old, and Ithaca -- a 45-minute commute -- was the closest among several upstate institutions offering a major in speech pathology. Robert secured employment at IC as an electrician, working the second shift in order to care for the children while Linda attended classes. "With a couple of exceptions," she says, "my husband has been a self-employed electrician, and still is, so that I could continue my education and we could partner in caring for our family around my varied class- and school-related work schedules."
In retrospect, her decision to attend IC was not only practical, but perhaps ordained. Her great-grandmother, Emma Stimpson Pomeroy, held a position called adviser to women at the Ithaca Conservatory of Music, serving from 1912 until 1918. Later that position was known as dean of women. Emma's daughter, Hazel Pomeroy '16, Linda's grandmother, studied violin and harp at Ithaca and married Douglas Card '16, a violinist and pianist. Today Linda wears her grandmother's class ring on her little finger, a reminder of generations of family ties to the institution.
Linda Peduto Petrosino's story illustrates how one's college experience can resonate through the years. "In 1976 I was trying to figure out how to continue my education," she says. "I couldn't afford tuition and was thinking about dropping out. But getting a William Lyon Scholarship made all the difference.
"Just the other day," she continues, "I had a student in my office who was struggling to find a way to stay in school, and I really understood what she was facing. I got on the phone and contacted our financial aid people, to see what we could do. The Lyon family's scholarship made an impact on my life in more ways than they will ever know. That scholarship allowed me to stay in school, and taught me the importance of philanthropy as well."
It wasn't just the financial aid that made an impact on Linda's life. She remembers how a particular professor, Kalil "Kal" Telage, inspired her to consider advanced training. "He was kind of an accidental mentor," she says. "Of course he was my instructor. But I also learned from him the importance of scientific research and inquiry and how that informed what could be done in the classroom. I really liked that, and so I went to Walter Green, who was also a big influence on me, and asked if I could work as a research assistant in Dr. Telage's lab. We were investigating vibrotactile stimulation -- the sensitivity of feeling of the tongue -- which in fact became the major research contribution for which I am best known. The topic of our research was not the principal highlight for me, however. It was the notion that I was conducting scientific research and inquiry and beginning to think about it in the context of having my own classroom one day. In June 1978 I made a presentation at the New York State Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and the following November at the American SLHA national convention."
Telage encouraged her to pursue her Ph.D. in speech-language pathology. She was a full-time doctoral student at Ohio University, where she worked 20 hours a week as a teaching assistant, earning her degree in 1983. During that time, Linda worked with one of Telage's former professors -- Donald Fucci -- and experienced just how the gift of mentoring can give back in fruitful ways. "Beginning with Dr. Telage and continuing during a 20-year collaboration with Dr. Fucci , we created the basic instrumentation to study the tongue as a major articulator for speech, developed a valid methodology and test procedures to collect a baseline of normative data, and then used that data to make the clinical applications," she says.
After Linda earned her doctorate she became assistant professor and clinic director of the speech and language pathology program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1986, after two years in North Carolina, she joined the communications disorders faculty at Bowling Green. In 1989 she became the department's chair, which she remained until she assumed her current position in 2002.
"I never aspired to be a dean," she says, "even as I moved up through the academic ranks. But the opportunity appealed to me because I want to promote the notion of women in leadership positions. We are still way below where we should be in academia. Women need to learn to network, which can be tough if the networks are male-dominated." Although she is the only female among the deans of the six academic colleges at Bowling Green, her colleagues, she says, have welcomed her. "I am very fortunate," she comments. "I work closely with the other deans. We work as a team, in an environment of mutual respect, collegiality, and trust."
In her shift from professor to administrator, her scholarly contributions have taken on a different look. "I am no longer a laboratory bench scientist," Linda says. "I make my scholarly contributions by mentoring students and giving invited presentations about leadership, the importance of being a quality professional, and the transition from the academic to the professional life."
In other student-centered work, she established a student ambassador group of 40 students from all six colleges, who meet to talk about campus culture and often attend events together. Her goal is to provide them exposure to issues of college governance that they wouldn't otherwise have. As president of the Ohio Speech-Language-Hearing Association, she developed a plan to include students on the group's legislative council for true behind-the-scenes experience with organizational operations and governance. "I also introduced the students to other activities of the association," she says. "Each member college sends its best students to the convention, where there is special student programming including presentations and awards for the best research. We also have a scholarship program. And each year the students are invited to the annual legislative breakfast in Columbus, where they meet with legislators and learn to advocate."
Nurturing young people has been a theme throughout Linda's life. The toddlers who were her priority as she earned her undergraduate degree are now accomplished professionals in their own right. Michael, 35, a jazz musician in Brooklyn, studied in the College of Musical Arts at Bowling Green. Michele, 34, works for Viacom in New York after earning a degree from Bowling Green in popular culture.
It is clear that the genes of accomplishment weave a continuous thread in Linda's family. Perhaps one day an IC student will speak nostalgically about her great-grandmother, who left the life of a laboratory bench scientist to advocate for students, inspiring scores of young people to become leaders themselves.Photos by Chris Bell–BGSU