The first lesson during a roller derby “fresh meat clinic” is how to fall.
“As a kid I remember thinking that if you fell, you were a dork,” says Amy Meeks, BSJ ’13, MA ’16. “In derby, everybody falls—it’s part of the game. How fast you get back up is what matters.”
Meeks grew up mastering roller skating in Hocking County, Ohio. The skill came in handy when she joined the region’s Appalachian Hell Betties Roller Derby Team more than 30 years later.
As a blocker, Meeks helps the scorer get past the opposition’s defense. “You need to be willing to risk going down if it means your teammate gets through,” says Meeks.
When her sister Connie showed symptoms of Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD)—a disorder that took the lives of her mother and grandmother at young ages—it wasn’t a question of if Connie would need a kidney transplant, but when.
Without hesitation, Meeks was ready to “take the fall.” “Test me,” she said. And she was a match. “I didn’t ever really stop to think about it.”
Meeks had to make peace with the risks: the donation surgery could end her career as a Hell Betty. Yet, in the end, the sport was Meeks’ saving grace. Her “derby-fit” body provided a healthy kidney to her ailing sister and made for a productive and motivated recovery.
Meeks was back on the track just 12 weeks post-op, with a few cool scars to add to the team’s collection.
My greatest challenge with this assignment was getting Amy to come out of her shell. It was fascinating to watch her have more nerves about an interview than she had before a roller derby match – and I must admit I could not relate to that at all.
Derby was a sport I knew nothing about aside from an impression that it was quite brutal. It did not disappoint in that department, but during this project I also learned about the high bar for athleticism and grace required to be a savvy competitor. Developing an understanding of the rules was critical to my team’s ability to shoot good video, and trim it together with cohesion.
All things considered, this is a sport unlike any other when it comes to capturing quality video. It moves really quickly, there is no perfect vantage point, and try as you might to line up a pretty shot, wipe outs are frequent and you need to be able to get out of the way fast. It was a fun challenge to take on.
Role call: Written story by Hailee Tavoian. Written story edited by Kelee Riesbeck. Video storyboard, production and editing by Evann Figueroa and Hailee Tavoian. Photography by Ellee Achten.
The tech industry is male-dominated at best, and a chauvinist hub at worst. At least that’s what headlines churning about Silicon Valley would suggest.
“There’s a bad stigma right now in tech,” says Andi Teggart, BSJ ’11, Facebook. “My friends and I feel very lucky to work at companies that embrace diversity.”
That’s not to say that Andi, Melanie, Sarah, Courtney, Ali, and Aimee—six recent OHIO alumnae working at companies like Lyft, Facebook, and Imgur—haven’t witnessed first-hand the challenges working women face.
And yet, these women aren’t merely surviving in spite of the gender gap. They’re thriving.
How? They consistently support one another—exchanging advice, encouragement, and reality checks—and here, they share five tips that have led them to success.
1. Find a mentor.
“In every job, pick the person who you want to emulate…a woman, a man, an office dog,” says Melanie Goggins, BA ’12, Lyft. “Get close to that person, learn how they got to where they are, and express how you want to get there, too.”
For Courtney Baldasare, BSJ ’11, RSquared Communications, making connections with seasoned professionals and learning from their challenges and mistakes helps cultivate a progressive mindset.
“As women, we’re used to having to work so much harder for things that are just awarded (to men) in our industry,” she says. “I work at a company made up of very intelligent, strong, well-spoken, experienced women in this field. Because they’re open and willing to share their experiences, we learn from each other.”
Every member of the group agrees that she got to where she is today because a woman above her pulled her along, mentoring her along the way.
“A wonderful thing about the mentors I have had in this area is how resilient they are,” says Aimee Rancer, BSJ ’11, Pinterest. “Not every opportunity is going to work out. People in SF aren’t moping around feeling bad for themselves because their startup failed. They’re hustling on to the next thing. That’s super inspiring to be around.”
On the flip side, they feel a collective responsibility to pay it forward.
“It’s really important for those of us in successful positions, especially as women in tech, to be voices for other women who are trying to come in,” says Sarah Schaaf, BSC ’08, Imgur (founded by her brother and fellow Bobcat, Alan Schaaf, BSCS ’10).
2. Seek personal growth.
“You have to be hungry to learn and want to be better,” says Ali Mazzotta, BSJ ’12, Marketo. “As young professionals, we need to be open to feedback and eager to pick up new skills.”
Early in her career, Melanie was eager to volunteer to help others with administrative tasks that fell outside her job description, until a female mentor pulled her aside.
“She told me to look at my male counterparts—they weren’t offering to do things for people that they could do for themselves and I shouldn’t either,” Melanie says. “Protecting your time professionally is a skill that is super important.”
If the line between constructive criticism and discrimination becomes blurred, Sarah suggests leaning on your support network to help separate truth from bias.
“All feedback is valuable, but it can be hard to discern what to take and what not to take on. It’s important to have a group of females in your same industry to bounce those things off of,” Sarah says.
Simply taking a step back to dissect a situation can make the difference between reactivity and proactivity.
“I’m a very passionate person, so I’ll write the angry email, but never press send,” Ali says. “I need that time to break down exactly what happened and cool off, then I can start to think about how to move forward in a positive way with that person.”
Often, the toughest critic is oneself. Aimee feels fortunate to have strong women around to validate and empower her.
“Andi is always reminding me to ‘feel the feelings’ and not compare myself to other people,” Aimee says. “It’s destructive behavior that so many women do, especially with the rise of social media. Comparison is the thief of joy.”
3. Call out gender bias.
“When I worked in government relations, it was pretty tough to be a woman working exclusively with men from other generations. I was very aware that they had different expectations of my behavior and capabilities,” Melanie says.
As a leader at Imgur, Sarah considers it her duty to pull employees aside and make them aware of verbal and non-verbal exchanges that cross into microaggression.
“You have to address it because people do it, and they don’t even realize that they are,” Sarah says. “Calling it out, in a respectful manner of course, is helpful to everyone involved.”
Hence the crew’s collective commitment to be a force of change, one uncomfortable-but-necessary conversation at a time.
“The best thing that we can do for future grads and women in our industry is to continue holding people accountable for the things that they do that may be unfair,” Courtney says.
In response to headlines about harassment across the industry, Sarah formed Ladies of Imgur, a support group that meets semi-regularly to discuss current industry issues and how the company can safeguard its inclusive values. Similar subgroups are forming in other tech companies, and these women are grateful for the power that comes from keeping an open dialogue.
“Growing up, I didn’t have much exposure to diversity,” Andi says. “The more I became aware of these types of issues, the more I learned about myself and I found that I have this love and openness within me.”
4. Stay true to Bobcat values.
OHIO instilled in these six alumnae more than just a commitment to inclusion.
“You have to work hard to play hard, which Bobcats do very well,” Ali says. “Everyone who I’ve met from OHIO is really fun, loving, and just a ball of energy, but they’re also really dedicated to whatever they’re passionate about.”
One passion all Bobcats seem to share is a love for alma mater.
“I can’t think of anyone else who loves their school and talks about it as much as we do,” Aimee says. “OHIO was the first place I felt like I was home away from home. It’s part of our identity.”
The Bobcat network is broad and diverse, yet incredibly personal. Wherever graduates find themselves, they always seem to find each other—and instinctively support their fellow members of the OHIO family.
“We look out for each other,” Andi says. “Anytime someone from OHIO reaches out to me online, I’ll do anything I can to help them out. I had a woman help connect me to my first job without ever meeting me, and that was just a Bobcat helping out another Bobcat, no questions asked.”
5. Take risks.
“Going into my freshman year at OHIO, I was really eager and excited, but also scared,” Aimee says. “Moving to San Francisco was the same way. You’re testing your limits while figuring out who you are or who you want to be.”
Amid life transitions—whether job searching, moving, graduating, getting let go, earning promotions, or changing marital status—agility and work ethic are paramount to success.
“You have to learn to get scrappy,” Courtney says. “Education doesn’t always prepare you aptly for the real world; there are a lot of life skills that they just don’t teach in schools. You won’t get it right every single time, but it’s okay because everyone learns to navigate the world on their own.”
One by one, these OHIO women took a chance on an unfamiliar city. Together, they’ve discovered the gratification that comes from bounding into the unknown.
“A fellow blogger took me under her wing when I first got to San Francisco and I didn’t know anyone,” Andi says. “I showed up terrified with all my suitcases, and she told me, ‘Bravery and courage are always rewarded.’ I now have a wonderful life here. It’s true—when you do something for yourself and take a leap, really good things happen.”
Traveling to San Francisco to meet and interview these women and direct photography for the print issue of Ohio Today magazine was such a fun assignment because it combines all of my favorite things – travel, art, food and feminism.
I gained as much from assembling this piece as I hope my readers did. Young professionals everywhere are hungry for advice but often reluctant to ask for it. This article gave young alumnae a look into their own futures and outlined the steps to get there. I am always excited when I can add value in addition to telling a great story.
Role call: Storyboard, interviews, photography art direction and written story by Hailee Tavoian. Photography by Erin Brethauer. Research and editing by Kelee Riesbeck.Magazine art direction by Sarah McDowell.
Meet the Women
Aimee Rancer, BSJ ’11
• Creative strategist, Pinterest • Fashion and lifestyle blogger • Loves travel and French bulldogs
Sarah Schaaf, BSC ’08
• Vice president of community, Imgur • Web mogul • Connoisseur of Indian food
Courtney Baldasare, BSJ ’11
• Public relations account manager, RSquared Communications • Enjoys the outdoors • Admires Dolly Parton
Andi Teggart, BSJ ’11
• Social media and communications, Facebook • Owner, Lucky Collective • Mom to puppy Jack and 20+ houseplants
College campuses surge with activism and dialogue when national issues of the day arise, and Ohio University is no exception. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, unrest regarding race, gender, and war shook the small college town in the Appalachian foothills. This tumult, a microcosm of American society at the time, spurred dramatic change toward inclusivity and altered the lives of OHIO students then and today.
This era of disruption and growth was of particular interest to two-time OHIO graduate Frank Robinson, MA ’93, PHD ’00, whose dissertation explored issues facing women at OHIO in the 1960s-70s by interviewing 38 individuals who lived them.
Today, 50 years since their experiences on campus and 20 years since Robinson’s interviews, three of his subjects—all of whom played unique roles in the feminist movement at OHIO—reflected on the still unfinished arc of women’s progress.
“We thought when we opened the door it would all work out, but we underestimated how deep the resentment is toward strong women,” says Beverly Jones, BSJ ’69, MBA ’75, the first female admitted to OHIO’s MBA program. “There are still a lot of men who don’t like to see women succeed, and in some cases the women in their lives feel the same way.”
During the late ’60s, gendered rules of conduct on campus were barriers for equal treatment. For instance, there were curfew hours and dress codes, and women were permitted to smoke only so long as they remained seated. Of course, none of these rules applied to men.
“The standards were so different for men and women, and no one questioned it,” Anne Goff, BA ’69, MED ’71, recalled with Robinson in 1998. “It was silly, but I don’t remember being too enraged over it.”
En Loco Parentus, the idea that the University act in the place of parents to protect its students, was accepted at the time. Jones suggested that it was OHIO’s intent to prepare young women for the pressure they would be under in the workforce.
“These rules for behavior were very common in adult life,” Jones says. “Women had to have a certain level of polish in order to even get into the room, and employers were looking for someone who knew how to be a lady.”
Change was imminent, however. Jones and Goff founded the Women’s Information Group (WIG), which gathered young women who had almost no female role models in positions of leadership on campus, to discuss women’s issues.
While women across campus eagerly joined to civilly dialogue about books and theories, the assembly seemed to make some men on campus uneasy.
“They would look at us as a guerilla group; it amused us terrifically,” Jones remembered in 1998. “I knew there were guys waking up in the middle of the night thinking, ‘Oh my God, what are these women going to do?’ It was all bluff really—but perception is reality. We recognized it as a tool we could use to get something symbolic done fast.”
Jones sought change at the highest levels of the administration, eventually publishing at President Sowle’s request the Report on the Status of Women at Ohio University, 1972, which documented many of the inequalities of the time and influenced significant changes on campus: increased funding for women’s athletics, re-admittance of women to the marching band, and changes in attitude toward women students, faculty, and staff.
Today, President M. Duane Nellis has formed the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, which began meeting this fall, to ensure that gender diversity and women’s issues remain at the forefront of the University’s mission.
Susan Reimer, BSJ ’73, covered all sides of women’s issues as a writer for The Post. When she started her career as a sports writer just as women were first allowed to conduct interviews in the locker room, she found her own tactics for breaking through that industry’s gender barriers.
“Clothing is camouflage,” Reimer says. “[In my role], the players resented our being there; so, I dressed like a boy. That way I could be mistaken for just another guy or at least it would be clear that there was no chance that I was there to flirt.”
All women engaged with the feminist movement differently. Some found the companionship and support of likeminded women overruled feelings of insecurity or fear. Others were simply wired for the resiliency that the spirit of feminism demands.
“I’ve always felt like I belonged, like I deserved a seat at the table,” Reimer says. “I’ve lived with my elbows out, and I never allowed a feeling of second-class citizenship to permeate me.”
Yet today, as these three OHIO women reflect on half a century of progress and setbacks, the importance of unity and support remains clear.
“When we started reaching out to others [to form WIG], it was transformational,” says Goff. “You have to find a collection of people that will understand where you are coming from and have your back.”
The article above was received with high praise cross-generationally.
From my experience with this project I learned the back-end preparation and technical aspects of podcast production during our collaboration with the National Press Club to record the audio interview, and the complexities of adapting story format for various mediums. It was a challenge to take on such a robust topic with many facets and opportunities and develop a meaningful narrative using only a fraction of the information gathered.
On a personal note, it was my sincere pleasure to speak with and learn from the lives of these remarkable women who have laid a foundation for my generation of journalists and activists to build upon.
Role call: Story by Hailee Tavoian. Content development and audio interview by Kelee Riesbeck. Editing and preliminary research by Pete Schooner. Photos courtesy of Ohio University Archives and Photo by Susana Raab.