April 2019


Teresa Roche

Alumni Profile

Connecting Across Generations in Women's Leadership Series

Teresa Roche and Betty Nelson have enjoyed a relationship built upon friendship and mentorship that can be traced to their first meeting in the mid-1970s, when Roche was interviewing to become a member of the Association for Women’s Students (AWS).

During that time, the culture for women on college campuses was beginning to change. Women’s organizations on campus had traditionally focused on preparing women for marriage and their roles within families. AWS, for example, annually hosted a bridal fair in Purdue Memorial Union. The event was a true extravagance that saw the ballrooms packed with vendors, capped off by a wedding fashion show on runways.

Roche, however, wanted something different out of her AWS experience. 

“I said well, I think we might want to consider providing other options for women other than the bridal fair that you’re holding every spring,” says Roche. “And I remember Betty had this look on her face…”

That immediately caught Nelson’s attention. Nelson, who was then the advisor for AWS says, “She was a visible source of energy for saying ‘I don’t think we want to do that anymore,’ and that pleased me a lot.”

Roche’s ideas embodied the feminist movement towards long-term careers for women. Campus organizations had begun to take note and Roche desired to be at the forefront of those changes on campus. She earned a spot on the executive board of AWS and, since then, the two have remained close friends.

Nelson has been a role model and mentor for generations of Purdue students. She became Purdue’s third dean of students in 1987, after 20 years as an assistant and an associate dean and served as an advisor for several student organizations. Nelson, now known as Purdue’s dean of students emerita, has been a champion for women’s causes on campus in her capacities at the university.

Nelson mentored Roche through her work with AWS and, later, as a graduate intern in the Office of the Dean of Students. Nelson’s friendship, Roche says, has been a constant in her life for four decades. During that time, Roche has worked in the private sector, returned to Purdue with her husband and newborn child to pursue a doctorate, and negotiated several career moves. She is currently Chief Human Resources Officer for the City of Fort Collins (Colorado).

“Since I was 19, Betty has been a huge part of my life and knows me in profound and wondrous ways,” says Roche.

Though Roche says the lessons she has learned from Nelson are innumerable, there are five key ways in which Nelson has helped her – instilling the idea that power is shared, rather than taken; the ability to believe in the best version of herself; support in what she has chosen to become; a reminder of her voice when she has forgotten it; and as an inspiration for the enthusiastic way in which she approaches life.

The connection between Roche and Nelson is one of several examples of leadership and mentorship across generations that were present in this year’s Women’s Leadership Series. Some of these relationships manifested prominently in presentations. Annette Watters, diversity outreach project manager for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and her daughter, Tamara Sutton, a licensed social worker, shared time on stage answering questions in a panel discussion, providing attendees a further example of the ways women can empower future generations through their careers. One of the goals of the series is to catalyze lifelong connections through leadership.

Nelson has been a participant in the series since its inception, continuing her legacy of being a role model and advocate for women’s issues on campus.

Betty Nelson

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities along the way and feel keenly about girls and adolescents needing to understand their options, to value themselves and to respect themselves,” says Nelson. “The Women’s Leadership Series seemed a perfect fit for me. If I’m available to be part of something like this that shows support for women being all they can be, I’m there.”

Roche says she specifically selected the dates of her Executive-in-Residence stay as a way to participate in the series as a speaker. Her message centered around the book “The Gifts of Imperfection,” by Brené Brown, which participants in the series read as part of their experience.

“I shared one of her quotes about courage and the root of word is cor—the Latin word for heart—and that in one of its earliest meanings meant to tell one’s whole story from the heart,” says Roche. “I chose 12 ‘letting go’ moments that started when I was in college and that I felt had some universal themes but were deeply profound for me. Several people of all ages came up and spoke about what that meant to them. I think that when any of us choose to show up with who we are, it allows others to do the same.”  

Furthering the connection across generations were two of this year’s award nominees, who are daughters of women who once worked with Nelson when she was Dean of Students. Anna Szolwinski, the winner of this year’s award, cited her mother, Jenni (Birch) Szolwinski, as an influence in her choice to pursue leadership opportunities on campus.

“My Mom has definitely been a big role model in my life, especially as a woman who is strong and confident and can empower other women as well,” says Anna. “She’s really encouraged me to dive in to leadership positions here at Purdue and get involved on campus because that’s something that made her college experience so rich when she was here.”

Women’s Leadership Series participants and speakers have often remarked about feeling positivity in experiencing something greater than oneself. Roche says the inclusive atmosphere and the idea of “paying it forward” to this generation of students were some of the biggest takeaways from her experience.

“I just feel that one of the best ways I can thank Betty and these other women is to give to others as others have so generously given to me,” says Roche. “The ability to bear witness to others’ stories and their journeys is truly a gift.”

Since its inception, more than 700 students and 120 staff have participated in the Women’s Leadership Series. As the years unfold, it is hoped that participants will return to Purdue to continue to inspire and connect with future generations of women.

    PDOG Mug Giveaway

Event Recap

University Residences Part of Another Record-Breaking Day of Giving

April 24 marked another record-breaking Purdue Day of Giving, with the university raising $41,596,596 from 21,420 gifts during the 24-hour period. Donors from 60 countries made contributions. Contributions to University Residences totaled $11,994 from 121 generous donors.

University Residences once again partnered with Dining & Culinary to host a block party on Third Street for students on Day of Giving. Attendees enjoyed free food, drinks and giveaways, allowing students and passers-by to engage with University Residences and Dining & Culinary staff on Day of Giving initiatives.

Day of Giving funds will be used by University Residences to support programming, leadership opportunities, scholarships and other residence hall initiatives for our 14,000-plus residents. Donations have contributed to the ability for room and board rates to remain flat for the seventh consecutive year.

Please enjoy a selection of photos that showed how students and staff supported University Residences on Day of Giving.

Desserts Cosi EmployeePotting SeedsIce Cream CustomerChicken Suit

Writer: Matt Vader | Editors: Tammy Loew, Renee Kashawlic, Danielle Fawbush

Editorial Board: Barb Frazee, Tammy Loew, Renee Kashawlic | Inquiries Contact:

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