Alumna will match gifts to the Beyond the Classroom Endowment.
Long before she led the effort to modernize food safety for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Catherine O’Connor Woteki ’69 was a student lab assistant in Combs Hall.
“Doing behind-the-scenes prep work and just being able to hang around the lab was so helpful; I became much more comfortable working in a lab environment,” says Cathie, referring to her 1968 position in Mary Washington’s Biology department.
Cathie earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Chemistry from Mary Washington, where she served as class treasurer and helped pay her way through school with summer jobs. She hopes to provide today’s UMW students with opportunities to discover their strengths and passions, just as her early experiences in the lab helped to inspire her career as an internationally known leader in science policy.
Through the end of July, Cathie and her husband Tom Woteki will match dollar-for-dollar all gifts to UMW’s Beyond the Classroom Endowment for student research and learning. The University’s College of Arts and Sciences aims to raise $1 million for this new fund to support internships, study abroad, independent research, and other high-impact learning experiences.
“About two years ago, [College of Arts and Sciences Dean] Keith Mellinger told me about his idea to create a fund that will give students more experiences outside of the classroom, such as traveling to present research, attending a professional society meeting, or completing an unpaid internship,” says Cathie, who works closely with Mellinger as a member of the College of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board. “After he shared his vision, I knew I wanted to help make it happen.”
A well-respected scholar who has received many awards for her contributions to science and society, Cathie was inducted into the National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2017. She has held leadership positions in academia, government, and industry, including Dean of the College of Agriculture at Iowa State University, the USDA’s first Undersecretary for Food Safety, Global Director of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs for Mars, and USDA Chief Scientist.
As the first Undersecretary for Food Safety, a position created by the Clinton administration, Cathie led the agency through a transformation of the meat inspection system. Her efforts to base the process in science led to lasting benefits for public health.
“Through the introduction of pathogen testing in meat-processing plants, we were able to illustrate a dramatic reduction in foodborne illnesses,” she explains. “The application of science to benefit people is incredibly rewarding.”
Cathie credits her Mary Washington professors with instilling confidence and providing a strong scientific foundation, putting her on the path to scholarship and leadership.
She also holds a Ph.D. in Human Nutrition from Virginia Tech. “Many of my classmates in graduate school came from larger universities where they had more experience with advanced instrumentation, but when it came down to it, I was more capable than many of them,” she says. “The quality of the Mary Washington education was just that good.”
Mellinger says he relied on Cathie’s insights and guidance to narrow his focus for the endowment.
“She was instrumental in the creation of the fund, so her sponsorship of this match is perfect,” he explains. “It’s incredibly rewarding to hear that Cathie’s experiences at Mary Washington played such an important role in shaping her career. We are ever grateful that she and Tom are now creating those same opportunities for our next generation of students.”
A loyal supporter of Mary Washington initiatives, Cathie contributed to an endowed scholarship by the Class of 1969 in honor of their 50th Reunion. She says she views her match for the Beyond the Classroom Endowment as a way to lead by example.
“My classmates are enormously successful, and so many other Mary Washington alumni have gone on to do amazing things,” Cathie says. “I hope others will join me in giving back as a way of saying thank you for the education we received.”
Donate by July 30, 2021, to have your gift to the Beyond the Classroom Endowment matched dollar-for-dollar during the Catherine O’Connor Woteki ’69 and Tom Woteki Beyond the Classroom Match.
Click here to make an online gift, or mail a check to:
University of Mary Washington
1119 Hanover Street
Fredericksburg, Virginia 22401
Please make check payable to UMW Foundation and note “Beyond the Classroom Endowment” on the check’s memo line.
For more information about giving, contact the Office of Advancement at email@example.com or 540-654-1024.
Article written by Beth Waters Hunsinger ’01
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