Though decades apart in age and training, the 2007 recipients of the CAHNRS Women’s History Recognition Award have at least three things in common – they are Washington State University alumnae and excel in the classroom as well as in their research and service.
Sherrill Richarz and Mary Wiedenhoeft were recognized during the annual celebration of Women’s History Month last spring. The College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences is the only college at WSU that honors its alumnae with such an award.
Richarz’ career in early childhood education spans more than three decades. She earned her master’s degree in childhood development from WSU in 1977 and became a leading advocate for young children and the people who care for them in Washington and beyond.
“Sherrill was one of the early visionaries and workhorses in the struggle to bring much needed credibility, status, and resources to those who serve young children and their families,” wrote human development Professor Brenda Boyd, who nominated Richarz for the CAHNRS award.
Among other things, Richarz was key to the implementation of Head Start programs in rural and migrant communities and to the expansion of its training and program development across the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. She was a founding member of the Washington Association of educators of Personnel in Early Childhood Education and in the early 1990s, served as co-chair of the Early Childhood Career Development subcommittee of the state’s Child Care Coordinating Committee. She took the lead in the development of the pree-school-third grade teaching credential at WSU.
In the classroom, Richarz – who retired from WSU in 1993 – was known as a positive, supportive mentor who encouraged her students to excel.
Now 80, she has watched early childhood education and childcare change dramatically since she first began working. “In the beginning, preschool was more of an enrichment experience for upper middle class kids, whose mothers weren’t working,” she said. “The profession is still up against acceptance by people who think quality childcare is anything more than ‘watching’ children.”
Wiedenhoeft, who earned a Ph.D. in crop science from WSU in 1986, currently is a professor of agronomy at Iowa State University. She has been recognized nationally for her teaching excellence, receiving the Agronomic Resident Teaching Award from the American Society of Agronomy in 2005.
“I try to put the information into context and have my students use the information right away, so it’s not just a bunch of disconnected facts,” Wiedenhoeft explained. “Our job is to teach our students be independent thinkers and problem solvers.”
She also has built a strong research program in the areas of sustainable agriculture and alternative crops. Her recent work with flax as an alternative/new crop in Iowa has been well received, and she has succeed in winning funding to support that work.
Wiedenhoeft said the field of sustainable agriculture has changed considerably in the past two decades.
“At first, it was just something for the kooky hippies,” she said, smiling. “Then it became a buzz word with everyone trying to put their own slant on it. Now, people are really interested in it and care. They understand that we need it more than ever because there some production systems don’t take into account externalities like the economy, the environment and human beings.”
Wiedenhoeft attributed much of her success to her WSU professors. “You encouraged me. You taught me. You pushed, and you inspired me,” she said. “Thank you for that.”