Feature Story

December 18, 2023 | By Cole Hatcher and Meghan Means '25

Ohio Wesleyan's 17th president, Matt vandenBerg, immerses himself in the OWU experience, including attending classes, practicing with athletics teams, and more as he learns 'What Matters' to Bishops. Here, he observes a female Northern Cardinal with students Evan Miller '24 and Sammy Johnson '25 during a behavioral endocrinology class at Kraus Wilderness Preserve. (Photo by Paul Vernon)

OWU in Review 2023

Take a Look at Ohio Wesleyan's Most Memorable Moments of the Past Year

Before we see what's in store for 2024, here's a look back at some of Ohio Wesleyan University's top news of 2023.

The year got off to a strong start with the announcement of our 17th president, and the momentum kept building with OWU's first Melvin Van Peebles Symposium, the launch of the Bishop Elevate initiative, and the University's best student-retention numbers in 14 years.

Cheers to a successful new year, Bishops!


Brianna DeMuth '23
  • Ohio Wesleyan announces Matt vandenBerg as the University's 17th president following a national search that draws more than 100 applicants. vandenBerg joins OWU in July.
  • Brianna DeMuth '23 is one of nine scholars nationwide to earn a 2023-2024 Diversity Fellowship Program award from the American Political Science Association. DeMuth uses the funds to support her goal of earning a doctoral degree in Political Science.
  • Three students are awarded competitive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Grants: Jemimah Chukwuemeka '26 and Anya Robinson '26 earn funds to study the contributions of Black women to U.S. gynecological care, and Jada Respress '23 earns a grant to research the development of Black journalism in Africa and Europe.
  • Josie Bair joins the OWU staff as director of the Ohio Wesleyan Junior League (OWjL) Program, a residential summer camp experience serving talented and gifted sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders for more than 40 years. In July 2024, Bair will add a new OWjL Day Camp for fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders statewide.


Ian Riddle '23
  • Football cornerback Ian Riddle '23 earns a post-graduate scholarship and is honored as the area's top scholar-athlete by the Columbus chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.
  • The OWU women's basketball team defeats the Oberlin Yeowomen in the North Coast Athletic Conference tournament championship game, giving Ohio Wesleyan its first NCAC tournament title since the 2008-09 season and sending the Bishops on to the NCAA Division III tournament.
  • Alumni Paul Schimmel '62 and Cleo Ritz Schimmel '62 make a $3 million commitment to the University to create the Schimmel Center for Scientific Discovery within the Schimmel/Conrades Science Center. The center will support students and faculty in Biology and Neuroscience.
  • Ohio Wesleyan announces its participation in new transfer pathways created by the Ohio Consortium for Transfer Pathways to the Liberal Arts. The pathways help students from community colleges statewide earn four-year bachelor's degrees in biology, English, or psychology.


Melvin Van Peebles '53
  • Savannah Domenech '25 earns a Community Stewardship Award from the Keep Delaware County Beautiful coalition for her work to improve local water quality by launching an Adopt-a-Drain environmental improvement project.
  • Men's basketball wing Jack Clement '23 is named to both the National Association of Basketball Coaches All-America teams and the D3hoops.com All-America teams. Clement also earns NCAC Player of the Year honors.
  • Women's basketball guard Kasey Schipfer '24 is named NCAC Player of the Year and Top Defensive Player – the first person to win both honors since the defensive award was instituted for the 2016-17 season. Schipfer also is a first-team All-NCAC choice.
  • Actress Jasmine Guy, writer Wil Haygood, academic Simone Drake, musician DJ O Sharp, artist Marshall L. Shorts Jr., and others help explore and celebrate the impact of filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles '53 on Black arts during OWU's first Van Peebles Symposium March 30-April 1.
  • Ohio Wesleyan remembers Charley Morris '25, who perishes with his father, Charles, during a spring break kayaking trip in Arkansas. Charley is remembered as "a thoughtful and compassionate young man with a wonderful sense of humor and a kind heart."


Sally Leber
  • Brooke Hall '23 and Luke Przybys '26 present the results of a joint Health and Human Kinetics and Psychology research project at the Ohio Public Health Association Conference. The project explores factors affecting the falling risk among local senior citizens.
  • Nick Mankowski '25 is selected to share information about his programmer analyst internship at the 2023 Choose Ohio First Scholar Showcase at the Ohio Statehouse.
  • Graham Steed '23 earns a 2023 Ping Student Service Award from the Ohio Campus Compact for his leadership, service, and "making a positive difference in everything he does."
  • Tyler Bodovetz '25 earns Scholar All-American recognition from the National Wrestling Coaches Association.
  • Sally Leber, director of Community Service Learning, is honored by the Ohio Campus Compact for "excellence in service" in recognition of her work in service learning and civic engagement.
  • OWU announces the Bishop Elevate initiative to help first-generation students persist to graduation and hires Thea Smekens to oversee the initiative and serve as the University's first director of First-Generation Student Success.
  • Randy Quaye, professor and co-chair of the Department of Africana, Gender, and Identity Studies, earns his third Fulbright Scholar Award, which will help him conduct health care research in Tanzania, East Africa, during the 2023-2024 academic year.
  • Ohio Wesleyan remembers Dr. Harriet Stewart, a leader and trailblazer in OWU women's intercollegiate athletics, as part of a 50th-anniversary commemoration of Title IX and the impact and legacy of OWU women's sports.
  • Ohio Wesleyan awards more than $60,700 in competitive OWU Connection Grants to support nine projects helping students to "think big," "do good," "go global," and "get real" as they complete OWU Connection experiences.


Deydre Smyth Teyhen '93
  • Brigadier General Deydre Smyth Teyhen '93 delivers the keynote address at OWU's 179th commencement, urging the new alumni to "make the future brighter for the next generation." She is the commanding general of Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas.
  • At the 2022-2023 Golden Bishop Awards ceremony, Meek Leadership Awards are presented to Lynette Camerlin, Grace Ison, Jada Respress, and Graham Steed. At the Dale Bruce Scholar-Athlete Awards, Veronica Hardman '23 receives the event's highest honor, the Presidential Award.
  • Five students earn OWU Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Grants to support projects that include researching women's health and food issues in Southern Africa, restoring and celebrating a Native American-inspired mural on campus, and exploring at a national conference how to create a more just U.S. economy. The recipients are Nuri Craig '25, Faith Deschamps '24, Meredith Frymyer '24, Marquel Henry '24, and Dillon Shelton '24.
  • Women's lacrosse defender Sarah Hanley '23 is named NCAC Defensive Player of the Year. Paige Messersmith, Rachael Yoho, and Patricia Ryan are named NCAC Coaching Staff of the Year.
  • High jumper Peyton Howell '24 wins All-America honors at the NCAA Division III championship meet – her second outdoor and third overall All-America honor.
  • Battling Bishop baseball player Zane Vitense '26 is named NCAC Newcomer of the Year and a second-team All-NCAC choice as a designated hitter.
  • Ohio Wesleyan honors three outstanding faculty members with special awards: Phokeng Dailey, associate professor of Communication, receives The Sherwood Dodge Shankland Award for Encouragement of Teachers; Shala Hankison, associate professor of Biological Sciences, earns The Bishop Herbert Welch Meritorious Teaching Award; and Chris Wolverton, professor of Biological Sciences, collects The Bishop Herbert Welch Award for Scholarly or Artistic Achievement.
  • Ohio Wesleyan joins the Ohio Pathways to Undergraduate Computing Success project. The National Science Foundation-funded group of 15 Ohio colleges and universities supports students seeking to study computer science, especially women and minorities.


Rock Jones
  • Spencer Amacher '25 becomes the first Battling Bishop men's lacrosse player to be recognized by College Sports Communicators as an Academic All-American.
  • The national Center for First-generation Student Success invites Ohio Wesleyan to join the First Scholars Network in recognition of OWU's efforts to "elevate potential and advance outcomes for first-generation students today and in the future."
  • Rock Jones, Ohio Wesleyan's 16th president, completes his 15th year of service to the University and its students. Jones hands the leadership baton to Matt vandenBerg, who joins OWU on July 1.


Veronica Hardman '23
  • Field hockey and women's track & field athlete Veronica Hardman '23 is selected to represent OWU and the NCAC for the honors of 2023 NCAA Woman of the Year and the D3CA Women's Sports Student-Athlete of the Year.
  • Adam Smith joins Ohio Wesleyan as its vice president for enrollment. In the role, Smith oversees the offices of Admission and Financial Aid, helping prospective students and families as they navigate the college-enrollment process.
  • Ohio Wesleyan appoints Lauren Hensley as OWU's first director of Holistic Advising. In this role, she is spearheading the work to create a holistic approach to advising that incorporates academic advising, career services, student life, libraries, athletics, and the OWU Connection to help ensure students develop the skills and have access to the resources they need to persist to graduation.
  • Lee Richards is tapped as Ohio Wesleyan's new registrar. In this role, Richards maintains the academic records of students and helps them meet the requirements necessary to graduate successfully with their OWU bachelor's degrees.
  • The new "Fiske Guide to Colleges 2024" includes Ohio Wesleyan as one of the "best and most interesting" four-year colleges and universities in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada.


Shirley Paden-Bernstein '73
  • Ohio Wesleyan welcomes the Class of 2027, including new and transfer students from 30 states and 21 countries. "Welcome to a community that believes in you," President Matt vandenBerg tells them during his first OWU convocation ceremony.
  • Shirley Paden-Bernstein '73, a designer from New York City, makes a five-year pledge of $1 million to Ohio Wesleyan to support first-generation college student scholarships, the OWU Bridge Program, and other University initiatives.
  • Ohio Wesleyan welcomes its 2023-2024 cohort of seven new assistant professors: Andrea Suria, Biological Sciences-Microbiology; Cliff Hurst, Economics and Business; Katsutoshi "Toshi" Mizuta, Environment and Sustainability; Camilla Querin, Fine Arts; Ashley Kennard, Journalism and Communication; Lusie Cuskey, Performing Arts-Theatre; and Veda Hyunjin Kim, Sociology-Anthropology.
  • Sarah Hahn '08 joins Ohio Wesleyan as its second artist-in-residence. She is creating a public art installation, "Where the Wind Carries You," that will include a pollinator garden and three 10-foot-tall dandelion seed pods made of bronze and stainless steel. She hopes to have the sculpture installed before the Class of 2024 graduation ceremony.
  • Ohio Wesleyan's signature program, the OWU Connection, becomes an official part of the University curriculum, ensuring that all incoming students complete at least one Connection experience before graduating. These include internships, research, travel, creative projects, and service – all to prepare them for the causes, careers, and graduate school opportunities they want to pursue.
  • OWU launches its new Public Health Program and major to prepare students for careers focused on promoting wellness and preventing disease.
  • Money magazine lists Ohio Wesleyan among the nation's "Best Colleges" based on an analysis of 26 data points examining quality, affordability, and student outcomes.


Chris Wolverton
  • Ohio Wesleyan celebrates its highest student retention numbers in 14 years. Overall, OWU's first-to-second-year retention is 84 percent – nearly 3 percentage points higher than the year prior and 6 percentage points higher than the year before that. Among first-generation students, retention is up 10 percentage points. Among Pell-eligible students, retention is up 7 percentage points. For second-to third-year students, retention increases 7 percentage points over last year, to about 94 percent. The strong numbers earn Ohio Wesleyan national media coverage from Inside Higher Ed.
  • Professor Chris Wolverton is part of an international group of scientists publishing research in the journal Nature Plants on how plant roots respond to gravity.
  • The University's second annual OWU Connection Conference features more than 50 panel sessions, exhibits, fairs, and poster presentations throughout the daylong event, showcasing the wide range of Connection experiences undertaken by the Ohio Wesleyan community.
  • The indie band COIN entertains a sold-out crowd when it performs on the Ohio Wesleyan JAYwalk during the University's first Live@OWU concert.


Katsutoshi 'Toshi' Mizuta
  • The OWU LAB (Leaders Across Borders) program brings together students from 10 countries – including OWU's Marvella Kurniawan '25, Blake Johnson '24, Timothy Page '25, and Anya Robinson '26 – for a week in Northern Ireland to complete international cross-cultural leadership training. The program is led by Ohio Wesleyan staff and faculty members Lisa Ho, Paul Dean, Chad Johns, and Michele Nobel.
  • Pedro Figueiredo '26, Dani Phillip '25, Camy Dodd '23, and faculty member Eva Paris-Huesca present at the International Conference of Hispanic Women Filmmakers held in Worcester, Massachusetts.
  • Ava Hurd '24 receives a $1,000 check for winning the second annual Pitch OWU student-entrepreneurship competition. Hurd plans to create a mobile coffee café "serving joy one cup at a time."
  • Glenda Nieto-Cuebas, associate professor of Spanish, is awarded a three-year Canadian government grant with Erin Alice Cowling of MacEwan University in Edmonton to collaborate on Siglo Latinx, a research project they believe will "theoretically and practically define a new line of research" in Spanish theater.
  • New faculty member Toshi Mizuta and students in his Environment and Sustainability 111 class research Ohio Wesleyan's iconic Sulphur Spring and determine that the location of the underground waterway has shifted over time.
  • Assistant professor Ashley Kennard earns the 2023 Distinguished New Teacher Award from the Ohio Communication Association in recognition of her outstanding involvement with OWU and commitment to teaching, service, and research.
  • Christopher Yates is named director of the Richard M. Ross Art Museum, bringing "a full palette of exciting ideas and skills" to the role. Yates previously served as associate director of Kenyon College's Gund Gallery and taught Fine Arts classes at Columbus College of Art & Design, Tiffin University, and Ohio Wesleyan.
  • Assistant volleyball coach Amaya Smith is awarded a 2023 Diversity Award by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
  • Ohio Wesleyan receives a three-year $395,968 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to help prepare students for careers in high-demand STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The grant, overseen by professor David Markwardt, is part of the NSF's Enabling Partnerships to Increase Innovation Capacity (EPIIC) initiative.
  • OWU earns its third – and largest – Choose Ohio First grant, receiving nearly $1.2 million to support Ohio students enrolling to pursue STEM majors.
  • Ohio Wesleyan is ranked by Payscale on its new 2023 College Salary Report for early and mid-career salary potential of University graduates.
  • Ohio Wesleyan hosts a free daylong environment and art symposium titled "Tempest: Poetry, Music and Art for a Regenerative Earth." OWU professors Laurie Anderson and Kristina Bogdanov collaborate with Otterbein University professor emeritus Terry Hermsen to organize the first-time event.
  • Ohio Wesleyan inducts nine former Battling Bishop standouts – eight of them All-America selections – and a former coach into its Athletics Hall of Fame and bestows the Dr. Robert M. Strimer Honor Award upon Pamela Bledsoe Malone '82 during ceremonies on Homecoming and Family Weekend. Bledsoe Malone is the winningest female soccer coach in Ohio. The 10 Hall of Fame inductees are Emily Amburgey '13, Jesse Chiero '10, Ethan Freet '13, Michael Hollway (football coach from 1987-2011), Silas Jolliff '13, Eric Laipple '11, John MacIlwaine '60, Colin Short '12, Dylan Stone '12, and Andy Winters '13.


OWU Men's Soccer Team
  • Forward Allie Crawford '24 is selected to the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Division III Senior Team after OWU's NCAC championship-winning season.
  • Middle blocker Claire Solberg '24 is named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division III All-America teams, and outside hitter Natalie Dieball '27 is named NCAC Newcomer of the Year. Both are first-team All-NCAC selections.
  • Grace Ammon '27 is the NCAC Newcomer of the Year and Olivia Danley '26 is the NCAC Midfielder of the Year for the All-North Coast Athletic Conference field hockey teams. Both midfielders are first-team selections.
  • Madison Cofer '25 is the NCAC Defensive Player of the Year and Tiffany Trinh '26 is the NCAC Midfielder of the Year for the All-North Coast Athletic Conference women's soccer teams. Both are first-team selections.
  • Men's soccer back Brady West '25 is named to the United Soccer Coaches Division III All-America teams. West is a third-team selection.
  • The Battling Bishop men's soccer team ranks No. 23 in the season's final United Soccer Coaches Division III men's soccer rankings following the team's NCAA-record 44th Division III tournament appearance.
  • Ohio Wesleyan awards more than $54,800 in OWU Connection grants to help students attend the nation's largest writers' conference, explore the link between mushrooms and selenium, research antibiotic-resistant bacteria in different climates, investigate sustainable farming in Japan, and examine a teaching method born in Italy.
  • Ohio Wesleyan announces a new programming series, "What's Going On? Understanding the World Around Us," to provide opportunities to explore conflicts around the globe, including but not limited to issues related to Israel and Palestine.


Aniya Johnson '25
  • Aaron Gonzales '26, Quinn Dachisen '26, and Alyssa Markell '26 share the results of a walk audit conducted by their "Introduction to Public Health" class, part of OWU's new Public Health Program. They present before city, county, and other representatives at the Delaware Public Health Department.
  • Aniya Johnson '25 is selected as a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, earning funds to study abroad during spring semester. Johnson will travel to Southern Africa to participate in the Decolonizing the Mind: Racial and Environmental Justice program in partnership with Arcadia Abroad and Augsburg University's Center for Global Education and Experience.