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The 2022 Women of UD

Marie Schleppi Gaeke

Marie Gaeke




Marie Schleppi Gaeke has an astonishing catalog of obstacles that she and her department have navigated since her arrival in the Spring of 2019: The rollout of FOAPAL; physically moving the entire department to a new suite; literally before the paint was dry, vacating the premises due to the pandemic; adding two new faculty at the onset of the pandemic; Path Forward and the institution of COVID protocols; the department’s assistant chair moves to the chair; three faculty searches; dean leaves for another university; interim dean appointed; UD reopens to in-person learning; the Committee for Sustainable Institutional Transformation is revived; three new faculty join the department; and an interim department chair is named. All of this transpired before the University moved into its second full year of coping with the coronavirus. Gaeke says, “Since I began my position in EMST, there’s never been a dull moment.” Those in her orbit credit Gaeke with guiding the department through the chaos, and, in fact, one of her 2022 Women of UD nominators calls her “the heartbeat of the EMST department.” The time she has spent helping her department find its way through the uncertainty of the past few years has had a definite upside, she says. “I have gained additional family members. They all have different last names, titles, and responsibilities, but we love each other and that’s a cool quality to find in the workplace.”

She might have had a few preconceived notions about workplace quality at EMST. Her family moved to Dayton when she was 5 years old, and both her mother and father taught at UD. “So, I sort of grew up on campus. Then, I graduated with a BS in 1989.” She and her spouse were married in the Chapel, and her daughter was baptized there, as well. Her parents retired from UD in 2001, but Gaeke returned in 2019 to take her current position in the School of Engineering. “I felt like these were my people at my interview, and I guess they felt the same way.” Perhaps she experienced a bit of deja vu when she started her job. It wasn’t until she got situated that she realized she was now working in the department for which her mom taught. Not only that, but Gaeke “didn’t know the desk I now sit at belonged to the admin who was there when I was a student, the woman who had worked with my mom through the 80’s and 90’s.” 

Gaeke worked previously, for 25 years, as a middle school educator, and it was in this capacity that she honed her management skills. “I had plenty of opportunities to discover my strengths and weaknesses, as I interacted with the various personalities of colleagues, administrators, parents, and students. I learned how to navigate through difficult and often emotionally charged situations.” Her humility has served her well in these situations, although she admits this is a little tricky. “It has been my experience that if one thinks they are humble, they probably aren’t.” But, she does her best to be humble and says her willingness to admit she might be wrong, or to ‘own’ her mistakes and make corrections as quickly as possible, has given her a strength of sorts. “The strength forged from that practice of staying 'right sized' has allowed me to speak up even when that action places me in a vulnerable position, personally and professionally.”  

She worries that looming economic decisions will push people away from careers at UD, but at the same has hope that the University’s recently revived CSIT will be able to introduce and ultimately usher in some fundamental changes. It is not in her character to speculate about what the future will bring for UD, but she believes “its greatest asset is Community, with a capital ‘C.’” As a UD community member, Gaeke knows how she will help contribute to the common good. “I will continue to show up, smile, speak up, laugh, participate in dialogue, giggle, get angry, and laugh some more. I feel as if I’ve come full circle at UD. It’s why I’m passionate about community and hospitality as the central principles and not the bottom line.”

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