March represents Women’s History Month and the Department of Women and Gender Studies and the Office of Alumni Engagement at Youngstown State University are recognizing some of our fabulous female graduates. The theme for Women’s History Month 2020 is Valiant Women of the Vote. YSU is celebrating the accomplishments of eight alumnae who were selected to be featured in our fourth annual display entitled, Penguin Women on the Move. As the narratives will show, these women have gone above and beyond with their personal, professional, academic and/or philanthropic endeavors. We are pleased to highlight these alumnae for truly being “Y and Proud.”
Trina Benson, 2006, BA Journalism
Detrinalyn “Trina” Benson, received a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Phoenix, following her bachelor’s degree from YSU. She is the Executive Director of Youngstown Promise Neighborhoods, a local nonprofit organization with a mission to bring together public and private partners to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty by coordinating comprehensive education, economic, health, safety and family support services for children and families. Under her leadership, the organization launched the “Reading While Laundering” Initiative, a program that encourages the development of early childhood literacy skills by creating a laundromat library and providing Sunshine Brite Laundomat clients with free books and educational materials. In 2009, she created A Bridge from Coal to Diamond Girls (ABC DIAMOND GIRLS), a youth development building program to assist adolescent girls with self-esteem and confidence, serving over 200 girls in the Mahoning Valley. Trina is a graduate of the 2013 Raymond John Wean Foundation’s Emerging Leaders Program and the Leadership Mahoning Valley 2015 cohort. In 2016, she was inducted into the League of Women Voters of Greater Youngstown’s Hall of Fame.
Judge Renee DiSalvo, 1993, BA Speech Communication
As a victim of domestic violence, Judge DiSalvo became single mother on public assistance. Determined not to become a statistic, she graduated Summa Cum Laude from YSU before going on to Akron University School of Law. She was sworn into the practice in 1997. After becoming an attorney, Judge DiSalvo was employed as a trial lawyer with Nationwide Insurance Trial Division, Betras, Kopp and Harshman. She served as Assistant Prosecutor for City of Youngstown, part time Mediator for Mahoning County Common Pleas and was owner of DiSalvo Law, LLC. Judge DiSalvo’s community service history includes OCCHA, Angels of Easter Seals, YSU Alumni Board and Youngstown Air Force Reserve Base Community Council Board. Currently, she serves as Executive Director for the “Meet Me At The Cross” organization, which promotes community unity, and Executive Board Member of The Bair Foundation, which finds homes for high risk children. She is a member of: Mahoning County Bar Association Lawyers Assistance, Access to Justice and Memorial Committees; Ohio State Bar Association; Association of Municipal and County Judges, American Judges Association and Greater Youngstown League of Women Voters. Upon taking the bench, Judge DiSalvo enlarged and improved upon the Suspended License Intervention Program (SLIP Court) developed by her predecessor. She developed, in cooperation with Legal Aid, BMV and local agencies, a community outreach SLIP Clinic. Judge DiSalvo has just obtained initial certification from the Supreme Court for the area’s first victim of human trafficking court. She is the recipient of the Rotary Foundation Paul Harris Fellow award. Judge DiSalvo was appointed to the bench by Gov. Kasich November 5, 2018 to Judge Elizabeth Kobly’s unexpired term and was elected to a full 6 year term on November 5, 2019. Her term expires December 31, 2026.
Stephanie Gilchrist ’05, BSB Marketing
Stephanie Gilchrist, Mahoning Valley native and Youngstown resident, is the Executive Director of Inspiring Minds of Youngstown. Inspiring Minds is a nonprofit outreach organization that works with under-represented youth in our community and aims to engage, inspire and empower students through education and exposure to new experiences. Before coming to Inspiring Minds of Youngstown, she was the Project Coordinator at the Youngstown Business Incubator for Tech Block Building 5, overseeing the $5.7 million project. She then changed roles where she serves as the Director of the Women in Entrepreneurship Program, assisting many women in the community with their business ideas.
In addition, Gilchrist, alongside her husband, owns Ryan’s Chair Barber and Beauty Salon which has been in the community for over 20 years. Gilchrist earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Youngstown State University in 2005. In 2017, she completed the Executive MBA program through Strayer University. In 2018 she was recognized as the Youngstown Business and Professional Women’s Business Woman of the Year. Gilchrist serves on the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley’s Fund for Women and Girls Guiding Circle and the Mahoning Valley Economic Development’s Loan Fund Committee.
Sarah Holowach Kollat, 2003, BA Psychology
Canfield, OH native Sarah Holowach Kollat graduated Summa Cum Laude as a University Scholar with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Sarah went on to earn her M.S. (2004) and Ph.D. (2007) in Developmental Psychology from Penn State University. She is currently an Associate Teaching Professor at Penn State University in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. Her academic courses focus on infancy, childhood, and adolescence, with special topics examining autism spectrum disorders and developmental resilience. She is also the author of three novels under the pen name Sarah K. Stephens. Sarah loves using her psychological training to craft darkly human stories with killer twists, including A Flash of Red, It Was Always You, and the forthcoming The Anniversary. Aside from her novels, Sarah’s writing has appeared in College Teaching, The Writer’s Chronicle, Hazlitt, and The Millions.
Leah Merritt, 1992 and 2010, BA and MHHS
Leah Merritt has been the President & CEO of YWCA Mahoning Valley since 2011. Leah joined the YWCA in 1994, focused on health education. She quickly acquired skills in grant writing, fund development and YWCA services. The agency mission of eliminating racism and empowering women encouraged her to work towards equity and social justice. During her tenure, she has worked to provide impactful services for women, families and marginalized populations. The largest focus is providing affordable housing, which is a social determinant of health. In 2018, she and her team executed the merger of YWCAs Warren and Youngstown into YWCA Mahoning Valley. To support fair democracy, Leah serves as the Treasurer for the League of Women Voters of Greater Youngstown. She is also a member of the Warren Kiwanis and Trumbull Canoe Trails.
Kristen Olmi, 2008, BA Political Science
Kristen is a 2004 graduate of Struthers High school and lifelong Struthers resident. She is a graduate of the University of Akron with a Master of Applied Politics. Kristen is currently the Grants Coordinator for the Mahoning County Sanitary Engineering Department and Managing Member of K.O. Consulting, LLC, which focuses on Community and Economic Development. Kristen’s grant writing has secured millions of dollars for our community. Kristen cares deeply about the renaissance taking place in Youngstown and is proud to be a part of all the work happening throughout the Mahoning Valley. Kristen is a member of The American Association of Political Consultants, AFL-CIO Mahoning Trumbull-Union Counselor Association; Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Mahoning Valley Fundraising Committee; CASTLO Community Improvement Corporation Member of the Board of Trustees; Family and Community Services Board Member; President of The League of Women Voters of Greater Youngstown; Member of the Struthers Rotary Community Corps, 2nd Vice President; Youngstown YWCA Board of Directors and was named the 2014 YWCA Board Member of the year. Kristen has worked on numerous local, state and national political campaigns both as a volunteer and in a paid capacity. In addition, Kristen published her first book in 2015 entitled “Winning Elections: A Blueprint for the Public Servant in US All”.
Patricia M. Sweeney, JD, MPH, RN; 1992, BSN, 1979, ADN
Patricia Sweeney has served as a community health nurse and population health advocate for more than 40 years. Since 2012, she has served as Health Commissioner for Mahoning County Public Health, retiring in February 2020. In that role, Ms. Sweeney led a staff of 70+ public health professionals in efforts to improve the health of Mahoning County residents. Prior to this role, Ms. Sweeney served as an Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and as the Associate Director for Law and Policy at the Center for Public Health Practice. Ms. Sweeney earned her Juris Doctorate and Master of Public Health degrees and a certificate in the Advanced Study of Health Law from the University of Pittsburgh. She earned Bachelor of Science and Associate degrees in Nursing from Youngstown State University. A Registered Nurse since 1979, Ms. Sweeney has worked in the areas of oncology, hospice, home care and community health. Ms. Sweeney has served on various local, state and national committees and is currently Chair of the Mercy Health Youngstown Strategy Committee and Vice-chair of the Board of Trustees, as well as co-chair of the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley’s Healthy Community Partnership. Ms. Sweeney has received numerous awards including being designated a University of Pittsburgh Faculty Scholar, an Ohio State University Champion of Public Health, alumna of the year by YSU and Boardman High School, an Athena Award recipient and a national Kresge Foundation Leader in Public Health.
Gulper Yarasik, 2013, MBA
A native of Turkey, Gulper Yarasik received a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Yeditepe University, Turkey. While completing her bachelor’s degree, she attended Youngstown State University’s Chemical Engineering program as an exchange student. Upon graduation, she returned to YSU to complete her Master’s in Business Administration. While a full-time graduate student, she worked as a Supply Chain Intern at automotive manufacturer American Axle and Manufacturing. In addition to receiving an MBA degree from YSU in 2013, she completed a certification in Enterprise Resource Planning from YSU. This led her to accept a full time position with the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company as an IT analyst. During her last 6 years at Goodyear, she has held various roles in Information Technology and Global Procurement. Through various projects, she has implemented technology solutions to drive strategic initiatives. For the past two years Gulper has been managing a global team with the task of implementing business transformation initiatives for Global Procurement organization.