Five women have been named 2005 Women of Distinction, an annual honor bestowed by WSU’s Commission on the Status of Women. The award recognizes noteworthy work, leadership and/or public service, as well as contributions to the growth and success of others, especially women.

Awards will be presented at WSU’s annual Women’s Recognition Luncheon on Thursday, March 24, when the Woman of the Year also will be announced. Women of Distinction honorees are:



Rita Koontz, WSU staff. Koontz has been administrative services manager for the Social and Economic Sciences Research Center for 26 of the 31 years she’s been at WSU. She assists women who’ve been out of the workforce and seeking to re-enter employment. She has helped women in abusive relationships or dead-end jobs to gain skills that have helped improve their work and lives.

This assistance also has extended to the people with whom she works. She assists coworkers to find growth and educational opportunities, then seeks recognition and job upgrades for them as they succeed. “She listens to the dreams and wishes of others and seeks ways to facilitate them,” said one nominator.



Sue Clark, WSU faculty. Clark, Chemistry Department chair and Westinghouse Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, is associate director of the Integrated Graduate Education and Training Program, which recruits minority and women students to the sciences. She co-developed the WSU course WST 220, “Women, Science and Culture.”

“She turned down an offer from MIT to come to WSU, initially because of our more welcoming environment for her as a young mother,” said one nominator. “As a wife and mother of a young son, she serves as a role model for our women students who wonder if it is possible to have a family and significant career. She is living proof that it is.”



Courtney Washington, WSU student. The first college graduate in her family, Washington is a graduate student in cultural studies and media literacy. She has sought leadership experiences through socially active organizations, including those addressing welfare-to-work, rehabilitation and AIDS/HIV research and education. She has served on WSU’s Commission on the Status of Women and at the YWCA. She has experience working with programs for homeless couples, families, the elderly and minorities.

“She is my hero, my mentor and the woman I aspire to one day become,” said a nominator whom Washington helped develop financial, educational and personal plans, apply for financial aid and — now a nursing student — mentor other African American women.



Carolyn Sawyer, WSU alumna. Sawyer completed her communication degree from the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication in 1984 and now is a veteran broadcaster at ABC News. As an undergraduate, she co-founded the Black Women’s Caucus at WSU. She was profiled in the book “Children of the Dream,” by Audrey Edwards and Craig K. Polite, along with other powerful black Americans.

“She is highly regarded as a visionary in the field of communications and a chief strategist for cutting-edge public relations,” said a nominator. “She refers to herself as ‘the other Sawyer’ at ABC News; not blonde, not white, not Diane, but a successful media woman in her own right.”



Patti Gora, woman outside WSU. Gora worked at WSU beginning in 1980 as director for women’s residence halls. She served as chair of the Commission on the Status of Women. In 1986 she became executive director of Alternatives to Violence on the Palouse and was instrumental in opening the first battered women’s shelter to serve both Whitman and Latah counties. She is now executive director of Safe Air for Everyone, which works to protect the health of area citizens by ending grass field burning in North Idaho.

She received an award for service from the Idaho Network to Stop Violence Against Women, and she has been named one of Idaho’s 100 most influential people. “She knows how to make a difference at the university, in our community and in our region,” said one nominator.