Giving wings to fly

Kathy Zeches gives young women at Washington State University the wings to fly.

For this reason and others, Zeches was named this year’s WSU Woman of the Year at a Women’s Recognition Luncheon, March 28 in Compton Union Building Ballroom.

As director of WSU’s Women’s Resource Center since 1994, hundreds of students have benefited from her work and leadership. Under Zeches’s direction, the center has implemented a program that helps undergraduate single mothers, and she has brought a nationally recognized conference to campus that encourages women to pursue careers in public leadership and politics. The sexual assault prevention program Women’s Transit, Mom’s Weekend, and other events and programs the center handles continue to thrive. And Zeches does it all on a shoestring budget in a time of looming cuts.

“Her dedication is to WSU, the students and her department,” says Linda Chesser, an administrative assistant for the Women’s Studies Department who often works with Zeches. “It’s not a job to her — it’s something she believes in and would do even if she didn’t get paid.”

Zeches came to Pullman 13 years ago when her husband, Jim, took a job coaching football with Mike Price. She’s worked in the Center for Human Rights — what was then called the Office of Affirmative Action — and in Human Relations and Diversity before taking the director’s job at the Women’s Resource Center.

The center’s mission is to empower and educate women and, in particular, it reaches out to women of color. As director, she often works with students who come to college disconnected from friends and resources. Helping these students find their niche and feel welcome on campus is what she enjoys most.

Leading a program that serves hundreds of students annually on a budget of $10,000 can be daunting, Zeches says. She’s overcome that through resourcefulness and making contacts on and off campus.

“Trying to remain successful in a budget crisis is challenging,” Zeches says. “The issues we deal with in our center — gender equity and equity for women of color — aren’t priorities everybody shares. We have to keep them foremost in people’s thoughts and find the funding to support that.”

She is proud of her work as the project leader and writer for the five-year report on the Status of Women at WSU which systematically measures both the progress and areas that need to be improved for women on campus.

Libby Walker, assistant dean of the Honors College, says she was impressed with Zeches’ careful work on the report and describes her as positive, considerate, conscientious and “never derogatory.”

Walker says Zeches was the driving force behind WSU’s designation as one of nine institutions nationally that will serve as a site for the NEW Leadership Development Network, a nationally recognized program developed by the Center for the American Woman in Politics at Rutgers University. The program will bring women to campus who are interested in politics and policy-making roles.

Zeches opted to stay at WSU this year even though her spouse took a job as a scout with the San Francisco 49ers last July, which has meant being apart. “I didn’t feel I could resign in July. I knew they couldn’t do a search before school started.” She plans to join Jim in Phoenix this June.

“I love Pullman and my job here but life changes,” she says.

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