Distinguished Alumni

College of Liberal Arts graduates exhibit many fascinating paths to success. Each year we celebrate the accomplishments of our alumni at an Outstanding Alumni Awards Ceremony.


Steven Carl Smith (2016 Recipient)

BA, History, 2004

Dr. Steven Carl Smith is a 2004 graduate of Wright State University, where he studied history and political science. In 2013, Smith earned a Ph.D. in American History from the University of Missouri. Upon completion of his graduate studies, Smith relocated to Providence, Rhode Island to become Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Providence College.

Smith’s first book, An Empire of Print: The New York Publishing Trade in the Early American Republic, is under contract and will be part of the Penn State Series in the History of the Book. Smith was a 2012-13 Andrew W. Mellon Material Texts Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s McNeil Center for Early American Studies and has received fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Antiquarian Society, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the New York Public Library, the New York State Archives & Partnership Trust, the New York State Library, and the New York State Historical Association. Smith was also named the 2012 Malkin New Scholar by the Bibliographical Society of America and has published essays in The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, the Maryland Historical Magazine, and Literature in the Early American Republic.

Bridget Federspiel-McLeod (2015 Recipient)

MA, History

Bridget Federspiel-McLeod joined the social-studies faculty at Stivers High School for the Arts in the Dayton Public Schools in 2002, and since that time she has been recognized repeatedly as an outstanding teacher.  Graduating Wright State University with an MA in History in 2005, she has received several teaching awards including the Excellence in Teaching Award from the Rotary Club of Dayton (2006), the Panera “Rising Above” award for distinguished teaching (2007), the Ohio Council of Social Studies High School Teacher of the Year (2007), and the Ohio Department of the Veterans of Foreign Wars High School Teacher of the Year (2014). Further, Federspiel-McLeod has been the recipient of travel grants to England, South Korea, Turkey, Germany, Australia, and Germany, and she has given many well-received presentations on teaching and oral history. Additionally Federspiel-McLeod has made significant contributions to the collecting of military veterans’ oral histories by teaching a course, “Veterans’ Voices,” at Wright State University and submitting with her Stivers students almost 400 veterans’ oral histories to the Library of Congress. Since 2008 she has served as the Youth Coordinator for the Dayton Council on World Affairs.

Mark Benbow (2014 Recipient)

'83 M.A. History

Mark Benbow received his M.A. in History from Wright State University in 1983, two years after graduating from Hanover College.  From 1987-2002 he worked on national security issues for the federal government; during this time he received his Ph.D. from Ohio University.  From 2003-2006 Benbow was the Historian at the Woodrow Wilson House Museum in Washington, D.C.  He joined the Marymount University faculty in 2007, first serving as an adjunct and then as an assistant professor.  He also serves as the Director of the Arlington Historical Museum in Arlington, Virginia, and is a member of numerous professional and amateur historical groups.  Benbow is the author of Leading Them to the Promised Land: Woodrow Wilson, Covenant Theology and the Mexican Revolution: 1913-1915 (Kent State University Press, 2010) and many scholarly articles and essays.  Currently Benbow is working on a biography of Washington, D.C. brewer Christian Heurich. After that book is completed, he plans to write a book about Woodrow Wilson and the birth of the American film industry. 

Joseph Mason (2013 Recipient)

'98 M.A. History

Dr. Joseph Mason is the historian of the Air Force Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California, where he writes the official history of developmental tests of new weapons systems.

Dr. Mason completed a Master of Arts degree in history in 1998 at Wright State University while serving as an aerospace engineer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. He received a fellowship from the University of Iowa to pursue a doctoral degree in history.  He received his Ph.D. in 2004.

Dr. Mason joined the civil service in 2003 as an Air Force historian, working initially at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, and later at headquarters, U.S. Central Command. During this time, Dr. Mason deployed to the Persian Gulf region to document coalition air force operations in Afghanistan and wrote a history of U.S.-Pakistan security cooperation after 9/11.  His history of the Air Education and Training Command’s response to Hurricane Katrina won an Air Force award for best historical publication in 2006.

Martin West (2012 Recipient)

Martin West received his undergraduate degree from Miami University and his master's degree from Wright State University. Following an internship at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus, he was director of the Geneva Historical Society and museum in New York. He was director of Fort Ligonier, a museum and reconstructed/restored British fort of the French and Inidian War, for thirty years from 1981-2011, when he retired. Martin served on the Advisory Council of George Washington Scholars at Mount Vernon, Virginia, and has been an adjunct history lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh and St. Vincent College. He testified before the U.S. Congress for historical preservation. West received the Meritorious Service Medal from the Pennsylvania National Guard for history advocacy. Several of his publications are:

"The Best Passage Through the Mountains: Braddock's Road in the War for Empire," in An Uncommon Passage: Traveling through History on the Great Allegheny Passage, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009

"Clark's 1780 Expedition" in The Life of George Rogers Clark: Triumphs and Tragedies, Praeger, 2004

Annotation and Editing of Washington's Autobiography in George Washington Remembers: Reflections on the French and Indian War, Roman & Littlefield, 2004

Leigh A. Sempeles (2011 Recipient)

B.A .History

Leigh Sempeles: A Dayton native, Leigh Sempeles graduated from Wright State University in 1979 with a B.A. in History.  After earning a J.D. from the University of Dayton Law School, she practiced law for several years before moving to Mead Data Central to work on a project that eventually became LexisNexis.  There she held management positions in strategy, marketing, and product development.  In 1992, she earned an M.A. in Business Administration from Antioch University McGregor.  From 2006- 2011 she served as the Executive Director of St. Vincent de Paul – Dayton.  She is now the head of the Law School program for Bloomberg Law, part of Bloomberg, L.P.  in New York City.

Elli Bambakidis (2008 Recipient)

'79 B.A. Greek, '83 M.A. History

Elli Bambakidis graduated in 1979 with a degree in Classics. She is warmly remembered as an able and active student, one professor praising her love affair with language, her delight in analyzing structures and weighing words.” Shifting toward archival work, she completed a Masters degree in History in 1983 from Wright State and a Master of Library Science degree from Kent State University in 1996.

Elli worked at the WSU Library in special collections before taking a job as an archivist with the Dayton Metro Library. She has managed one of the largest collections of Women's Suffrage materials in the country and has published twenty-four archival collections, including that of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Symposiua proceedings which she has written include Preserving the Wright Brothers' Legacy (2002), and 1913: Preserving the Memories of Dayton's Great Flood (2004). She has taken a leadership role in preserving archival information, both in Dayton and in Ohio.

She has also been very active in the Greek community of Dayton, even running the Greek school for twenty years and regularly superintending the celebration of Greek Independence Day. In 2004, Elli presented an invited talk on America's Team at the 1906 Olympics at an international symposium in Volos, Greece.

Among her other WSU connections, her husband, Gust Bambakidis, is emeritus professor of Physics, and their three sons are all alumni. The oldest, Nicholas, was a 1993 Honors graduate and is now a neurosurgeon practicing in Arizona.

Mary Oliver (2008 Recipient)

'95 B.A. Anthropology, '98 M.A. Public History

Mary Oliver discovered anthropology as an undecided Wright State University student looking to fulfill curriculum requirements with some interesting electives. The courses proved so captivating that she went on to study archaeology and physical anthropology, and was awarded a B.A. in Anthropology with a History minor in 1995. Mary went on to receive an M.A. in Public History, also from Wright State University, in 1998. While a student in the anthropology department, Mary participated in the summer field school in archaeology, first as a student in 1994 and 1995, and then as a supervisor in 1996 and 1997. Mary also worked as a contractor for various local archaeological excavations.

Following her graduation, Mary was hired by the Montgomery County Historical Society as Curator of Collections. Presently, she is the director of collections for Dayton History, where she supervises the curatorial staff and oversees a collection of more than three million artifacts of local and national significance, including the Wright Flyer III, the world's first practical airplane. Despite a full schedule, Mary also currently serves on the board of the Ohio Association of Historical Societies and Museums and the Springfield (Ohio) Historic Landmarks Commission. Mary lives in Springfield with her husband, Brian, a fellow WSU graduate (B.A., Sociology, 1993), and their daughter, Sarah.

Robert Wood (2008 Recipient)

'72 B.A. Political Science, '77 M.A. History

Robert Wood first arrived on the Wright State University campus in the summer of 1968 and was immediately struck by how big it seemed compared to his native Urbana High School with its small enrollment of slightly more than 800 students. After all, WSU had over 5,000 students and a dedicated core of 140 faculty members. Fawcett Hall had just been completed to complement the quadrangle. The food was from vending machines and parking was free.

What Robert remembers most about his undergraduate years were the small but challenging classes, the WSU Horseback Riding Club and working for the Art Department. Graduating with a B.A. in Political Science in 1972, Robert began a 35-year career with WSU and earned his M.A. in History in 1977. Many professors greatly influenced and contributed to his educational training and personal development, but most notably Harvey Wachtell, Jacob Dorn, Edward Cox, Andrew Spiegel, James Walker and Harold Hollingsworth stand out. During his long employment under all seven presidents, Robert served as coordinator of the Center for Law School Advising and Consortium Activities; University Division advisor; director of Pre-Professional Advising; college advisor in the College of Liberal Arts; and assistant dean in the College of Liberal Arts.

Robert and his wife Teresa, a WSU alumnus, reside in Beavercreek. Two of their three children have since graduated from Wright State. Currently he is busy gardening with their two granddaughters.

Tanya Zanish-Belcher (2007 Recipient)

'90 M.A. Historical and Archival Administration

Tanya Zanish-Belcher received her B.A. (1983) in History and Medieval Studies from Ohio Wesleyan University and M.A. (1990) in Historical and Archival Administration from Wright State University. She began as a Special Collections Archivist at the Alabama Dept. of Archives and History. In 1995, she became the Curator for the Archives of Women in Science and Engineering at the Iowa State University Library, and in 1998 was promoted to Head of the Special Collections Department and Head of the University Archives. She administers a department containing 15,000 linear ft. of archival material, over 1,000,000 photographic images, 60,000 rare books, and 10,000 motion picture films with a staff of 4 faculty, 3 para-professionals, and numerous student employees and interns. The Department has an active outreach and reference program, and won the National History Day in Iowa Kids Count! Award for Outstanding Service to Youth Researchers in 2004.

She has numerous publications, and current research includes the role of oral history in documenting women in science and issues relating to archival collections related to reproduction. Tanya has given numerous presentations to local and regional groups, as well as professional organizations such as the Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) and the Society of American Archivists (SAA). She currently serves as the vice president of MAC and as a member of SAA’s Membership Committee. At Iowa State, she recently was named a Wakonse Fellow and has also received a W. Robert Parks Honors Commendation for her work with the University’s Honors Program.

Dorothy Smith (2006 Recipient)

'81 M.A. American History

Dorothy Smith was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and attended San Francisco State University. In the late 60's, she “tuned in, turned on, and dropped out” of San Francisco State.

Dorothy moved across the bay to Berkeley and became involved in various political activities and other mischief. By a very circuitous route, she found herself in Yellow Springs in the late 70's, right up the road from Wright State. She completed her B.A. in Anthropology at Wright State in 1979 and then went on to get her M.A. in History in 1981.

Dorothy worked as an archivist in the Special Collections at the Wright State University Dunbar Library for 15 years, then took a position at the American Jewish Archives at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati where she currently works.

She was an adjunct professor at Wright State from 1987-96 in the Graduate Program in Public History and is currently an adjunct professor at Wilmington College - Cincinnati teaching The Civil War Era.

Claudia Watson (2005 Recipient)

'75 B.A. History, '85 M.A. History

Claudia Watson directs the Mongtomery County Historical Society Research Center which includes the NCR Archives, a nationally and internationally significant collection of over three million items. The NCS Archive contains a remarkable collection of 8 x 10 glass plate negatives documenting manufacturing, retail, urban life, international sales, and progressive reforms in the early 20th Century as well as the equipment and oral histories from the crucial World War II code-breaking project at NCR. Claudia has shared the rich resources of these collections with the public through exhibits and publications. She is the author of Seizing the Light: The Photography of Dayton's Albert Kern (2004) and Dayton Comes of Age: The City Through the Eyes of John H. Patterson (2002). She has actively promoted historical awareness and engagement in the Miami Valley through public programs, lectures, and workshops.

Karen J. Hunt (2004 Recipient)

'89 MA History

Karen J. Hunt, director of the John Hope Franklin Collection of African and African American Documentation and African American resource librarian at Duke University and a 1989 Wright State University graduate (MA History), is the Outstanding Alumni Award winner from the College of Liberal Arts.

The John Hope Franklin Collection is a repository for African and African American studies and an educational outreach division of the Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collections Library at Duke University. Named after distinguished historian John Hope Franklin, the collection collects, preserves and promotes materials on the history of Africa and people of African descent. While a Wright State student in 1986, Hunt decided to join the Peace Corps. She served in Kenya, East Africa, until 1988. Since leaving Wright State, Hunt has worked for the National Archives and Record Administration in Washington, D.C., and as corporate records manager for Northern State Power in Minneapolis. She later was a manuscripts assistant at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, assistant university archivist at the College of William and Mary, and an associate professor, systems archivist, and director of the Department of Archives and Special Collections at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Hunt has published numerous articles and presented on the John Hope Franklin collection, the future of archiving and on 19th century physician and abolitionist Sarah Parker Remond.

Dawne Dewey (2003 Recipient)

'80 B.A. Anthropology, '84 M.A. History

Dawne has been employed by Dunbar Library since 1989 and Head of Special Collections and Archives since 1997, with research interests focusing upon Ohio regional history and early aviation history. Dawne has given numerous presentations on the Wrights and other subjects to local, regional, and national conferences, also serving as a consultant for a variety of grant projects and educational publications and media productions. She chaired the Wright Brothers symposium at Wright State in 2001, served on the Board of Advisors of Aviation Trial, and has advised numerous organizations on archival matters.

Mary E. Kenton (2002 Recipient)

'74 B.S. English Education, '78 M.A. History

Mary Kenton has provided many years of dedicated service to WSU and the surrounding community, and her tenure as associate director of the University Honors Program has spanned four directors. In that capacity, she has given the program essential continuity through her work in communications, curriculum development, scheduling, and budgeting. She recently published “Christianity, Democracy, and Socialism: Bouck White's Kingdom of Self Respect ,” as a chapter in Socialism and Christianity in Early Twentieth Century America (1998).