Two Miamians winners of 2020 Distinguished Service Award

Sue Sepela and Mike Curme to be recognized March 17

By Cliff Peale, university communications and marketing

Two Miamians who help students well beyond the boundaries of their job description are the winners of the 2020 Distinguished Service Award.

Sue Sepela, senior regional director of tutoring and learning centers, and Mike Curme, associate professor of economics and former dean of students, will receive the award from President Greg Crawford at a special ceremony March 17.

The Distinguished Service Award recognizes faculty or staff members who have made a significant impact on the life and mission of Miami University.


Sue Sepela changes lives.

Sepela serves students with challenges

Sepela has changed the lives of countless Miami students during her 21 years at Miami. She designs, implements and assesses programs, particularly for students from less privileged backgrounds.

She spearheaded successful applications for a combined $2.5 million in grants for the Trio Student Support Services and Upward Bound programs. Today, the Trio program supports 140 Miami Regionals students, and the Upward Bound program serves 60 students at Hamilton High School.

“I seek out potential grants. That’s not necessarily my responsibility, but I do it anyway,” Sepela said. “When somebody says there’s no funding, I say, ‘I’ll find it.’”

Cathy Bishop-Clark, associate provost and dean of Miami Regionals, wrote in her nomination that Sepela’s commitment to service spans both Miami and outside projects but is focused on the people she is serving.

“In my capacity as dean, I have heard countless stories of how Sue Sepela has changed the lives of her students,” Bishop-Clark wrote. “Without her, they would not have succeeded.”

Before coming to Miami, Sepela earned a University of Cincinnati degree in English literature and worked as an accounting clerk before deciding that teaching was her calling. She still teaches the first-year course at Miami Regionals.

Outside of Miami, Sepela last fall earned the Women of Excellence Award by the West Chester-Liberty Chamber Alliance, presented to women who have enhanced the lives of others through business, education, cultural or philanthropic activities and provided outstanding service to our region. Her nonprofit service has included board memberships at the Winton Woods Educational Foundation and the YWCA of Hamilton, as well as tutoring at the Booker T. Washington Community Center and leading a book club at the Hamilton campus.

“When you change one life, you change all the lives that follow in the family,” Bishop-Clark wrote in her nomination. “Miami University would not have the Trio or Upward Bound programs without the initiative, dedication and work of Sue Sepela.”


Mike Curme focuses on empowering students.

Curme spent five years as dean of students

When Mike Curme agreed to serve as interim dean of students in 2013, he thought it would be a short-term assignment and he could continue some of his work in the Farmer School of Business. He quickly learned that dean of students was a full-time assignment — and more. In fall 2018, he returned to the business school.

Curme doesn’t view his role as extraordinary service. He has developed an academic interest in how to empower students to take on challenges to success in college such as high-intensity drinking and sexual and interpersonal violence, even making those intractable problems a focus of a capstone class he is leading this spring.

Beyond serving students facing crises or consequential life decisions, initiatives driven by Curme include “I Am Miami,” a campaign to close the gap between Miami’s ideals and actual student behavior; development of the Miami Student Health Survey; and working to strengthen the town-gown relationship between Oxford and Miami.

“I appreciate this as validation of the excellent work of my colleagues,” said Curme, who first came to Miami in 1988. “Any role I played was just me doing my job.”

Jayne Brownell, vice president of student life, said Curme’s impact ranges from individual students to policies that will impact generations of Miami students.

“Mike became an expert and champion for issues of student high-risk alcohol use, sexual and interpersonal violence and mental health,” Brownell wrote in her nomination.

“He is passionate about the effects that these three issues have on our students and on our community and was willing to push for often unpopular cultural changes in these areas because he knew it was the best thing for Miami and our students … I can think of no one who puts as much of himself into his work, and his daily motivation is to serve Miami and our students in whatever way he is most needed.”

Curme said Miami’s challenges are the same faced by many universities, but he has confidence in Miami’s ability to develop policies and practices to enhance any student’s experience.

“There’s empirical evidence that suggests students today may be different,” he said. “But some things haven’t changed – their desire to develop and improve themselves and their capacity for having a positive impact on the world. That’s what makes Miami great.”