Patti Ota

Areas of Achievement: 
Community Building
Higher Education

Honored By

Honored by: Wilkening, Laurel L.
Date submitted: October 24, 2006
Gift: General Gift

Born in 1944, Dr. Patti Ota is an only child whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer prior to her pregnancy. This was at a time when practically no one survived breast cancer and having a child after diagnosis was unheard of. Ota believes that not only was her mother\'s survival influential on her own life and success, but also her father\'s career track. Getting his Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from M.I.T., Ota\'s father worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad for most of his career, eventually serving as Vice President. He was highly respected and was responsible for controlling the shipment of war supplies via train during World War Ⅱ. After Ota\'s father passed away, Ota\'s mother later stated, 'We knew that we could only have one child, and we both wanted a girl. We got a girl, but your father raised you as a boy.' As a pioneering woman in science, Ota illustrates the difficulties and triumphs she faced to receive success throughout her career.

In 1996, Ota received her B.A. in Mathematics from Cornell University. She went on to study the new field of Computer Science at the University of Pennsylvania. After getting caught between two professors who each wanted her to be their research assistant, Ota was told that to qualify for the Ph.D. program in Computer Science, she would have to earn a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering, which she did in 1969. While working on her dissertation, Ota began teaching some graduate courses in Computer Science at Lehigh University. In 1972 after receiving her doctorate, she became one of the first tenure-track woman faculties. While she was trying to make tenure, her male colleagues made her take undergraduate Electrical Engineering courses ̱ even though she had already received her Masters in that field. She also received harassment from her male students who would write profanity on her door, and slashed her tires. Undeterred, Ota remained the only woman faculty member in the College of Engineering for the first nine years she was there.

After receiving her doctorate, Ota married and eventually had two children, Kenji and Miki. During her pregnancies, the concept of maternity leave did not exist. Luckily, her first son was born during the summer so she did not have to worry about going back to work. However, when her second son Miki was born, Ota taught her classes until 6:00 p.m. on a Wednesday night, gave birth on Thursday, and was back to teaching on Monday. After receiving tenure, Ota was asked to serve as a Faculty Associate in the Provost\'s office. This was supposed to be a part-time, two-year assignment. However, soon after agreeing to this assignment, the Assistant Provost resigned and Ota found herself with full-time administrative responsibilities. One of the first things Ota did as an administrator was to establish a maternity leave policy (one of the very first at a university setting) and a childcare center.

During her tenure at Lehigh, Ota held various administrative positions such as Assistant Dean of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, and Dean of the College of Business and Economics. Ota also received many awards for her service at Lehigh and her commitment to women and students from underrepresented groups. She received The Lehigh Black and Hispanic Students Outstanding Faculty Member (1988) and the Hillman Award honoring distinguished service through long-term excellence at Lehigh University (1993). She was the first woman at Lehigh to ever receive the Hillman Award. The award she is most proud of is the one that is named after her: The Patti T. Ota Women\'s Studies Award, which was established in 1997.

Ota came to University of Arizona in 1999. She was first appointed to the position of Associate to the President, then Senior Associate to the President. Eventually she became the VP for Executive Affairs and University Initiatives, and Senior Associate to the President. It was during this two year appointment that she is credited for creating the Diversity Resource Office, a program that strives to 'connect campus diversity initiatives in the service of enhancing the University's academic excellence.' The Diversity Office acts as a point of contact for the diverse student life on campus.

In 2003, Ota was asked to take on the role of VP for Enrollment Management. During this appointment, Ota was responsible for many areas such as 'admission, registration, minority recruitment, orientation, financial aid, tuition revenue management, retention, University College, and academic services for athletes.' In Fall 2006, the UA's freshman class, undergraduate enrollment, and enrollment in each minority group (both in numbers and percentages) were the largest in UA history. In Fall 2007, the UA's freshman numbers gain increased, quality indicator's improved, minority group numbers once more reached ne all-time highs, and the freshman-to-sophomore retention rate reached the highest in UA history. In 2006, the University's Retention Master Plan received the national award for Best Practices in Student Retention from the Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange.

Following the appointment of President Shelton, Ota returned to a tenured full-time faculty position in Management Information Science in the Eller College of Management. In her current position, Ota teaches a number of general education courses. She is also a Faculty Fellow at Pima Hall. She goes there every Wednesday night for about three hours and talks to students about anything that they might want to talk about. It gives Pima Hall students a chance to get to now a faculty member on a more personal and informal basis.

As can be seen through her accomplishments, Ota has always placed a high importance on increasing the quality of student life in whatever university of which she works. The UA is very lucky to have a faculty member that continually strives to increase the diversity and enrich the quality of student life.