Jefferson Awards honoree serves as role model to students

December 27, 2013 | Features, UToday, — Languages, Literature and Social Sciences
By Samantha Watson



As a child, Dr. Jeanine Diller was inspired by her parents, her friends and her faith to give to others. As an adult, she is the inspiration for others to do the same.

Dr. Jeanine Diller, assistant professor of philosophy and director of the Center for Religious Understanding, received the UT Jefferson Award for September from Lawrence J. Burns, vice president for external affairs, during Inside Toledo in November.

Dr. Jeanine Diller, assistant professor of philosophy and director of the Center for Religious Understanding, received the UT Jefferson Award for September from Lawrence J. Burns, vice president for external affairs, during Inside Toledo in November.

“I have a strong awareness that I have been given so much and so many people have less,” Diller said. “I just like to help distribute resources, energies and talent where they’re needed to make people’s lives better.”

Diller, UT assistant professor of philosophy and director of the Center for Religious Understanding, was named the University’s Jefferson Awards September honoree because of her role as a mentor to students, encouraging them to live a life of service.

“Dr. Diller is a mentor and a friend; she instilled in me an honest love for philosophy, religion, and the search for understanding and truth,” said Zachary Dehm, a UT alumnus and former student. “She showed me what a responsible academic looks like — an academic who’s active in the world and doesn’t just sit in an office theorizing.”

Through the Center for Religious Understanding, Diller helped organize an after-school program with two goals: to help at-risk youth realize that college is a possibility and to encourage interfaith discussion among the volunteers.

This two-part goal came from a challenge from President Obama for people of all religious perspectives to come together for community service. She and Dr. Sudershan Pasipuleti, UT professor of social work, accepted this challenge and have received help from many to make their goals a reality.

Dehm, who graduated from UT in May and is studying theology at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, nominated Diller for the Jefferson Award.

In his nomination, Dehm wrote that Diller “has inspired countless numbers of students to think about the important questions faced in philosophical inquiry and religious pursuit and then encouraged them to do good and build peace in the world through her course work and her example.”

“I’ve found that my role both as a professor and as the center director provide opportunities to work my desire to give back into my courses and into the work of the center,” Diller said. “In my courses, I’ve always been a great believer in service learning and engaged learning. It’s one thing to talk about ideas and it’s another thing to see them in action.”

Know an unsung hero who dedicates his or her time to volunteering and community service? Submit a nomination for the Jefferson Awards at utoledo.edu/jeffersonaward or on Facebook at facebook.com/utjeffersonawards.