Martin Woytus, N. Renee Crandall-Witte and Qiang Dotzel receive UMSL Hero Awards

Mug shots of Martin Woytus, N Renee Crandall-Witte and Qiang Dotzel with text overlay that says March Recipients

This month’s Hero Award recipients are (from left) Martin Woytus, N. Renee Crandall-Witte and Qiang Dotzel. (Photos by August Jennewein)

University of Missouri–St. Louis Chancellor Kristin Sobolik and her cabinet continue to recognize the exemplary efforts of staff and faculty members from across campus by bestowing the UMSL Hero Award on up to three individuals each month.

This month’s honorees are N. Renee Crandall-Witte, senior library information specialist for University Libraries; Qiang Dotzel, teaching professor in the Department of Mathematics, Physics, Astronomy and Statistics; and Martin Woytus, senior graduate academic advisor in the College of Education.

N. Renee Crandall-Witte

When Crandall-Witte came to UMSL as a student in the mid-‘80s, she didn’t know that she would end up staying on campus for nearly three decades.

“I initially came as a student,” she said. “Then I was a student assistant in the libraries and a position opened up – back when we had a South Campus library – so I just kind of worked my way up to the position I am in now.”

As the senior library information specialist, Crandall-Witte is in charge of catalog maintenance for the Thomas Jefferson Library. She also adds additional volumes and updates names, subjects, holdings records and titles to current usage. In nominating her, David Owens, head of Technical Services, noted she is a consummate professional who readily takes on duties beyond her job description.

“I have found Renee to be a careful listener, understanding and professional,” Owens wrote in his nomination. “Her work has always been characterized by great accuracy and knowledge. Renee is a gregarious person with a pleasant personality, who seems comfortable working with a wide variety of personalities. She enjoys working with others and conveys a professional attitude to staff and patrons.”

Crandall-Witte is currently preparing for the impending renovation of the University Libraries, which is part of the Transform UMSL initiative to establish an enhanced academic core on North Campus. She said getting ready to make a temporary move to make way for construction has been a good excuse to reminisce about her time at the university.

“Going through my desk, there’s a lot of memories,” she said. “Like, wow, I didn’t know I still had this.”

The UMSL Hero Award was a surprise to Crandall-Witte, but she’s thankful for the honor.

“It feels good to be recognized because I’m in the ‘back room,’ and so I don’t normally have interactions with people beyond my department,” she said. “So, it’s nice that the work I do is being valued.”

Qiang Dotzel

February was a busy month for Dotzel between teaching, advising students and serving on several UMSL committees. At times, it felt like she was buried in work. However, a message informing her that she’d won an UMSL Hero Award instantly brightened her day.

“It felt like the sky was lifting over my head, and I felt gratified by the message at the moment,” she said. “I am proud to be chosen, as I also know that there are so many faculty and staff on campus who really deserve this honor.”

Dotzel, who earned her master’s degree in mathematics at UMSL in 1993, has been teaching mathematics at her alma mater for more than 20 years. The university has gone through many changes over the past two decades, but some things have been consistent over the years.

“What remained constant is the diverse student population, which we continue serving, impressive colleagues I feel fortunate to cross paths with and being inspired by them daily,” she said.

Dotzel splits her time teaching undergraduates in Contemporary Mathematics, a general education course filled mostly with liberal arts majors, and Analytic Geometry and Calculus II, a foundational course for students majoring in STEM fields. With both groups, Dotzel tries to impart what she sees as the “inherent beauty of mathematics” and how it applies to many situations in life. She also strives to meet all of her students where they’re at and make the subject approachable.

Beauty Cooper is one such student who has benefitted from that perspective.

“Professor Dotzel is thorough with her instructions in recording content, meeting us on Zoom if we miss class to make sure we understand,” Cooper wrote in her nomination. “She always responds in her email when we have questions; she even sends reminders during the day so that we don’t forget our assignments. She is funny, too. Sometimes, I miss parts of the assignment in the book, and she responds back that I’m not finished. She is caring, but firm and doesn’t want us to make excuses. She also encourages and motivates before every class. Thus, we’re all willing to give math our best attempt.”

Cooper’s nomination made the award even “sweeter” for Dotzel.

“Beauty was an excellent student with a kind heart,” Dotzel said. “She was always front and center for lectures and often printed extra handouts and distributed them to others. When I first met Beauty, she was like most of the students in the course – scared of math. Math has been a big obstacle for quite a few students, mostly as a result of some bad experience from a previous encounter with mathematics. When Beauty said to me, ‘If I can conquer math, I can conquer the world,’ I was like, ‘Hey, I got to be in on that.’ This often is my motivation to provide necessary support, to be their stepping stone and help them to achieve their greater goals in life.”

Martin Woytus

Woytus, a senior graduate academic advisor in the College of Education, knows the difference a graduate degree from UMSL can make. Before coming to UMSL, Woytus had a 30-year career as a K-12 educator – 24 of those as a school administrator.

After earning a master’s in school administration in 1994, it wasn’t long before he began working as an administrator with the Special School District of St. Louis County and later the Ritenour School District. Now, he helps other educators in the St. Louis area find a way to advance their careers, just as he had.

“I want them to come here and get something that’s important to them that will help them get those career outcomes,” he said. “I know what it did for me. I came out of here with that master’s, and it was huge.”

Woytus said it’s helpful to have that experience as an educator when he works with students. He makes a point of having in-depth discussions with potential students about where they’re at in their current career and their endgame. He said they typically seek a graduate degree for three reasons: to become better practitioners, to earn specialized Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education certifications and to move up the salary schedule.

Once the best path forward is established, Woytus makes it his goal to provide a great product via the faculty members in the College of Education and personalized, responsive customer service. He said the latter is particularly important for UMSL students who are working full-time while taking care of their families and trying to further their education at the same time.

“My hope is they don’t have to worry about all the processes,” he said. “I can call admissions; I can call the registrar, the cashier, financial aid, any of these folks and help with that situation so that they don’t have to make multiple phone calls or send out multiple emails. Because they’re teaching and they’re taking care of families and everything else. We want them to come here and worry about their studies. That should be all they have to worry about.”

Amber Candela, an associate professor of mathematics education and director of the Elementary Mathematics Specialist Certificate program, commended Woytus’ dedication and ability to communicate and problem-solve when faced with enrolling a large cohort for the EMS program.

“In fall 2022, a Missouri DESE grant funded six universities, including the UMSL College of Education, to support elementary teachers who committed to earning an Elementary Mathematics Specialist endorsement,” Candela wrote in her nomination. “The timeline for admitting and enrolling the students was incredibly short, but Marty worked tirelessly to help students navigate admissions and enroll for the special program. Moreover, he did so cheerfully and without complaint. In total, 109 new graduate students were added for the 2022-23 academic year.”

Woytus said it’s nice to be recognized as an individual, but he stressed that he’s just one part of a team that works to meet students’ needs and help them succeed.

“UMSL, to me, is a ‘we’ university,” he said. “It’s not a ‘me’ university.”


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