But For Ohio State Mansfield: Dan Freund


At The Ohio State University at Mansfield, Dan Freund began a journey from the mold of a Midwestern factory family, to a first generation college student, to leading the transformation of his home school district. It was the mid-1960s and Dan Freund had just graduated. “I really didn’t see myself going to college when I graduated from high school. I was 17 years old, I was not really thinking college was for me,” But something changed his course.

“We had one building. It was brand new. It was Ovalwood,” reminisces Freund. The campus featured a dirt road entrance that “you needed a four wheel drive vehicle to get in and out of,” he chuckles and adds, “But again, it was brand new in 1966.”

Along with fresh bricks and mortar, Freund noted that attitude of students and faculty was something special. “There was a really great sense of excitement.” Freund noted. “We got to know each other quickly and formed friendships. We felt like we were part of something.” Freund found a foothold in those fresh beginnings that became foundational to his collegiate career.

“It was really great to have the Mansfield campus, because I could live at home, and because my family didn’t have a whole lot of money, it helped out considerably from an economic standpoint. It was very convenient for me and the high quality of teaching was pretty impressive.” As he attended class, bonds began to form and he found a home in his local campus. “You know, I still remember the names of my teachers, and they had a powerful impact on my life.” The first step in his educational journey had not taken him far from home. The next step would take him 70 miles south.

He moved to The Ohio State University’s Columbus campus and found yet another home. He enjoyed classes there, meeting new friends and professors, and before long he found himself graduating with a Bachelor’s degree. He was not quite finished, however, and returned to complete a Master’s degree in Education from Ohio State.

His professional career has taken him through local schools, first as a grad school special needs teacher, a full-time middle school teacher, a member of local administrations, and finally, as a superintendent of Mansfield City Schools.

In his superintendent post, he has been a catalyst for community change and has received high marks from several community members. At a recent school board meeting, Cheryl Carter, director of North Central State College’s Urban Center, remarked “Students have a great advocate in Dan Freund. Behind every decision he makes is the thought: Is this best for our students? I know that the vision Dan has for this district is spot on.”

Freund has also led Mansfield City Schools in forging a remarkable partnership with The Ohio State University at Mansfield. The schools have enjoyed collaboration on the Algebra Project for a number of years and now look to expand efforts into scholarship programs. As part of Ohio State Mansfield’s But For Ohio State Mansfield capital campaign, the campus is working with Freund to establish the Tyger Scholarship Fund. Designed to raise aspirations for higher education, at least twenty percent of Mansfield Senior High School graduates are expected to receive support from this new scholarship, with plans in place to expand this opportunity to even more students through ongoing collaborations with Mansfield City School District alumni. “Superintendent Freund is the ideal partner in an initiative such as this,” notes Dr. Stephen Gavazzi, dean and director of The Ohio State University at Mansfield, “He brings real world experience and an openness to new ideas that set the stage for some truly transformative work to be done.”

Asked what he plans for the future, Freund stated simply, “We really want our kids to understand that there are no limitations in terms of their futures. If they have the will to succeed there are adults in their community working hard on their behalf so that their dreams can become real.”

As his remarkable career continues, Dan Freund dares students to dream, and begin a new educational journey. In doing so, they will be following a course that has been both walked and prepared by their superintendent.



It began with a simple question: “What if a Big Ten university, a school district, and community worked together on healthy youth development?” The answer was a unique initiative called STEMpowerement.

One of the primary missions of The Ohio State University at Mansfield is to impact its local community by providing opportunity through higher education. In 2011-2012, Dr. Stephen Gavazzi, dean and director of the Ohio State Mansfield campus, charged a key group of faculty and staff to begin putting together a plan to provide access to success through science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

Program developers based their pilot program on the findings of Bob Moses, a noted civil rights activist, and founder of the Algebra Project. His book Radical Equations describes the power of youth movements, and necessity of access to STEM knowledge. The model he outlines in the book has been employed in dozens of cities in and around the United States and asserts that the STEM fields are gateways to social and economic success. With decades of economic upheaval in its rearview mirror, the city of Mansfield, Ohio seemed prime for such an initiative.

A few months later, STEMpowerment was born. Its mission was to provide a Learning Community for students who want to engage in opportunities for education and community improvement. Students come together in shared courses, lectures, group discussions, service learning, and study abroad opportunities. Students are also able to become mentors, and join off campus initiatives. Ultimately, students actively address real world issues, and build a better future.

Dr. Terri Bucci, an education professor who oversees much of the academic and outreach portion of the program, explains further: “This is a student-empowered learning community. The faculty provides guidance and instruction in the areas of our expertise and within the frame of empowerment of, by, and for youth. Faculty and community leaders work with STEMpowerment students in areas of leadership development, academic insights, understanding, knowledge creation, and advising for academic, research, and community organizing.”

The program’s pilot year has thrived upon a multi-disciplinary group of individuals from many academic disciplines. The program’s academic portion allows students to schedule the program’s classes alongside their major’s requirements. Such flexibility pools students from Ohio State’s 170+ majors, rather than any one major. The program’s classes brings them together in a dynamic learning atmosphere. Such a model enables the program to reach deeper levels of academic collaboration and individual skill building.

A portion of the program’s academic classes allows students to gain personal and professional development from Strengths Finder, a product of the Gallup, Inc. Strengths Finder is an interactive survey that categories abilities and characteristics of individuals into 32 key strengths areas. After completing the survey, students receive a report that identifies their top strengths. The report provides students with an understanding of their potential and further outlines action items that allow students to succeed in academic, work, and social environments.

“The first year of the STEMpowerment Leadership Gateway is focused on issues of empowerment and social justice for a community purpose,” says Director of Admissions and First Year Experience Shari Petersen, “Our goal is to help students identify their individual strengths, and then provide opportunities where these strengths can be put into action collectively with their classmates’ to make a difference in the local community and on campus.”

With that in mind, STEMpowerment hit the road. During a series of visits to area organizations, students were to take in the mission and work of each organization, and identify how their individual strengths might enhance the work at hand. Following the series of visits, their task was to turn a list of action items to enact and effect change into formal class proposals by the end of the Autumn Semester. The proposals were ultimately presented a University panel who identified the most sustainable and executable proposals.

Upon review, the panel and students identified raising awareness among area youth about how they might become involved themselves as a key next step in the process. That became the program’s work for the beginning of 2013. In conjunction with raising community awareness, the students will be reaching out to students in local high schools to develop sister STEMpowerment groups to empower and amplify those youth voices.

In the coming months, the STEMpowerment program will continue to lay the groundwork of what it hopes will become a larger, even more dynamic agent for sustainable community growth. As students go out and begin to employ their skills, they will be fulfilling a dual role of breaking new ground, and raising awareness for for innovative community driven change. Even as they just begin that journey, it has already taken the program to far away places.

In January, the voice of Ohio State Mansfield reached Ninth Annual Conference on Sustainability in Hiroshima, Japan. The conference is a knowledge community brought together by a common concern for sustainability in a holistic perspective, where environmental, cultural, economic and social concerns intersect. The very nature of the program’s work is at the forefront of sustainable culture and landed them a place for presenting at the conference. STEMpowerment student Dillion Carr, a junior from Ontario, shared an overview of innovative STEMpowerment outreach and revealed early survey results of its effectiveness. For 45 minutes, Dillion found himself presenting the young, promising program to the leading innovators, and educators from around the world.

Even for a research institution of The Ohio State University’s stature, this was a unique opportunity. Dr. Bucci notes, “Most other presenters at this conference were faculty, PhD students and graduate students from around the world. This type of activity, leadership in the academic world and in knowledge creation, is one of goals of the learning community. “

Though it has already graced a world stage, the work of STEMpowerment is just beginning. “Much of this years’ work is on developing identity of our OSU learning community and the youth connection to the Mansfield community through youth/student voices while maintaining a focus on empowerment access, change, and leadership,” notes Bucci. In the closing weeks of the semester, students will continue to go out and build on the bold mission of STEMpowerment.

And that’s exactly what Dillion loves about it: “It all revolves around us. As students and as educators, we just have to figure out what we want to do to better our lives in Mansfield and keep that lifestyle going for generations to come.”