ONE ON ONE | Dr. Cynthia Hirtzel Engineering dean is advocate for 'nonhuman animals'

Do you have a role model?
My Ph.D. adviser (Jimmy Quon). I was his last student; I stayed with him until he almost died (of cancer). I admired him a lot. I thought he was one of the most ethical and fair people I had ever met. ... There weren't very many women around at the time so his values were values I adopted. To this day, still, as I make decisions, those core values are still there.
What inspires you?
The students inspire me a lot. I think we have just awesome students here at Youngstown State. Many of them are first-generation, many of them are adult students juggling family, social commitments, full-time jobs, and to see their dedication and motivation is really inspiring.
I'm also very much inspired by animals: their integrity, their lack of agenda, their soulfulness, their beauty, their compassion. I think that compassion is one of the qualities that the world really lacks these days, both at a local level and on a global level. ... To watch them (animals) interact is a great learning and healing experience as well.
What is the best thing about Youngstown?
Youngstown is, I think, a community with a lot of potential. The people here are very warm and friendly. I think they sometimes don't perhaps appreciate what a great place Youngstown is and how great it can be. The economy nationally is depressed, so it's not unique to Youngstown. But I think that there is much beauty here ... and it just needs some leadership to help pull the various components together and move it forward.
What kind of food do you like?
I'm vegan, which means that I don't eat any animal products including dairy, I don't wear any animal products, and I don't use products tested on animals. I do that basically for ethical reasons, because I think nonhuman animals truly are our equals.
There's a beautiful quote by the late Carl Sagan: If a chimpanzee differs from us by less than 1 percent (DNA-wise) -- and I'm paraphrasing his quote -- then why is it not murder to kill them in animal research? There are also global issues involved, that we could do better feeding the world if we all ate less meat. ... The more I read, the more I learn about the consciousness of animals, their spirituality, the more convinced I become that they are much more like us than not.
Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
I don't really take vacations. I sort of get my daily dose of meditation and calming through my own animals -- I have cats -- and through work with ... animal shelters. My big thing there is spay and neuter because there's just simply too many animals and not enough homes.
What do you do when you're not working?
I usually hook up with a couple shelters, or fostering or trapping. I struggled with this for a long time, but there are just too many animals, and cats reproduce so quickly so I have been involved with trap, spay/neuter and release. I try to get the cats a home in a barn or something, ideally in a home, but if they're too wild, a barn. At least there's some shelter ... and at least they have a chance. But I would say outside of this, or maybe more than this, my true passion is animals, nonhuman animals.
Is there anything about what you do here that you think people don't know and you want them to know?
I'm a pretty open person so I think that, at least workwise, most people know what I'm doing. I'm really trying to get out and learn about the community, and meet with the local companies, meet with the people in particular who have been big supporters of Youngstown and YSU.
How do you feel about being a groundbreaker (as the first woman engineering dean at YSU and Temple)?
Engineering is still very traditionally male. I have had people say to me that seeing a woman in this position can make a difference both to women and other underrepresented groups in engineering. I think any time you diversify a field, it benefits. It's much like any ecosystem. A lot of the research problems I used to look at dealt in part ... with acid rain and the dead lakes. ... And there was no diversity in the lake and it was dead. ... And I think the same applies to any group of people. If it's not diverse, if you don't look around the room and see all types of faces and people, then that lack of diversity is sad, because I do think through diversity comes strength.

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