Monday September 19, 2016

"Keep it real."

The middle child, Hazel Rountree '99, moved with her mother and 10 siblings from Buffalo, New York, to the Dayton area, following her father’s death to be closer to family.

"My mom knew she needed family support and that children need adult supervision. She wanted us to be safe and have opportunities." Dayton provided both.

Today, following a circuitous career route that has always combined advocacy and justice, Rountree serves as the Ombudsperson for Wright State University, a position tailor-made for a woman whose personal philosophy is, "Keep it real."

"I knew I wasn't going to be a traditional lawyer but I appreciated the training law school provided in learning how to think analytically," said the lifelong learner who helps students who are oftentimes "at the end of their rope." Confident in her ability to solve complex issues, Rountree earnestly believes she never offers false promise, but instead gives hope to people who need someone to listen and care.

"If you've ever read studies about middle children, they are always involved with civil rights and justice," shared Rountree, who was a take-charge child that grew up understanding from a very young age how to be responsible, not just for herself, but for others.

"My job is to guide people in the decision-making process and empower them to make their own decisions. I help them plan, set priorities and acknowledge the reality of a problem. Some problems seem huge, but I show them it's not an 8 x 10 problem; maybe it's just a 5 x 7 or maybe even a wallet-size problem."

Rountree can offer perspective to students who might need to leave school, get their life in order, then return to campus.

"Becoming a lawyer was my dream since I was 12, but there was a time I couldn't do a lot. I had two children and I needed to be there for them, so I worked several years before I went to law school at 41. I had to save a year's salary first. It was hard because you're not allowed to work the first year of law school."

Starting her academic history at Sinclair Community College, Rountree progressed on to Central State University where she earned a bachelor's degree in secondary education followed by a master's degree in school counseling at the University of Dayton. After law school, she also obtained a doctorate in public health from Redding University.

With advocacy ingrained in her from the start, Rountree appreciated learning from Professor Emeritus Vernellia Randall who became a tremendous influence during law school and beyond because of their shared passion for social justice. She also feels fortunate to have taken Professor Emeritus Rebecca Cochran's legal writing class.

"I have never met a more dedicated educator," said Rountree who added, "Once, when I was struggling with some aspect of legal research, Professor Cochran met with me on a Saturday for an intensive review session. After that meeting, a light seemed to go on inside me, and to this day, I absolutely love researching, a skill I use on my job almost daily."

During law school, Rountree participated in what was the called the Academic Excellence Program where she was required to reach out to fellow classmates to offer support. As a non-traditional student, most of her classmate were young enough to be her children so at first she was hesitant. Then she realized age was irrelevant.

"I developed many long-term, meaningful relationships based on our mutual values - studying hard, staying focused and preparing for servant leadership."

Giving of herself, not only at her job, but within the community is Rountree's style. She is President and CEO of an organization that provides technology to underprivileged children and is heading into her fourth year as an elected member of the Dayton Board of Education, a position she sought because she wanted to make a contribution to an organization that would value her input. Yet she always remembers a lesson she learned from a Marianist brother.

"He told us, 'the most important thing to remember is you are not God, so don't play God.' I help people believe in themselves and believe they can make good decisions about their own lives."


For more information, contact the University of Dayton School of Law office of communications at lawcomm@udayton.edu

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