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Meramec Professor Inspires Others and Leads by Example

Dr. Donna Werner

“Expanding minds, changing lives” is not just a mission statement at St. Louis Community College. Dr. Donna Werner, professor of Philosophy at STLCC-Meramec, has taken these words to heart, expanding her own mind and changing her life by setting goals and challenging herself. In the twelve years she has been at Meramec, Werner has been a professor, an acting dean, a department chair, the latest recipient of the Faculty Lecture Award at the Meramec campus, and now in addition to teaching, she is the coordinator of the Meramec Center for Teaching and Learning.


Werner is a native of the St. Louis area, born and raised in Wellston. Her father had an 8th grade education, dropping out of school to help support his family. He met her mother after returning home from World War II, and her mother dropped out of high school to marry him. Werner’s father worked seven days a week to support the family. Although they lacked formal education, Werner’s parents always stressed the value of a good education.

A graduate of Mercy High School in University City, Werner attended University of Missouri-St. Louis, earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with an emphasis in Accounting. This helped her get a job at McDonnell-Douglas (MDC).

“I was on the “fast-track” to management at MDC, and they encouraged me to pursue a Master’s degree. And they paid for it.” said Werner.
She took the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and applied to Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville (SIUE).

“(I) ended up deciding the Philosophy classes looked like more fun than business classes. Fortunately for me, the Philosophy department was happy to welcome me to their department, even though I took the GMAT, not the GRE.” she said.

Werner finished her Master of Arts in Philosophy at SIUE, where a number of professors encouraged her to pursue a Ph.D. in Philosophy. She applied at Saint Louis University (SLU), and was not only accepted, but received a teaching assistantship. 

A Career in Teaching

Werner started teaching at STLCC-Meramec in 2002. She finished her Ph.D. in 2004.

“It took me ten years to finish my Ph.D. In addition to school, I always had a job. Plus, I had a son, house, and husband to take care of. “

Besides her work as a professor, Werner is involved with and is passionate about the Society for Ethics Across the Curriculum (SEAC), an organization of which she is passionate.

“This is such a tremendous organization,” she said. “I began attending meetings when I served as Assistant Director of SLU’s Ethics Across the Curriculum program.  The SEAC members I met, from the outset, were just such warm, welcoming, engaging individuals.”
Werner said she has always been committed to the goals of SEAC, as they encourage ethics education and support the integration of ethics in courses throughout the curriculum. She continued to be active in the organization, even after leaving her job at SLU and coming to STLCC.
Since 2006, Werner has served as the secretary-treasurer for SEAC. She says it is a lot of work, but worth the effort.

“I’ve gotten to know colleagues all over the world. I’ve had the opportunity to review articles for the journal, network with really accomplished philosophers and submit work for publication given the contacts I’ve made. Most importantly, I’ve made some lifelong friends.”

One of Werner’s fondest SEAC experiences included meeting a world leader.

“In 2007, our annual conference was at the National University of Ireland in Dublin. It turns out that the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, heard that groups of ethicists from the US were in Dublin. She invited us for tea! Yes, I have a photo of me, with a group of my SEAC colleagues, with the President of Ireland!”

Dr. Deborah Mower, President of SEAC, recently sent a letter of commendation for Werner to STLCC-Meramec President Pam McIntyre, in appreciation of Werner’s “exemplary service” to the SEAC, calling Werner’s service to SEAC “simply invaluable.”

A Change for the Better

In addition to her professional life, Werner has made significant changes to her lifestyle that has brought many benefits in terms of health and fitness: exercise and weight loss.

“I’ve struggled with my weight ever since my son was born 30 years ago. I have a thyroid issue, which makes weight loss even more challenging. I had reconnected with a friend from SLU on Facebook and noticed that she had lost a lot of weight. I asked her what she was doing.”

Werner had tried many methods to lose weight, but had never found success. Her friend recommended a weight loss coach she had been working with, Charles D’Angelo. Werner contacted him.

“Anyone who has struggled with weight will understand what I’m saying here. You just give up. I decided to try one more time.”

In August 2011, Werner met with D’Angelo. She was impressed.

“Charles is a no-nonsense, no-excuses kind of guy. He has a very strict, but very effective, plan. He starts by getting you to think about why you want to lose weight in the first place. Then you get to work. The plan is all real “regular” food (not supplements), but it is very structured. In addition, he has a structured cardio workout for you to do.”

Within the first two weeks, Werner dropped 10 pounds. “I realized that I COULD do it. I was hooked,” she said, “I really believe that one thing that it essential for weight loss is that you have to believe you can do it. That's the first step, and that was my “aha” moment.”
Four months into her program with D’Angelo, Werner also started working with Jeremy Bauer, a personal trainer at her local gym.

After modifying her diet and hard work in the gym, eight months later, Werner had met her goal weight and lost almost 90 pounds. She has maintained her weight loss for over two years by meal planning and making fitness a priority in her life.

“I generally do strength training three times a week with Jeremy. I do cardio 5 days a week, which varies but includes elliptical, treadmill, stairs, and/or spinning classes). “And,” she added, “This is important. My planned workouts are a priority, especially appointments with Jeremy. “

Werner said it has been a rewarding experience. “I'm healthier than I've ever been. I have tons of energy and enjoy working out. It has really changed my life”

D’Angelo’s website featured Werner’s weight loss journey. She was also on the cover of the Ladue News, and in summer 2012, an issue of Oxygen Women's Fitness magazine featured her journey.
With a Ph.D. and nearly 90-pound weight loss, Werner shows no sign of slowing down. Recently, she went back to the classroom to pursue another interest: acting.

“Like many of us, I have a “bucket list” of things I’ve always wanted to do. For some reason, I always wanted to have the nerve to audition for something. I was in plays in high school, in the chorus, but never had the nerve to audition for a real part!”

Werner overcame that fear and auditioned for plays on the Meramec campus. She performed in two plays in a Director’s Showcase in the Spring 2014 semester, and over the summer, performed double-duty as one of the narrators and as “Bossy the Cow” in the Meramec Theatre’s children’s production of “In Search of the Three Sillies.”

The Future

What does the future hold for this ardent St. Louis Cardinals fan?

“Oh sheesh, who knows?” she said. “I have a project that I worked on while on sabbatical as a visiting researcher at Georgetown University and I’d like to find time to work on it. I would like to use the material to create a website of resources for faculty teaching research using human subjects (in Medical Ethics classes) and would like to write a book on the Diaz case. I also have a couple of other ideas for articles that I’d like to explore or finish. It is very difficult for those of us at the community college level to find time to publish given our teaching commitments!”

Ultimately, it is about the students. Werner shared a story about a former student that recently stopped in to see her. It embodies the commitment she has to teaching and how it touches the lives of her students both in and out of the classroom.

“He wanted to show me his tattoo. He said he was inspired by something I said in one of our very first meetings. We always read and discuss Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” I want to make it clear that education is not about me putting something in their heads but helping them see something they have missed, or perhaps just see the world from a different perspective. I tell them that if they look at the etymology of the word “education” they will see that it is from the Latin word “educare,” which means, “to lead out. . .”  Tyler, my former student, had the word tattooed on his arm.  He told me that he would never forget the lessons I taught him, and added that he literally could not forget this one because it was permanently inscribed on his arm. I cried.”