‘Lean into your fears,’ award winner Synder tells campus audience

Dr. Katherine Snyder


Lean into your fears, this year’s Phenomenal Woman of the Year urged a Detroit Mercy audience recently.

Detroit Mercy presented the 16th annual award to Dr. Katherine Snyder, dean of the College of Engineering and Science, on March 28.

The evening was dedicated to celebrating the lives of women at Detroit Mercy. 

The welcome was given by Jasmine Floyd, a member of the Student Programming Board, who honored Snyder with the poem by Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise.” 

Before presenting Snyder with the award, Adam Hollmann, assistant director of student life, noted that Snyder “has created the reputation for herself.”

In addition to being a dean, Snyder is an associate professor of mathematics and computer science.

As she approached the podium, she admitted that this was an opportunity for her to lean into her fear of public speaking and of being the center of attention. 

The topic of her acceptance speech was “Engaging Your Passion,” wherein Snyder spoke about overcoming fear by leaning into your more challenging tasks.  

She shared a first-grade memory, recalling how she was faced with the challenge of walking to school with her neighbor, who was also in first grade, without adult supervision because the two got a late start and the crossing guards had already left for the morning. 

To get to school on their own, the girls had to cross Livernois, which did not have a traffic island at that time.

Snyder suggested that the two go back home, but her friend helped her to face her fear by leaning into it, she said. They waited for the light, they crossed the street and they went to school.   

“Since then, I have tried to make a habit out of leaning into things that I find fearful, or am anxious about,” said Snyder. “But just leaning into fear is not enough. It’s not enough for joy. There has to be something else. Something that stretches you. Something that nourishes you. Something that moves you. Something that energizes you.” 

Snyder described herself as an introvert who struggles with certain things on her own. 

But she said that she has been blessed with people in her life who inspire her and help her find perspective and courage – people who pull her out of her private struggles, as her friend did that day in first grade.

Snyder attributes her success to her husband, mom, siblings, kids, coworkers, students and friends. 

“Our graces and our hindrances are often different sides of the same coin,” said Snyder. “So how do we get to joy?”

Snyder said that she takes the time to pay attention to her thoughts, emotions and sensations – and to what these messages teach her about what she cares about. 

Snyder said she pays attention to the things and people around her that motivate her and bring her joy.

She took a minute to honor them. 

“To Walker from housekeeping,” she said, “who takes the time to smile and welcome me every single morning. To Carla, who has created such a positive and welcoming environment in the dean’s office, that has become a gathering place. To her colleagues, who work with fierce dedication. To our faculty, who care so deeply about our students and who try to balance their work, home responsibilities and all the other things going on in their lives.” 

Snyder added that she joyfully pays attention to her students and admires them for traveling their own paths while navigating, engaging and negotiating this time in their lives when so much is going on. 

“They are choosing who they are going to be and what they will care about,” she said.    

If you have ever wondered what gets a phenomenal woman out of bed in the morning, Snyder’s approach might work for you.

“I love working with smart, creative, passionate people who are imperfect like me, but who care about trying to make a difference in the world and to find their place in it,” she said. “What a privilege it is to witness this and to learn from these people.”