Reflections on Kappa Epsilon during Women's History Month

As we close out Women’s History Month, we asked dean emeritus and professor, Dr. Marilyn Speedie to provide her reflections on Kappa Epsilon (KE) and its impact on the College of Pharmacy and our profession. Many thanks to Dr. Speedie for sharing these thoughts with us.

Marilyn Speedie"I was recently notified that I am the recipient of the Kappa Epsilon/ Merck Vanguard Leadership Award for 2022. The award was established in 1989 and is supported by Merck & Company to recognize “sustained exemplary contributions” to the winner’s area of practice, professional associations, regulatory bodies, or pharmacy education. I was especially pleased and honored to receive this award from Kappa Epsilon since I feel Kappa Epsilon has contributed significantly to my successes over the many years of my career. I believe it is useful to examine that statement in the hope that students will be inspired to join KE and carry on its fine traditions.

Kappa Epsilon was established in 1921 as a sorority for women pharmacy students with the enthusiastic leadership of Zada Mary Cooper, a faculty member at the University of Iowa.  She invited students from the University of Iowa, the University of Nebraska and the University of Iowa to meet in Iowa to organize such a national sorority. Many of the policies, as well as the name, were adopted from a similar group that had formed at the University of Minnesota and, for that reason, Minnesota became the alpha chapter. Cooper took an active role in the sorority and later served as its president and established the sorority magazine.

Historical black and white kappa epsilon group photoKappa Epsilon has served an important role for over 100 years in uniting women pharmacy students across the United States, providing support for personal and professional development, creating networking opportunities, promoting pharmacy as a career and participating in service activities of particular interest to women such as Breast Cancer Awareness. This was especially important when women were a distinct minority of students but KE continues to offer opportunities to both men and women students who join its chapters and continue to belong to alumni chapters.

My involvement in Kappa Epsilon began at Purdue University where I was an undergraduate in the BS in Pharmacy program. At that time (late 1960s) women constituted only 10 percent of the pharmacy class. KE provided the opportunity to unite the women students, to develop leadership skills and to provide service to the community. I continued to be active in KE throughout my PhD program at Purdue. 

I was pleased to find an active KE chapter at the University of Minnesota when I arrived as Dean in 1996. The women and men who have been active in the chapter have enthusiastically engaged in many issues of importance to women such as breast and ovarian cancers, osteoporosis, and moving women and children from homelessness. They also have helped develop leaders for the profession and the community, and supported each other as members worked through the problems of being pharmacy students as well as parents and caregivers. I was especially proud of the group as it welcomed members from our racial and ethnic minority students.

Kappa Epsilon membership is as relevant today as it was 100 years ago. Even though women predominate pharmacy student classes, there are unique issues that women face and having the support of colleagues is invaluable. While women are rising in leadership positions, there are still glass ceilings that must be broken. For me, my leadership journey began at Purdue as an undergraduate pharmacy student. Throughout my career, as I and other women have assumed a greater and greater role in the profession. I have found that having talented women colleagues cheering me along has been essential. I hope that I, in return, have provided mentorship and support as they spread their leadership wings."

Dean Welage closes this message with a note, "I would like to thank Dean Emeritus Speedie for her thoughtful reflection. I, too, have been inspired and supported by Kappa Epsilon over the years. I encourage all of students to reach out an learn more about our Kappa Epsilon chapter here at the University of Minnesota."