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O’Neill serves as a role model for students

Jan 22 • Features, Top Stories • 917

To a stranger, Anne O’Neill could be viewed as just another woman, but to her female students of Gannon University, she is so much more.
O’Neill has been labeled as a professor who exhibits girl power and pushes her young female students to step outside of the idea that they are living in a “man’s world,” which truly means a lot to these women.
Taylor Sedney, a junior advertising communication major with a business administration minor, shared how much she admires O’Neill.
“She is a strong woman who goes above and beyond in her everyday life with family, work, her students and her friends,” Sedney said.
“She made me fall in love with advertising, and I can 100% say that she is probably one of the few teachers that I felt I learned from school and life, in general. She taught me a lot.”
If you ask O’Neill, an associate teaching professor, what her most significant accomplishment has been during her time at Gannon, she would say the relationships she has made with her students.
Ellie Pietras, a senior public relations and advertising communication major, said that she is grateful for O’Neill’s honesty toward her students.
“She’s a very realistic person who also wants her students to push their limits,” Pietras said.
“She helps me see the logical side of things while never having to give up on my goals and big ideas. Her teaching style is effective, and she connects with everyone as individuals. She genuinely wants her knowledge to help students succeed – something you can’t always find.”
O’Neill, who also serves as the director of Gannon’s advertising communications program, remains close with former students. She receives invitations to weddings and parties, thank you cards and verbal thank yous from students whose lives she has impacted.
Teresa Stepic, who graduated from Gannon’s Dahlkemper School of Business with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2006, is among them.
During her time at Gannon, she took classes with O’Neill and later formed a relationship with her.
Stepic works as the senior vice president of client relations at DDC Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., and thanks O’Neill for getting her where she is today.
“O’Neill encourages her students in a way that only the best educators can do – she invests in each one of her students by taking the time to get to know them, understand their motivations and desires, then fosters those interests through creative learning,” Stepic said.
“Hearing her share stories about client relations in the advertising fields was one of the many reasons I started my career at an advertising agency in Pittsburgh. She presented the material in an exciting and fast-paced way that led to the curiosity of what it would be like to work in the field that I now call home.”
Although it has been more than 10 years since Stepic graduated, she remains in contact with O’Neill.
“I just exchanged emails with Anne a month or so ago and was delighted to hear that she is still doing well, teaching students and working at Gannon,” Stepic said.
“It was great to reconnect with her and pass along my great appreciation for her impact on my life, my career and my niece, who is learning under her.”
O’Neill has even been known to exhibit her girl boss behavior outside of the classroom.
In the summer of 2014, O’Neill was diagnosed with breast cancer after discovering a lump.
She saw this as a “what choice do I have?” moment.
O’Neill approached the situation as one that she would conquer, no matter what.
She continued to work full time during treatment, and only missed one day of classes for chemo.
O’Neill put on a brave face during a scary situation and showed those around her that she would not let something like cancer bring her down or distract her from the life she built for herself.
From past to present, inside and outside the classroom, O’Neill has served as an excellent role model for young women.
For O’Neill, a role model of hers was Sister Augusta Hamel, a Benedictine nun at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania. O’Neill admired the way she cared for others so much and served as a robust role model to the women around her.
She later inspired O’Neill to join the board of directors at the food bank, where O’Neill served as the president, vice president and secretary. O’Neill remains on the board.
It was at a young age, that O’Neill learned to be a strong woman.
She was born in Binghamton, N.Y. and raised in a Catholic Irish-Italian family in Rochester, N.Y. She was raised in a chaotic household consisting of her mother, father, five brothers, three sisters and Charlie Brown, the family white rabbit.
Of the nine children, the first seven were born about a year apart from each other. O’Neill, the second oldest child, is a year and two months younger than her older sister, and a year and 20 days older than her younger brother. Her two youngest siblings were born after she left for college. She expressed how thankful she is that all her siblings are still alive and well.
Growing up, O’Neill lived in a house full of activity. Her mother pushed the children to stay active, and to go out and make their own adventures; this is something she admired about her mother.
Her mother served as a role model in many ways. She went to college at a time when women typically didn’t, raised nine children and worked tirelessly from sunrise to sunset.
O’Neill credits her mother for raising so many kids, while she found raising only three of her own so tiring.
Having such a strong role model has pushed O’Neill to learn independence and take care of herself.
“As one of the oldest ones, I had to take on a lot of responsibilities and had to do things around the house,” she said.”
O’Neill started her first job at the age of 11. She would babysit and clean apartments for residents of the senior living center up the road.
“If I wanted something, I had to work for something,” O’Neill said.
As an Irish-Italian, O’Neill grew up hearing that she had to attend a private Catholic college one day. Both of her parents attended St. Bonaventure University. O’Neill’s mother was one of the first women to graduate from St. Bonaventure.
O’Neill attended Mercyhurst University and graduated with her bachelor’s in human ecology education. Her goal was to become a home economics teacher.
Looking back, O’Neill finds this ironic because she has never been a fan of cooking. Her true passion is consumerism, fashion and interior design.
“I have the ability to see a room and say OK, this is what I would do with the colors, shapes, textures and dimensions,” O’Neill said.
“I can see all that.”
As much as she enjoyed her time at Mercyhurst, O’Neill sometimes wishes she attended a larger school because of its relatively small enrollment.
After she graduated from Mercyhurst, O’Neill spent five weeks backpacking around Europe with a friend.
Once she returned to the U.S., she went on to substitute teach in her hometown for a few weeks.
However, it wasn’t long until her life took an unexpected turn.
O’Neill returned to Erie for homecoming at Mercyhurst. During this time, she was approached by an old professor who suggested she take a job in public relations.
Two weeks later, she returned for a substitute teaching job. While back in the city, she was hired as the assistant public relations director for a few McDonald’s restaurants in the area. O’Neill organized events, public relations and sponsorships for a few McDonald’s restaurants in Erie, including the State Street location, which closed recently.
“Part of my job was creating advertisements for the locations,” O’Neill said.
“We once put a large billboard next to a Burger King we competed with. They eventually closed and Taco Bell was built.”
O’Neill was hired due to her upbeat personality, creativity and communication skills.
New to the job and unaware of what she was doing, she was later promoted to the director of public relations after the person who held that position quit two weeks later.
Although it was a struggle, O’Neill remembered the lessons she learned as a child. “Make a mistake; do it again. Make a mistake; try it harder.”
She worked long hours and did her best to learn everything about her line of work.
O’Neill worked there for four years and later moved on to a public relations agency for nine years before she started teaching again. She spent one semester at Mercyhurst and Edinboro University as an adjunct professor. This period was the first that she was teaching classes on her own.
During this time, O’Neill was pregnant with her second child while working part time; this was a real learning curve for her.
After a few years, she decided to operate a small ad agency at home with a few clients. This way, she could be home raising her children, especially since she was pregnant with the third child, and work on her master’s degree from Edinboro.
O’Neill contacted AJ Miceli, the former chair of the Communication Department and later chair of the School of Communication and the Arts, to see if he was hiring. At the time, she was looking for a new job; a perfect opportunity fell into her lap.
Miceli and Duane Prokop, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Dahlkemper School of Business, was in the process of creating an advertising communication major.
Just as O’Neill got in contact with Miceli, he had mentioned that O’Neill was the first person they had thought of to lead the program as the director of the advertising communication program.
From there, O’Neill led the advertising communication program in the Dahlkemper School of Business for 17 years.
In the fall of 2014, Gannon opened the School of Communication and Arts. Miceli proposed that there should be a singular building for communication majors, like advertising communication and journalism communication.
Eventually, the public relations major, advertising minor and a few more majors were born, along with some new classes.
A few classes O’Neill teaches are Integrated Marketing Communications, Marketing Communications, Public Relations and Public Speaking.
She will have taught at Gannon for 23 years as of this month.
In her time at Gannon, O’Neill has made an impression on those around her, including her colleagues.
The Rev. Shawn Clerkin, co-director of the School of Communication and Arts, did not hesitate to share his feelings of admiration toward O’Neill.
“When I first met her, I was impressed with her organizational skills, the attention she gave her parents and her enthusiasm,” Clerkin said.
Clerkin also expressed that he admires how she holds everyone else to the same standards as she carries herself.
Outside of Gannon, O’Neill is a mother to three children: Julia, Brendan and Audra. Similar to their mother, all three pursued careers in the communications field.
Julia, her oldest, now works at a marketing and advertising firm in Cleveland.
Brendan followed her to Gannon and pursued marketing and business management. In the fall of 2019, he moved to Nashville to pursue a career in his field.
Audra, her youngest, originally wanted to step out and be different. Her original goal was to be a lawyer, but she soon followed her mother and siblings into the marketing world. She now works at a hospitality company in New York City.
From a crazy childhood to life-changing events, like a career change and battling breast cancer, O’Neill has continued to hold herself to higher standards and is proud of all that she accomplished and the lives she has affected.

OLIVIA HAHNER
hahner001@gannon.edu

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