Beyond the glass ceiling: Beverly Schmoll ’67 is a role model, advocate for PT students
Beverly Schmoll is nothing short of a trailblazer. A graduate of the Wayne State physical therapy program’s inaugural class and the first woman to lead the university’s pharmacy and health sciences college as dean, she has forged pathways not only for the profession, but also for women in health care careers.
Now retired and having just achieved her latest goal of visiting every continent on the planet, Schmoll has lived a full life of challenging the status quo – and opening countless opportunities for others along the way.
Dressing for success
In the early days of the physical therapy profession, hospital dress codes still required women staffers to wear uniforms with skirts – not the most practical attire for physical therapists who need full mobility themselves to help their patients move their own bodies.
“You can imagine how impeded we felt even just trying to get up off the floor in the miniskirts of the early 1970s,” Schmoll said.
So when she first laid eyes on a revolutionary pantsuit uniform for women while shopping for workwear, she didn’t hesitate. She bought it and, the very next day, wore it to her job as director of physical therapy at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, part of the expansive Detroit Medical Center (DMC).
“I’ve always been one to ask forgiveness rather than permission,” she said.
Her outfit caused a near-uprising, the Children’s Hospital vice president’s phone ringing off the hook with calls from women on staff who wanted to know whether they too could wear pants to work – and where to get them. And just like that, the dress code for the entire hospital system was changed to allow women the freedom to ditch their skirted uniforms in favor of much more practical pants.
Making her mark
For more than 50 years, Wayne State has been a major part of Schmoll’s life. She graduated in 1967 as one of five students in the then-brand-new physical therapy program and embarked on a long, fruitful career in physical therapy and education across the region.
First a physical therapist at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan and Roseville Public Schools, she received her second Wayne State degree – a master’s in human development and relationships – while working at Children’s Hospital. And she continued to climb, earning a Ph.D. in higher education administration from Michigan State University, and then serving University of Michigan–Flint for nearly two decades as professor, director of the physical therapy program, dean of graduate programs and research, and interim chancellor.
In 2001, she was tapped to become dean of her alma mater. At the time, the college was readying a move into its current building and had just been renamed in honor of alumnus, Detroit-area businessman and philanthropist Eugene Applebaum, with whom Schmoll maintained a strong relationship until his death in 2017.
“I enjoyed Mr. Applebaum immensely,” said Schmoll. “He was a wonderful supporter of not only the college, but also my leadership of it.”
As dean, Schmoll advanced the college’s culture and distinction by focusing on interdisciplinary collaboration. The college is rare among universities nationwide in that it houses both pharmacy and health sciences programs.
“We were able to really create some synergies. While there are differences among the disciplines, as people got to know one another, they realized they had much in common. You began to see faculty from pharmacy working with faculty from the physician assistant program or physical therapy,” she said. “Opportunities present themselves through this interdisciplinary work. This college is made-to-order to do really creative things.”
She also prioritized initiatives in diversity and inclusion. In 2006, Schmoll established a diversity task force that over time evolved into its current form, the 30-member Council on Diversity and Inclusion. The council develops and implements strategies to build a diverse educational environment at WSU Applebaum.
“I am pleased to see the commitment to diversity at the college has carried on exponentially,” Schmoll said. “Initiatives in this arena are key to ensuring the competitiveness and effectiveness of the college now and in the long term.”
The pathbreaking experiences Schmoll led at Wayne State inspired her desire to give back. In 2012, she created the Physical Therapy Founders Endowment to honor the program’s pioneering faculty members, George Andrews and Jean Cuthbertson, and her peers in the inaugural class of students. The endowment funds a scholarship designed to enhance the experience of physical therapy students by encouraging their involvement in professional organizations and increasing their opportunities to participate in conferences across the country.
“The diversity of perspectives students get to interact with at a conference, especially a national one that can bring together more than 10,000 people, is invaluable,” Schmoll explained. “It is really an awesome experience for them to see the breadth of research, methods, cultures and styles of care that are out there. It has a profound impact and can create lifelong career connections.”
During the 2018-19 academic year, 14 students benefited from the endowment. One of the recipients, Kristen Robertson ’19, said she was deeply honored to receive the scholarship.
“I take great pride in my education and representing Wayne State University’s physical therapy program. This scholarship has helped me attend state, regional and national physical therapy conferences.”
The recipients had the opportunity to thank Schmoll in person this May at the college’s annual Donors & Scholars luncheon.
“This scholarship helps me grow academically as well as professionally. It provides me with new opportunities and allows me to network with professionals in the
physical therapy field,” said Michael Fowler.
And Rachel Smith said, “Thanks to Dr. Schmoll, I am able to follow my dream of becoming a physical therapist and spending the rest of my life helping people live to their fullest potential.”
Support PT students at Wayne State
For more information on how to give to the Physical Therapy Founders Endowment, or to learn how to create your own endowed fund, contact Denise Thomas at email@example.com or 313-577-1095.