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Then & Now: Dr. Sonia Winslett, BOP Class of 1973

Friday, February 16, 2018

Krannert alumna Dr. Sonia Winslett excelled academically during her time at Purdue, earning induction into the University’s Iron Key Honors Association, the highly selective Mortar Board Honor Society and Alpha Lambda Delta’s Honors Society while completing both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in only three and a half years.

Had it not been for Dr. Cornell A. Bell and the Business Opportunity Program (BOP), however, Winslett would have never arrived at Purdue.

“My high school counselor never mentioned BOP because Krannert did not have an accounting degree at the time,” she recalls.  “When I became aware of the program through another student, I immediately understood the awesome opportunity and sought out Dr. Bell.”

For Winslett — who was among the first class of women to join BOP in 1973 — the BOP experience was nothing short of transformative.

“The most important life lesson I learned was ‘Yes, we can.’” she says. “None of us has to be locked into a box by our initial selection of a career course. The only constant in life is change, and that’s okay.”

Indeed, it’s a lesson that Winslett took to heart.

Upon graduating from Purdue, Winslett became a CPA, working as an auditor for KPMG and later AT&T. She then followed her true calling to become a physician, completing her MD degree at the University of Illinois’ College of Medicine in Chicago and her emergency medicine residency at Henry Ford Hospital. She went on to a distinguished career with the Mayo Clinic, serving not only as physician, but also as an auditor.

Today, Dr. Winslett works as a “locums tenens” or traveling doctor, providing aid for post-disaster victims. She also mentors students and other medical professionals by helping them prepare for board exams.

In addition, Winslett helped preserve her mentor’s legacy in a Purdue Archives and Special Collections exhibit that made its debut during the same 2010 Homecoming Weekend celebration announcing the naming of the Roland G. Parrish Library of Management and Economics.

Titled “Purdue’s Bellwether of Diversity: The Life & Legacy of Dr. Cornell Bell,” the exhibit was based on existing and newly introduced items from the Archives’ Cornell A. Bell Papers documenting the life and work of the Krannert educator and diversity champion. The collection, which remains open and accessible to scholars, chronicles a pivotal period in both Purdue and American history.

Winslett’s 2010 contributions included Bell’s 1941 yearbook, photographs of BOP students, the 2009 program “The Legacy of Dr. Cornell Bell” sponsored by Purdue Black Alumni Organization, and a DVD she produced with Parrish of Bell receiving the Special Boilermaker Award.

“We wanted to celebrate his life because he touched so many of ours,” she says.

Winslett continues to feel Bell’s impact on her life as the program that bears his name celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2018. “I remember his quick stride when he was younger and healthy. He seemed to always be on a mission to do something for a student,” she says.  “Then I remember his quiet reflections as his health deteriorated … there was a sense of peace because he had completed his life’s mission.”

For Winslett and other BOP and Krannert alumni, that mission continues.

“I think of the administrators and professors who took a leap of faith and invested in starting BOP. I think of Dean Day and Dr. Bell, who did whatever necessary to move the program forward,” she says. “These individuals contributed to the lives of people they did not know. In turn, as members of the BOP and Krannert family, we are each obligated to reach out and help the next generation of students.”

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