Six Fairmont State University faculty members have been nominated for the 2013 Abelina Suarez Professorship, which will be awarded during the Faculty Recognition event at noon Wednesday, April 24, in the Falcon Center third floor conference rooms.
A bequest by the estate of Abelina Suarez has been used to establish Fairmont State University’s first named professorship, which will carry her name and that of the discipline of the honoree. Honorees will carry the title in perpetuity, but a new award will be made every five years. The presentation of this professorship is intended to recognize extended and continued excellence by a member of the University faculty. This year marks the third award of the professorship; the first recipient in 2002 was Dr. Judy P. Byers, Abelina Suarez Professor, Senior Level, of English and Folklore Studies, and the second in 2007 was Connie S. Moore, Abelina Suarez Professor, Senior Level, of Nursing.
This year’s nominees are as follows:
- Dr. J. Robert Baker, Professor, Senior Level, College of Liberal Arts, Department of Language and Literature, and Director of the Honors Program;
- Dr. Debra Hemler, Professor of Geoscience, College of Science and Technology, Department of Biology Chemistry and Geoscience, Coordinator of Geoscience and Graduate Faculty;
- Dr. Francene Kirk, Associate Professor of Communication and Theatre, School of Fine Arts;
- Dr. Anne Patterson, Professor of Music, School of Fine Arts;
- Dr. Rhonda Sanford, Professor of English, College of Liberal Arts, Department of Language and Literature and Graduate Faculty;
- Dr. Jacqueline Webb-Dempsey, Professor of Education, School of Education, Health and Human Performance and Graduate Faculty.
Abelina Suarez, who was born in 1910 in Spain but grew up in Anmoore, W.Va., was the first woman to graduate from Ohio University in a field called German chemistry. She was a math and science teacher in Harrison County for more than 30 years. She attended Fairmont State Teachers College in the 1940s and also earned a master’s degree in education from West Virginia University. Through her generosity and foresight, Suarez designated a portion of her estate to support educational opportunities at Fairmont State.
Dr. J. Robert Baker
Dr. J. Robert Baker was educated by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word at St. Frances Cabrini School in Alexandria, La. He earned his undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Notre Dame. He began teaching at Fairmont State in 1994. In 2000, he began serving as Director of the Honors Program. Baker, Professor of English, Senior Level, was named Chair of the Department of Language and Literature of the College of Liberal Arts in 2008 and received the University’s Excellence in Academic Advising Award in 2012. He also has received the William A. Boram Award for Teaching Excellence and the Harold and Roselyn Williamson Straight Award. He is a member of the Board of Directors for the Conference on Christianity and Literature and the secretary of the International Iris Murdoch Society.
“I seek to make the great works of literature accessible to our students so that they may be inspired, as I am, by the insights of these works into the human situation and be opened by them to seeing the world around them more completely. While I know that literature will not be a first passion for all of our students and it certainly will not make them rich, my hope is that they may find it useful on a difficult day, that when confronting a problem or a dilemma, they may remember the bullheadedness of Homer’s Odysseus, the humility of Flaubert’s Felicite, or courage of Tolstoy’s Prince Andrei and find in the virtue of these, or any literary character, a model that allows them to take heart themselves,” Baker wrote in his narrative on teaching, which was submitted as part of his nomination.
Dr. Debra Hemler
Dr. Debra Hemler, Coordinator of Geoscience, Professor of Geoscience in the College of Science and Technology, has been a professor at Fairmont State since 1999 and a graduate faculty member since 2004. She obtained her Ed.D. in geoscience education and her M.S. in wildlife management from West Virginia University. Her B.S. in biology, with a minor in environmental science, is from Northland College in Ashland, Wis. She taught earth science, chemistry and biology for seven years in the public schools in Preston County. She was a Visiting Assistant Professor at WVU for three years prior to coming to Fairmont State. She is the past president for the West Virginia Science Teachers Association, the West Virginia State Coordinator for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching, facilitator of the NASA IV & V Educator Resource Center and assistant director of the RockCamp program.
Deona Champ, a special education teacher at Pendleton County Middle/High School and a former student of Hemler’s, wrote the following in a letter of support for Hemler’s nomination: “If I can connect with one student during my lifetime and do for them what Deb Hemler did for me, I will be satisfied. She opened my eyes to the world. She taught me how to learn. I can now comprehend anything and am confident in the fact that if I could not, I would not give up until I did understand. I believe this is known as intrinsic motivation. As a teacher now, it is all I ask from my students. The rest is up to me and my teaching style. I strive to engage my students and I always think about how Deb approached those challenging topics through hands-on activities, groups, visuals, manipulatives and many more great research-based ideas.”
Dr. Francene Kirk
Dr. Francene Kirk, Associate Professor of Communication and Theatre in the School of Fine Arts, teaches communication, puppetry, children’s theatre, creative drama and theatre education. Since coming to FSU in 2000, Kirk has directed numerous plays and musicals for the Masquers season and for Town & Gown. Kirk has mentored undergraduate research projects and facilitated the creation of student-devised theatre pieces. She was honored for her work in Theatre Education by the City of Fairmont Arts and Humanities Commission. In 2008, she received the William A. Boram Award for Teaching Excellence. A former public school teacher, Kirk served as the Coordinator for Fine Arts at the West Virginia Department of Education for two years. Kirk earned her B.A. from Glenville State College and her master’s degree from West Virginia University. She received her Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with content emphases in Theatre and English in 1998 from WVU.
One of Kirk’s former students, Celi Oliveto, is a candidate of Mary Baldwin College’s Master of Letters in Shakespeare and Performance and will soon be an MFA candidate for the same program. She wrote the following about her experience as Kirk’s student: “Dr. Kirk’s example from my undergraduate experience constantly reminds me to push myself to become a better artist and teacher. As fine arts educators, we struggle with the idea that the arts are the ‘easy A’ classes. Dr. Kirk not only taught me to appreciate that the arts are indeed fun and emotionally freeing, but also to vigilantly regulate theatre’s joy for meaningful, purposeful directives such as: leadership, team building, the importance of meeting a deadline, applying creative analysis and critical decision making to support a goal. Dr. Kirk tirelessly works to create working theatre instructors who will hold fine arts students as accountable as that of a math or biology teacher.”
Dr. Anne Patterson
Dr. Anne Patterson, Professor of Music in the School of Fine Arts, has a varied background and a wide range of experience. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in music and a certificate to teach K-12 music in public schools at Georgia College and State University. After two years as an elementary music teacher, she won a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts to study in Hungary at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. She spent seven years in a pilot music project in the public schools of New Haven, Conn., then launched a successful entrepreneurial effort as the director of her own school of music for children ages 3 to 10 and their parents. Patterson completed her master’s degree in Music Education and doctorate in Music History at the University of Florida. Her university experience includes posts at the University of Central Arkansas; Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas; and Eastern Oregon University.
In a letter of support for Patterson’s nomination, her former student Felicia Fordyce wrote: “It was soon obvious to all of her students how passionate and enthusiastic she was about teaching us how to incorporate music into daily lessons. Not only is she knowledgeable and proficient in her musicality, but she also strives to make sure all of her students succeed in their education goals. In the time I have known Dr. Patterson, she epitomizes what every teacher should do for his or her students: She puts the students’ needs before her own.”
Dr. Rhonda Sanford
Dr. Rhonda Sanford, Professor of English and Graduate Faculty in the Department of Language and Literature of the College of Liberal Arts, came to Fairmont State in 1999. She earned a B.A., M.B.A. and M.A. at the University of Colorado at Denver. She specialized in her doctorate program at the University of Colorado in English Renaissance Literature and Early Modern Cultural Studies. At FSU, she teaches courses in Shakespeare, early British literature, world literature and composition. She is the author of the book “Maps and Memory in Early Modern England: A Sense of Place,” published by Palgrave/St. Martin’s Press in 2002. She is currently working on a second book titled “Shakespeare’s Dramatic Bastards: Representations of Legitimacy and Illegitimacy in Early Modern England.”
“My experience at Fairmont State has been wonderful because of terrific students, fabulous colleagues, wonderful mentors and a caring community. I am so honored to be nominated for the Abelina Suarez Professorship,” Sanford wrote in her nomination submission. “As a female academic, I see Abelina Suarez as an inspiration and a model of the scholar teacher. Dr. Judy Byers and Connie Moore have followed in her footsteps as holders of the Abelina Suarez Professorship, and I am humbled to be in the company of other excellent nominees this year.” SiS
Dr. Jacqueline Webb-Dempsey
Dr. Jacqueline Webb-Dempsey, Professor of Education in the School of Education, Health and Human Performance, and a member of the Graduate Faculty, earned a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Foundations of Education from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; a Masters of Education from The University of North Carolina at Wilmington; and a bachelor’s degree from Methodist College. She previously taught in the West Virginia University College of Human Resources & Education and has served as a program specialist for Energy Express, 4-H and Youth, Family and Adult Development for the WVU Extension Service.
Andrea Neptune, a teacher a North Marion High School who earned a master’s degree from FSU, wrote the following in a letter of support for Webb-Dempsey’s nomination: “From my experiences with her I was empowered to continue the work to improve both the learning environment of my classroom as well as the culture of my school. Her instruction was thought provoking, and her methods provided a very comfortable atmosphere to share our expertise and learn from one another.”