Commencement is over and done with (it was great! And exhausting!), and the halls of SRB are extraordinarily quiet at the moment, except for the whirr of the floor cleaners as our godsend janitorial staff buffs some of the semester’s wear and tear off the building.
The end of spring semester is a time of celebration, of course, and commencement ceremonies are the most obvious expression of that. It’s a moment of extreme joy (and probably relief) for both students and their families.
However, I thought President Montague made a very astute observation at commencement when she reminded the audience that the ceremony was a celebration of not just the students’ work and success, but also the faculty’s.
Faculty get to see the embodiments of their professional legacy cross the stage twice a year—it’s why teaching is such a phenomenal job, in spite of the trials that accompany it. Teaching at the community college level is a special vocation indeed, because it requires the same depth of knowledge as university professor gig, but the teaching acumen required is so much higher. Community college faculty teach, on average, more students, with more diverse needs and backgrounds, more varying goals, and facing more challenges.
That’s why it’s such a pleasure when our faculty are recognized as the outstanding educators that they are. This spring, one of our Communications faculty members, Dr. Karen Hill, won the Southern States Communication Association’s Susan Osborn Community College Outstanding Educator Award. It recognizes outstanding contribution from community college Communications faculty and requires excellence in teaching, service to the profession, and scholarship. Notably, the SSCA had not presented this award since 2019, which gives a hint as to the rigorousness of the selection process.
Dr. Hill teaches Fundamentals of Oral Communication as her primary course, which is a required general education class and therefore not best-beloved of students, even before they find out they have to deliver speeches. (I’m reminded of the old Jerry Seinfeld line that people are more afraid of public speaking than death, meaning that at a funeral, most people would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.)
Beyond teaching the ins and outs of introduction, transition, conclusion, and the other building blocks of effective public speaking, Dr. Hill is an excellent mentor, particularly in the ways that she demystifies the college itself so that students can navigate it more effectively. I often run into her walking down the hall with a student, dispensing clear, direct advice and answers at a high rate of speed.
The thing I respect most about Dr. Hill’s teaching and mentorship is that she doesn’t pussyfoot around hard truths when talking to students. Instead, she respects students enough to give them the information they need to make the best choices they can for themselves–drop a class or fail it, change majors, take a break from college. She sees students as whole, fully developed people with complex lives who need and deserve to understand the big picture. She also understands and helps them understand that there are many roads to success and not every road is straight.
While Dr. Hill’s dedication is laudable and, indeed, exceptional, as the SSCA recognized, it’s also representative of the dedication that the faculty in our division exhibit. They’ve earned some rest this summer!
Erin I. Mann, PhD is Dean of the Humanities Division at Vol State.