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winter 2018

The Power of the Gift

Measuring the impact of an endowed professorship at Wofford requires much more than a calculator, or even a computational science module. Just ask Drs. Angela and George Shiflet.

Angela is the Larry Hearn McCalla Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science. George is the Dr. and Mrs. Larry Hearn McCalla Professor of Biology.

Although their salaries didn’t change when they were honored with named professorships a decade ago, the college, and more importantly Wofford students, continue to reap the benefits.

“The endowed chair allowed us to hire another faculty member to our department, something we desperately needed at the time,” says George.

Support from the endowed professorships also gave the Shiflets the opportunity to wave the Wofford flag in Oxford, England, and Melbourne, Australia, during a year long working sabbatical. They conducted research on colon cancer, presented workshops for graduate students and created new computational science modules. From the experience they secured internships for Wofford students, and a Fulbright Specialist assignment in Brazil for themselves.

“Gifts to the college have changed our lives, and the lives of our students,” says Angela. “Meeting faculty and researchers from around the world has been of immeasurable value. While working with them I’ll think, aaah, I could write about that or teach about that; our students need to learn about that, or I’ve got the perfect student for your internship.”

In addition to the endowed chairs, the Shiflets have received support from the college’s Center for Innovation and Learning (CIL) to develop materials for a new science course and a new textbook for such a course.

“Computational science is now a part of every field of science,” says George. “Students still have to do science at the bench and in the field, but there are things that can be done computationally that can’t be done quickly or easily otherwise. Scientists right now are swamped with data. That’s where computational science comes in.”

Because the Shiflets are involved in cutting-edge research, the modules that they are developing and teaching are based on current problems — global warming, the cane toad invasion or cancer research.

“It’s great in the classroom to be able to use the real world examples. It makes it much more relevant to the students,” says George. “Teaching should mean continuous learning, and funding from the college (through endowed professorships, CIL grants, a Milliken teaching award) has allowed for that continuous learning.”

“We hope that we have transferred our learning and connections to other people,” says George. “It’s our intent to amplify the gifts we have received. We want to extend the benefits of these gifts to as many people as possible.”

The Shiflets believe in the power of the gift so much that they have established an endowed fund at the college to support computational science research, internships, conferences and writing. Their family and friends have added to the fund.

“We understand what these types of experiences mean to the students and where they will lead,” says Angela. “When you change one life, you change many, many lives.”

At the end of the academic year, the Shiflets will retire from their full-time teaching positions at Wofford, but they plan to remain active in the world of computational science education and research. Their editor at Princeton University Press has approached them about doing another textbook, and they continue to write and update learning modules used in classrooms across the globe. In addition, they will continue to pursue Fulbright Specialist opportunities. They also have several promising opportunities on the horizon to work with scientists in Italy, Russia, England and Australia.

“I don’t have time to learn another language before we work abroad, but fortunately, English is the language of science,” says George. “Planning these types of experiences makes me look forward to retirement more. We will continue to reach as many people as we can with the power of computational science and the power of the gift.”

By Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89