I will never forget the diagram Vince Miller drew on my first paper to explain a concept from Dante’s “Inferno” that I had missed. Or talking with Dr. Deno Trakas about whether to become a teacher or find a way into documentary film making (obviously those plans changed). Or studying Celtic crosses in Ireland with Dr. Dennis Dooley. Or discovering, thanks to Dr. John Bullard, that it was OK to use my brain when reading the Bible. Or marveling at the concept of sunk cost after an enlightened moment in Dr. Richard Wallace’s class. I carry the Wofford faculty from the late 1980s with me everywhere I go. Dr. Vivian Fisher, Dr. Constance Antonsen, Dr. David Tyner, Dr. Lewis Jones, Dr. Ed Henry, Dr. Terry Ferguson and many more still shape my thinking and my doing. That’s something Wofford graduates share across generations and circumstances.
With the 2018-19 academic year in full swing, Wofford faculty have once again settled into both the familiar and unusual spaces in which they do their work — spaces where students are or will be, spaces of discomfort and growth, spaces of discovery, spaces in which the magic of a liberal arts education is happening right now.
IN THE CLASSROOM
Dr. Tracy Revels, professor of history
The classroom is Dr. Tracy Revels’ happy place. She teaches both first-year students and majors and finds pleasure in both.
“I like subverting their expectations,” she says of students new to the field of history. “So often they come in and think they’re not good at history. I like the challenge of a student who looks at history with disdain.”
With majors Revels loves guiding students as they dig deep into sources, watching them become better writers, thinkers and communicators. Some even go into academic history.
“Dr. Phillip Stone ’94, the college archivist, was in my first class. To be able to work with a former student is an honor.”
Revels offers an office hour for every hour she teaches. She stays active in discipline-specific research and writing, and she enjoys sharing her quirky interests with students — from Sherlock Holmes to “Game of Thrones” to flamingos.
“At the heart of it all, you have got to be madly and wildly passionate about your discipline. You have to eat, sleep and breathe it. Students know if you’re not,” she says. “Then you have to want to share it. A good teacher wants that almost uncontrollably.”
Dr. Jim Neighbors, professor of English
Dr. Jim Neighbors went into academia because he fell in love with books.
“I read ‘Moby-Dick’ with a great teacher at the University of Washington and was blown away. It changed my life.”
He fell in love with teaching in graduate school, calling the classroom one of the few spaces in our society in which genuine honesty can occur. “For me that’s been a guiding principle, and literature is conducive to that.”
In Neighbors’ class, every perspective is valid.
“I really like these people, and I want to know what they want to say,” he says. “It’s exciting to be in a room with students who have caught fire and are working through cool ideas.”
Neighbors emphasizes the principles of close reading and provides students with multiple opportunities to lead the class. His class preparation includes deciding which novels are complex enough to sustain the diversity of student interest and developing challenging and engaging questions. Still, he says, compassion is the key to good teaching.
“That means listening to students, respecting them and working to understand their perspectives,” he says. “That, to me, is the root of good teaching — a lot of listening — everyone in the room listening to each other, listening to what the book's saying, respecting one another and the text enough to pay attention.”
Colleen Ballance, associate professor of theatre
Colleen Ballance always buys foil-lined envelopes and selects just the right stamp. It’s a reflection of her work teaching set and costume design. “We’re creating an envelope for the actors and the text. That whole world on the stage, it’s all support, and the envelope has to be perfect.”
For Ballance, teaching extends beyond the traditional classroom to the stage, set and costume design workshops, and the lighting booth. That means lots of time with students.
“I very genuinely like students,” says Ballance, who worked professionally at the Guthrie Theater and with Spoleto, each for a decade, as well as in feature films before returning to the classroom. “This age group is the best way to stay in touch with the world. … I learn so much from them.”
One of Ballance’s favorite things is to mentor students to the point at which they can design and/or direct their own show.
“That’s when they really face the facts,” she says. “There are no extensions on opening night. They can’t change things, but they can learn from the experience, and that's the very best way to learn.”
Dr. Natalie Spivey, associate professor of biology
When students make an appointment with Dr. Natalie Spivey it’s because they often have decisions to make. In addition to advising first-year students and biology majors, she coordinates the college’s health careers advising program, working frequently with pre-medical students.
“It’s never my job to tell them what they can or can’t do,” says Spivey. “It’s up to them to figure out the best path for them.” The work of introducing students to their options, listening to their concerns and asking them pointed questions is where Spivey excels.
“I definitely like getting to know the students and seeing them find their passion,” she says. “Health care is a big, broad industry, and there are more options for students than medical school.”
From organizing mock medical school interviews and hosting med school admission visitors to helping students secure internships to maintaining a website for students interested in the field, Spivey’s work is all about opening doors to opportunity.
This year she has extended that support to other first-year academic advisors, so they can better answer questions from the many students who come to Wofford as a path to medical school.
Diane Farley ’05, assistant professor of accounting
"Diane Slider Farley ’05 understands the value of individualized academic advising for students, especially in the first year of transition into college," says Dr. Carol Wilson ’81, director of academic advising and professor of English.
Along with Dr. Lillian Gonzalez, associate professor of accounting; Dr. Natalie Grinnell, Reeves Family Professor in Humanities; and Steve Zides, senior instructor of physics, Farley led an advising concurrent session for summer orientation so students would have a clearer understanding of schedule-making and the registration process. She also has been willing to extend her service as an advisor beyond the alternating years model, emphasizing first-year advising along with major advising as an important part of her professional development and service to the college.
"Wofford has so many committed teachers who work individually with students in their courses and also embrace advising as an extension of their teaching responsibilities," says Wilson. "Diane is a good example of someone who guides students in exploring academic possibilities, developing plans and navigating the college’s curriculum to achieve their goals."
IN AREAS OF CRITIAL NEED
Dr. Yongfang Zhang, associate professor of Chinese
Over the past six summers, Dr. Yongfang Zhang has secured more than $500,000 in grants from the National Security Agency to bring nearly 250 middle and high school students from the Southeast to Wofford College for StarTalk. The students, who attend free of charge, spend several intense weeks on campus learning Chinese language and culture.
"The experiences and topics we cover are very real, whether it's transportation in China or living with a host family," says Zhang. "If in the future they go to China, they will most likely have these very same experiences."
The camp addresses the need to increase the number of U.S. citizens learning, speaking and teaching critical need foreign languages. It also gives the bright, ambitious students who attend the camp a taste of Wofford so they will consider becoming Terriers one day.
Zhang, who directs the camp, is also an American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) oral proficiency tester, an oral proficiency tester trainer and an ACTFL Assessment of Performance toward Proficiency in Languages (AAPPL) test quality advisor.
IN FACULTY GOVERNANCE
Dr. Matt Cathey, associate professor of mathematics
Dr. Joseph Spivey, associate professor of mathematics
Faculty meetings ensure academic freedom and the best interests of students.
“It’s important when they walk into the classroom that professors feel comfortable teaching the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that may be in the community. Having strong faculty governance — something we are still growing into — maintains the independence of the faculty in terms of teaching,” says Dr. Matt Cathey, presiding officer of the college’s monthly faculty meetings.
Put another way, “It’s important that the faculty be focused on what’s best for students without consideration of outside forces or fiscal concerns,” says Dr. Joseph Spivey, faculty secretary.
Cathey, Spivey and faculty parliamentarian Dr. Clayton Whisnant keep faculty meetings organized, efficient and in order. They ensure that everyone understands what’s going on and has a voice in decisions. New courses, tenure review or promotions, general education and major requirements, and changes to the catalog all fall within the purview of the faculty.
“What do we find important? What traits do we want to reflect? What values do we share? We’ve chosen to work in a place that emphasizes teaching, and the faculty has the power to shape the academic program to that effect,” says Cathey.
IN UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH
Dr. Ramin Radfar, professor of chemistry
As soon as Dr. Ramin Radfar joined the Wofford faculty in 2001, he welcomed students into his lab, offering them opportunities to participate in his research and even design their own projects.
“Wofford has been very supportive of this. If I needed equipment or an instrument, they have always been ready to help,” Radfar says.
More than 30 students have worked in Radfar’s lab, usually during the summers. This past summer Savannah Talledo ’21 helped Radfar target a protein that has the potential to treat cancer.
Talledo, a chemistry major with a minor in theatre who now calls Spartanburg home, has exceeded all expectations.
“She achieved all of the goals that she had for this project and even worked on her own research,” says Radfar. “I knew she was good, but I didn’t know she was this good.”
Radfar says staying active in research circles and guiding students through the research process keeps his skills sharp.
“It’s good for me, and it’s good for them,” he says. “Undergraduate research allows students to apply what they learn in class and better prepare for their futures.”
Dr. Beau Christ, assistant professor of computer science
Dr. Beau Christ has only been at Wofford two years, but already he’s coordinating the college’s emphasis in computational science and encouraging students interested in high-performance computing.
“We are very fortunate to have an emphasis in computational science at Wofford,” says Christ. “The program allows students to explore the intersection of math, science and computing; high-performance computing is one component of this. When Kevin Shin ’19 and Diego Losada Rubio ’21 approached me about the possibility of doing summer research in the field, I went to Dr. Bob Panoff, Wofford’s scientist-in-residence and executive director of the Shodor Foundation. He introduced me to the XSEDE program.”
Shin and Losada Rubio were accepted into the XSEDE EMPOWER program that exposes undergraduates to the world of supercomputing through a progression of learning outcomes and responsibilities. Panoff, an XSEDE leader, and Christ mentored the group through the summer and ensured that the students made connections in the greater computer science community.
“Kevin and Diego accomplished their goals as XSEDE learners, and I hope this builds excitement for more high performance computing at the college,” says Christ.
Dr. Laura Barbas Rhoden, professor of Spanish
Dr. Christine Dinkins, Kenan professor of philosophy
"What makes a community space sana (healthy)?" That's the research question that Mariana González ’21, Kathleen Hughes ’19, Sandra López ’21 and Mayra Lomeli-García ’21 explored with Dr. Laura Barbas Rhoden and Dr. Christine Dinkins during a 10-week student-faculty research project this summer.
The research centered on the ideas of inclusive place, community and health, with a focus on the growing Latinx community in the Spartanburg area. The team discovered lots of "bright spots," around which decision-makers, funders and community partners can consider healthy spaces and healthy living.
"I loved how the nature of qualitative research allowed for the fostering of relationships with people in the community," says Hughes. "There was never a hierarchical relationship between interviewer and interviewee, rather a conversation that encouraged growth and reflection for both participants."
Barbas Rhoden brought her experiences in community-based learning and work with the Arcadia community and Spartanburg's Hispanic Alliance. Dinkins contributed a background in phenomenological observation and interviewing. The students spent time learning about the nature of collaborative, community-based research as well as in methodological training before beginning their fieldwork and data analysis.
"As a Bonner Scholar, I understand that in order for a community to prosper, it's fundamental that no one group be excluded. This concept was the foundation for how I began the summer," says González. "Our duty, as a team, was to create a bridge between Latinx residents and community members and to amplify those voices that are often not heard." The team will present their findings in the fall.
IN THE ORCHESTRA PIT
Gary McCraw ’77, professor of music
Gary McCraw ’77 first played an organ at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Spartanburg when he was 14 years old. It was for a wedding.
“I got a few lessons and figured it out,” says McCraw, and Wofford is grateful that he did.
As a student McCraw was the accompanist for Dr. Vic Bilanchone, and he has continued to play the piano and organ for Wofford ever since. McCraw has chaired the Department of Music since 2001. He teaches classes, advises students and leads the Wofford Men’s Glee Club, Wofford Men, the concert band and Wofford Singers, the latter in partnership with Christi Sellars, a senior instructor in the department.
“I have enjoyed the opportunities to do the fun stuff, not only at Wofford but also in the Spartanburg community,” says McCraw. “It’s also good for our students to see a practicing musician at work.”
Students love the way he demonstrates musical technique, meter or tempo on the piano in his classroom.
“When I teach disjunct and conjunct music, I’ll quickly play a few bars of ‘Over the Rainbow,’ which has both,” says McCraw. “When they can relate with their musical memories, they learn quicker.”
IN THE CARRIBEAN OCEAN
Dr. Dave Kusher, professor of biology
According to Dr. Dave Kusher, the secret to traveling well with students is making sure they’re exhausted at the end of the day.
“If you start at 8 a.m. and do three or four SCUBA dives, you’re ready to go to sleep by 9:30 at night,” says Kusher, who, all joking aside, has taken students for decades to some of the best coral reefs in the world. “Bonaire’s fringing reef is only 100 feet from shore. It’s perfect for shore dives.
Little Cayman is a barrier island, so it’s all boat dives. You jump in with the reef below, and beyond the wall it may be 6,000 feet deep. In both island locations our students are fortunate to experience the splendor of reefs that are threatened but still intact.”
Kusher is passionate about environmental protection, particularly when it comes to oceans, reefs, kelp forests and wetlands. He’s also a SCUBA enthusiast who has been diving since the age of 16. Students who complete the Interim become Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) Open Water certified.
“I want all of my students to understand how biologically complex reef ecosystems are so that they will want to help protect them,” says Kusher. “We can’t live without the ecological goods and services they provide us."
IN the cheering section
Lisa Lefebvre and Dr. John Lefebvre, professor of psychology
The day Dr. John Lefebvre followed Nicole Chin ’18, during the first round of the Mimosa Hills Intercollegiate golf tournament, she posted a 69, her best competitive round of the season and the second-lowest round in program history. Coach Angie Ridgeway asked him whether he could return the next day to finish the tournament, then follow the team during the Southern Conference Championship a few weeks later.
The Lefebvres have connections to student-athletes,
student-artists, student-leaders, international students, student-musicians and others active across campus through classes, labs and advisement. Probably more importantly, the Lefebvres have a desire to support their students beyond what’s required by their work at the college.
“When we first moved to Spartanburg, we made a conscious decision to live here so we could attend things at Wofford,” says Lisa, director of employee wellness and medical services at Wofford.
The students love seeing Wofford faculty among the cheering fans, and the Lefebvres love the involvement, even though it means early mornings for cross-country meets and horse shows. John even did a bit of scouting when he was on sabbatical at Duke University. The men's soccer team very well may have an extra on the bus when they play the Blue Devils on Oct. 2.
IN CURRICULUM INNOVATION
Dr. Courtney Dorroll, assistant professor of religion and Middle Eastern and North African Studies
Dr. Phil Dorroll, assistant professor of religion
Before 9/11, Islamic studies was a niche field — small, considered esoteric and failing on even large university campuses.
“The field changed drastically after 9/11. All of the sudden, people thought, ‘Maybe we should learn more about this area of the world,’” says Dr. Courtney Dorroll, who has a new book, “Teaching Islamic Studies in the Age of ISIS, Islamophobia and the Internet.”
“It was a boom era,” says Dr. Phil Dorroll. He and Courtney were in doctoral programs at the time.
Developing the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) program at Wofford was a team effort. Courtney, whose Ph.D. is in the field, helped get the program off the ground with support from Dr. Kim Rostan, associate professor of English; Dr. Bill DeMars, professor of government; Dr. David Efurd, associate professor of art history; and Dr. Clayton Whisnant, Chapman Professor of Humanities, all of whom were teaching MENA-related courses. Phil then worked with Mary Beth Knight ’96, formerly in advancement, and Michelle Smith in the business office to write the successful Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language (UISFL) grant.
First adopted in 2015, Wofford’s MENA program now has 10 graduates and 20 current student participants from a variety of disciplines. In addition to Courtney, who works with capstone students, and Phil, who focuses on new students, other program leaders are Dr. Helen Dixon, assistant professor of religion, who coordinates outreach, and Dr. Youness Mountaki, assistant professor of Arabic, who specializes in program assessment.
Dr. Kaye Savage, associate professor of environmental studies
Dr. Kaye Savage is quick to share credit for her work to secure a $4.25 million Romill Foundation grant to establish the Milliken Sustainability Initiative at Wofford College. The innovative program, which connects the college with both Northside and Glendale community partners through collaborative exploration of community and environmental sustainability, is now in its third year.
“I’m just a little part of it,” she says, citing the efforts of Dr. B.G. Stephens ’56, colleagues active in the strategic visioning process, colleagues already investing in both the Northside and Glendale communities and staff partners in the area of grant-writing and community-based learning.
While the grant offers three different learning landscapes — Wofford’s campus, the Northside and Glendale communities — Savage remains particularly excited about the sustainability and public health lecture series.
“Public health is a lens under which to understand how important sustainability is,” she says. “Climate change impacts health. Air quality impacts health. Our food systems and our health systems are linked, and both are linked to the environment. It’s been an important part of this grant.”
IN BETWEEN FAITHS AND CULTURES
The Rev. Dr. Ron Robinson ’78, Perkins-Prothro chaplain and professor of religion
More often than not, students find Rev. Ron, their nickname for the Rev. Dr. Ron Robinson ’78, out and about on campus wearing a pair of Converse Chucks from his extensive collection. He attends events; teaches classes; counsels students, faculty and staff; prays; leads worship and advises the college’s 13 religious life groups.
“Interfaith engagement has been an important emphasis of our work at Wofford,” says Robinson of the staff in the Halligan Center for Religious and Spiritual Life. “Because of our size and because we’re highly residential, our students are able to engage difference in a positive way. Muslims, Jews, agnostics, Catholics, Protestant and Orthodox Christians, evangelicals, Hindus, Buddhists — they all live together. They know each other, and they are curious.”
This environment has made Wofford a major player nationally in the interfaith movement.
“The students who attend religious observances at Wofford are from many different backgrounds, so we celebrate in many different ways. They often come with friends who are of a different religion or worldview. For instance, we celebrate Hanukkah not because we have a huge Jewish population but because that’s what an educational institution needs to do,” says Robinson. “You get to be who you are at Wofford, and if you want, you can change who you are. We want our students to experience the world as it is.”
IN ACADEMIC WRITING AND PUBLISHING (AND, OF COURSE TEACHING)
Dr. A.K. Anderson ’90, professor of religion
Dr. A.K. Anderson ’90 read Dante for the first time as a Wofford student. He started teaching Dante early in his time on the Wofford faculty when Sean Hayden ’02 asked him to be a part of his thesis committee.
"Every time I teach I see something I didn't see before," says Anderson, who now has been teaching Dante for 16 years. Last spring a passage he'd read and covered multiple times jumped out at him. The article Anderson is working on now, "Limbo in Limbo," is a product of years in the classroom.
"The light flashed. The idea of publishing on Dante is daunting, but now that I have new insights ... it shows how publication can come out of teaching."
Conversely, teaching follows published academic research. Anderson’s interest in Iranian film had been separate from his classes until Wofford received the UISFL grant, shortly after the establishment of the MENA program. Anderson realized that he could build on the research to teach a class.
“The thing that keeps teaching alive is that it requires research every day. Research is the heart of teaching, pushing yourself into things you hadn’t covered before,” says Anderson. “The relationships between research for publication and research for teaching is fused.”
Dr. Cissy Fowler, professor of sociology and anthropology
“In the discipline of anthropology, research and writing are necessary dimensions of scholarship (at least by conventional definition),” says Dr. Cissy Fowler. Research and writing add meaning to her work as an anthropologist, and they enhance her role in the classroom.
According to Fowler, writing illustrates one example of the link between teaching and publishing.
“Studying writing processes assists with designing good writing assignments for students,” she says. “Directing writing projects requires breaking them down into steps or stages and defining and describing each step in ways that are understandable for college students. Teaching students how to write is simultaneous to becoming a better author. Practicing writing is essential to being an empathetic writing teacher.”
Because the college values this as well, it has helped secure funding for Fowler’s ethnographic fieldwork.
Fowler published a single-authored monograph in 2013, a single-authored monograph in 2016 and a co-edited collection in 2018. “They took eight, three and five years, respectively, from conceptualization to release. … A printed text embodies patience in a way that teaches an author the rewards of sticking with a project until it is completely and finally done.”