When Conley McMullen graduated from EMU in 1978, the aspiring botanist decided there would be no finer profession than to become a “gentleman scholar” at his alma mater like his mentors, Claire Mellinger and Gary Stucky. McMullen had taken just about every class that Mellinger taught, from plant taxonomy and physiology, through general ecology and ornithology. And he had also benefited from the encouragement of Stucky, who presented the not-so-stellar chemistry student with a rare opportunity to conduct research in his lab. So partly in fun and partly as a gesture of his appreciation, he “applied” – prematurely, of course, because he only had an undergraduate degree – for a teaching position at EMU.
“Dr. Mellinger replied in jest that he was going to bury my application where it wouldn’t see the light of day, as he was not yet ready, or old enough, to retire,” McMullen said. McMullen went on to earn a master’s from James Madison University (JMU) and a PhD from the University of Maryland, specializing in plant systematics, floristics, and pollination biology, while conducting research in the eastern United States and the Galapagos Islands. For 17 of his 27 years in higher education, he has worked at JMU, where he is now professor of biology.
“In the study of plant systematics, one often discusses the idea of plant lineages, which in turn reminds me of the lineage of botanists of which I am a part,” McMullen says. “Dr. Mellinger had a mentor who trained him, he in turn inspired me, and it is my hope that I will inspire future botanists, who will also carry on the tradition.”
When asked to identify a favorite aspect of his profession, McMullen can’t decide among teaching, research, and service – the three activities that form the foundation of a career in higher education.
Of the 29 EMU alumni working in local institutions of higher education who responded to our interview request, 16 are either traditional faculty or have duties that include teaching responsibilities. Thirteen others at JMU, Bridgewater College and Blue Ridge Community College work in a variety of support positions and count mentorship and/or service among their responsibilities.
In their various niches in the education-rich Shenandoah Valley, EMU alumni thrive as lifelong learners, creators, mentors and agents of change. “Having EMU grads among the various area institutions infiltrates those organizations with more servant attitudes, strong moral values, and the importance of being community members,” says Lorinda “Rinn” Siegrist ’89, a marketing design manager at JMU.
Inspiration, opportunity, and connection to community – these gifts of an EMU education are common themes shared, and passed on, by alumni who have chosen to work in higher education.
Among those EMU graduates who work in higher education, many share special bonds with their former professors. “We teach the way we were taught,” says Randy Snow ’91, who blends the compassion, high standards, and practical skill-building that he experienced while a teacher candidate at EMU into the human resources and adult education courses that he teaches at JMU.
In the JMU biology department, associate professor Justin W. Brown ’97 teaches pathophysiology, neuroscience, and physiology, with the same “contagious passion” of his former professors.
EMU’s Roman Miller encouraged Brown’s budding but undirected interest in research the summer after graduation. “I’m so thankful to him for the opportunity to help him out,” says Brown, who went on to earn a PhD at East Carolina University. “When I say ‘help out,’ I mean ‘make a mess and occasionally collect some data.’” With that same nurturing quality, Brown now oversees six undergraduate students who research the connections between neural mechanisms and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
As an assistant professor of elementary education at Bridgewater College, Jennie M. Carr, MA ’06 (education), PhD (NorthCentral U.), continues to enjoy both professional and personal friendships with professors she met as a graduate student at EMU. Carr makes biannual visits to campus to speak on a panel facilitated by faculty members Cathy Smeltzer Erb and Sandy Brownscombe, and co-teaches a course at Bridgewater with her former action research project supervisor, Judy Wilfong. Carr says that she takes particular pleasure in the exponential gratification of her work: each teacher-candidate she helps to develop with strong professional skills will eventually touch hundreds of children. Another alumna in the Bridgewater education department is Jean R. Hawk, class of ’70 (Bluffton grad), who has an MS from JMU and a PhD from Vanderbilt.
Lori Hertzler Schrock ’93 admired her EMU mentor and role model Jean Brunk for her varied experiences in the wellness field. Schrock has followed in her footsteps with positions at the Sentra RMH Wellness Center and Sunnyside Retirement Community. Schrock is currently program director at the Funkhouser Wellness Center of Bridgewater College.
A voice instructor at Bridgewater College since 2009, Christine Fairfield ’97 enjoys the similar teacher-student ratio that benefited her musical development as an undergraduate. “I was inspired in particular by Ken Nafziger, Steve Sachs, and my voice teacher, Katrina Zook,” she said, “all three outstanding professors who drew me into my musical experience in a way that made me want to share that with others.”
For many alumni, the personal growth they experienced at EMU encourages them to help others find similar enriching connections in education. With more than 20 years of service at the community college level in various departments, Martha Livick ’07 (currently working in Blue Ridge Community College’s library) enjoys watching first-semester students, who are often “bewildered at the new world of college learning,” transition and grow “with knowledge of a new lifestyle of learning.” In building relationships with non-traditional students, she often shares her own story of earning her BS, as a mother of three, through the Adult Degree Completion Program at EMU.
In her ESL classes at JMU’s Career Development Academy, Kristin Yoder Kauffman ’01 also mentors JMU education practicum students. Witnessing and facilitating these educational exchanges, she is reminded of her time at EMU, where “I first learned the richness of cross-cultural experiences, not only in other places, but also locally,” she says. Kauffman had not declared a major before completing a volunteer requirement for Ray Horst’s Spanish class. After that experience with the Shenandoah Valley Migrant Education Program, she became an elementary education major specializing in ESL. In her current role, she enjoys providing “opportunities for college students and immigrants from the community to find common ground together, sharing and learning.”
With so many professional opportunities, career paths often take EMU grads from their alma mater to JMU, BRCC, or Bridgewater College. For many working in the local institutions of higher education, their résumé includes a position at EMU. Nine of those interviewed had benefited from employment or work experience at EMU before moving on. In some cases, their time at EMU solidified interests that were already present. In others, the opportunity eventually led to specialization.
After completing EMU’s MA in education program in 1999, Jenny M. Martin worked for 11 years at EMU in a variety of teaching and support positions. Her path eventually led to doctoral studies in curriculum and instruction at Virginia Tech, where she supports graduate teacher candidates and researches digital pedagogy, along with a position at Bridgewater College, where she is Praxis test coordinator and co-director of the Shenandoah Valley Writing Academy.
“Teaching in EMU’s Intensive English Program and studying abroad for a semester created a global foundation for my pedagogy,” says Laura Kate Schubert ’03. A teacher and writing center coordinator in JMU’s School of Writing, Rhetoric & Technical Communication, Schubert recently co-authored a textbook and began doctoral studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she is specializing in composition and the teaching of English to speakers of other languages.
Emily Benner Blake ’07 spent four years as assistant director at EMU’s Washington (DC) Community Scholars’ Center before becoming an advising coordinator within JMU’s School of Strategic Leadership Studies. With special interests in networking and community-building, Blake recently helped start “Dukes Vote!,” which brings together campus political organizations to get students engaged in the electoral process.
SERVICE THROUGH EDUCATION
Service to community, one of the tenets of the EMU education, also inspires alumni in higher education.
At Blue Ridge Community College, information systems technology instructor Lorie Hartt ’04 sees reciprocity in the learning exchange. “I love the whole cycle of serving my students through instruction and then seeing them provide a service to me in their new positions, for example seeing one of my students practice as a nurse in a doctor’s office,” says Hartt.
Mary Walala ’09 oversees the smooth functioning of more than 30 community outreach programs at JMU’s Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services. It’s a job that allows her to interact with and support “fantastic programs that really make a difference in our community every day…. At EMU, I learned the power of one, that one person can make a change and make a difference,” Walala says.
“I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg,” said Melissa Leisen ’00, pediatric clinical course coordinator in the JMU department of nursing, “but I am passionate about service to the community, which was a big part of our nursing preparation at EMU.” Along with her teaching and supervisory duties, Leisen facilitates a program called Precious Time, which matches nursing students and local families with a child or children with special healthcare needs. The students provide respite care and benefit from “the context of learning what life is truly like for these special families and special kids.”
Also at JMU:
Jason Ritter ’07 mentors practicum students and interns in his position as recreation facilities manager, where he oversees five facilities used by club and intramural teams, adventure programs, fitness and nutrition, and group fitness classes.
Tiffany Newbold, MA ’03 (counseling), is a student coordinator in the engineering department. She advises and counsels students, develops curriculum, maintains relationships with industry partners and alumni, and conducts orientation and recruitment sessions.
Also at Bridgewater College:
Victoria “Vikki” Ingram, MBA ’05, is director of human resources.
Christine Spilman, MA ’06 (counseling), works in the counseling field and since 2008, has also taught psychology courses in the education department.
Retired professors include Marlene Showalter ’62, who taught mathematics at JMU and EMU and later psychology at JMU, and Roy E. Heatwole ’64, who recently retired “again” after a career teaching physics and mathematics at EMU and JMU.
ALUMNI TEACHING AT THE LOCAL COLLEGE LEVEL
JAMES MADISON UNIVERSITY
Justin W. Brown ’97 // PhD (East Carolina University) // associate professor of biology
J. Mark Brubaker ’61 // adjunct faculty in biology department
Brian Charette ’97, MAL ’92 // EdD (Nova Southeastern University) // professor of business, also associate vice president for university planning and analysis
Edward Gant ’78 // DMA (University of Iowa) // adjunct faculty in music department
Julie Burner Gochenour ’99, MAR ’01 // PhD (Union Institute and University) //adjunct faculty in communication studies
William J. Hawk, MDiv ’74 // PhD (Vanderbilt) // professor of philosophy and religion
Karen P. Jagiello ’04 // MSN (James Madison University) // adjunct faculty in nursing department
Melissa Leisen ’00 // MSN (George Mason University), // adjunct faculty of nursing
Erica J. Lewis ’01 // PhD (University of Virginia) //assistant professor of nursing
Merle E. Mast ’74 // PhD (University of Virginia) // professor of nursing
Conley K. McMullen ’78 // PhD (University of Maryland) // professor of biology
Arlene Renalds ’75, MSN ’08 // RN, adjunct faculty in nursing
Ken Roth ’78 // PhD (Medical College of Virginia) // assistant professor of biology
Laura Schubert ’03 // MA (Millersville University), PhD candidate (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) // adjunct faculty in the writing, rhetoric and technical communication department
Randall S. Snow ’92 // MSEd (James Madison University) // adjunct faculty in learning, technology and leadership education department
Richard Bowman ’70 // PhD (Oregon State University) //professor of science
Jennie M. Carr, MA ’06 // PhD (NorthCentral University) // assistant professor of elementary education
L. Alan Eby ’88 // PsyD (Fuller Seminary School of Psychology) // professor of psychology
Christine Fairfield ’97 // MM (Ohio University) // adjunct faculty of applied voice in the music department.
Jean R. Hawk, class of ’70 // PhD (Vanderbilt University) // professor of education and director of the Teacher Education Program
Bonnie Price Lofton, MA ’04 // DLitt (Drew University) // adjunct faculty in sociology department
Jenny M. Martin, MA ’99 // PhD candidate (Virginia Polytechnical University) // adjunct professor of education and praxis support coordinator at Bridgewater and instructor at Virginia Tech
Lori Hertzler Schrock ’93 // MS (James Madison University), program director of Funkhouser Center
Christine Spilman, MA ’06 // adjunct faculty in the education department
— Article by Lauren Jefferson