What subject do you teach and how long have you been teaching that subject?
I am the resident botanist so to speak for years, so I teach mostly plant courses, but I’ve taught here, this is my 40th I also teach some biology. I’ve done all of those since I got here, and we started the agriculture program in the 80s and I started it up then so a lot of those courses related to that started in the 80s when we started teaching. You know, we had an Ag program in 2 years and then we went to 4 years and we started that and other courses.
Why did you start teaching and working at Ferrum?
I love to teach. I did a teaching assistantship at the University of Central Florida while I was getting my masters and when I went to the O.C. Georgia to get my doctorate, I had a teaching assistantship as well. I also taught in the department, so when I went out to get a job, I applied to a lot of teaching institutions and I wanted to teach and then do my research rather than having to do all of the research and a little bit of teaching on the side. So when I started looking for schools, I was looking for places that were teaching institutions as much and I looked at both, but I knew that I could do more teaching here instead, and if I wanted to do more research then I could do it so if I wanted to stay involved that was possible. So looking around, I was applying for a lot of jobs and a friend of ours at the University of Georgia was here and applied to be an environmental science and they said “Well our botanist just resigned, do you know anybody interested in teaching plant classes?” So I called him up and interviewed shortly after that, came through here and interviewed with folks and went out to scientific meetings with Dr. Thomas and we ended up accepting the job and came back here and started right after that.
What made you want to continue to teach here for such a long amount of time and not teach somewhere else?
I think it’s because of the sense of community, and the rural setting where we could live and raise our boys in a very comfortable environment where everybody knew everyone else, whereas young faculty, we could develop and make a difference at Ferrum in both research and teaching and develop programs but also is very useful that Dr. Thomas and I could teach together because we wanted to raise a family. We felt like if we were here then the both of us in the same position could go on the same breaks. We could go to meetings in the summer we could travel with our family. But when we were here, we were able to know everybody, and it was just family, I mean it was when you’re here you feel like you make a difference in student’s lives. The other thing was we were teaching and we loved it. I think when you teach, and you can see the change and get the personal feedback from small classes, then it really makes a difference. It’s held true because over the years, students come back and they say “wow this really made a difference and so, a lot of graduates come back and they want to check in with us. We just had one come back from 35 years ago, and he came back and gave a seminar Friday and it’s a great reward when a student came come back and know who you are and that’s huge. Also, it’s always never really felt like going to work, it’s always been just coming in and doing what you enjoy.
What is your favorite memory from Ferrum?
One really important part for me was the start of the Ag program. And being able to develop that and see the students. About 8 or 9 students came to me and said “ We really don’t want to stay at Ferrum for 2 years, why can’t we have a senior college of agriculture?” and I think that was a really special moment because it meant students wanted to stay here, and it was cool that we could go ahead and do that and I think the other thing is some of the awards that we have gotten for students coming back. Dr. Thomas and I got the Eugene Odom teaching award from the ecological society for teaching. We got that a few years ago and it was just this special moment when you spent your career teaching and then a national organization recognizes that and gives you an award. To be able to get that jointly, because I think having both of us have offices next to each other after all of these years, and then to be able to share an award meant a whole lot because of our teaching and what we have tried to do. I think it was really special.
What are some of the changes that you have been able to witness? Have they made Ferrum a better institution as a whole?
I think going from a two year school, and when we came it was 2 plus 2 so there was a senior college and all of the students added that. When we shifted and then went to 4 years and added all of the programs, it really increased the diversity of the faculty, it increased the people that could come here. We are getting students who are interested in all areas not just a handful. So, I think that was a big change. The renovations of teaching facilities, this building (Garber) was a huge change. We went from just the far end of Garber Hall, that was just mostly classrooms and a few labs to weighing on the end chapel right here that ended up being now the place to teach plants and then, after that, the addition of the greenhouse here and the expansion of the Titmus Agriculture Center so that now we have 3 greenhouses over there and an animal facility. I think the changes, a lot of it is driven by the students. What happens here often, students want change every year, and something I like to tell people is that if a student can see change and you’re getting ready to leave and say “I wish I was going to be here because…” then what that tells me is that we are doing good things when we change each year. We need some innovations, we need some changes we need energy. That means that’s exciting to students, that means they want to be here and they’ve asked for it and we’ve been able to provide it. We hear that from alums who come back and say “why don’t you do this, what is it that they like” and then we can add it and look at it and make it happen. That builds curricular expansion and facilities. We’ve been able to get some great equipment. We have the Smith Mountain Lake Water Quality Program, we have our own boat. Every piece to the experience the students get is experiential learning.
Why should someone attend Ferrum College?
Because they get an experiential personal touch with faculty and not with a grad student or somebody who has a different focus. Our faculty are focused on the students and we can give you a personal well rounded education. I believe liberal arts education is the way to go. You’re getting a broader experience, no matter what your major is, and taking things outside of your comfort zone and taking things beyond that that are distribution, but then you get you know the individual and the good part is getting to know eachother. So you could come in here as a freshman, and get involved right away because of the size of Ferrum College.