Jim Amidon — Last week was a festive one at Wabash College. Faculty honored students, students honored faculty, and the grand tradition of the liberal arts was celebrated. Last Thursday, the College held two big events: a luncheon to recognize faculty and staff and the annual Awards Chapel, which is a gathering of administrators, faculty, staff, students, and families in celebration of achievement.
At the luncheon, faculty who celebrated 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, and 35-year anniversaries were honored for their service. It was especially heartening when the 35-year honorees were introduced — professors Tom Campbell and Melissa Butler and Coach Mac Petty, who are all retiring after this year, along Professor Tobey Herzog, who will continue to be a force in the classroom.
That night at the Awards Chapel, prizes were awarded across the full breadth of the Wabash curriculum to students with particular strengths in history, chemistry, music, and art; for leadership in the Malcolm X Institute and community service; and even for excellence in journalism.
That event is always a highlight of the year because it honors the late nights, hard work, and constant cramming students devote to become the best of the best.
Also that evening, Dean of the College Gary Phillips named this year’s winner of the McLain-McTurnan-Arnold Excellence in Teaching Award. This honor is, as it suggests, presented to the faculty member who stands out among all others for his or her dedication to the craft of teaching.
Psychology Professor Bobby Horton received the honor this year.
A graduate of the University of Richmond who received his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Dr. Horton began his tenure at Wabash in 2001. He has been a dedicated teacher, an enthusiastic colleague, and committed researcher, and the bulk of his research is done in side-by-side partnership with students.
“Bobby has succeeded in touching student lives with an uncommon decency, taking care to mentor students in a powerful way that leads them to discover for themselves their desires and destiny,” said Dean Phillips.
In addition to teaching and research, Professor Horton was a driving force behind the creation of the new all-College course, Enduring Questions, which is required of all Wabash freshmen.
Dean Phillips culled together comments from dozens of students, faculty, and alumni when preparing the citation for Thursday’s Awards Chapel. He said, “Bobby’s faculty colleagues who have served on committees or taught with him in all-College courses [describe him as] respectful; effective administrator; charming; calm; able to defuse charged settings; takes care to involve you; trustworthy; asks tough question; insightful intellectual; model of clear thinking; combines rigor with concern; has the virtue of clarity; devoted; inspiring; ‘the kind of human, adult role model that Wabash students need.’”
Earlier in the week, Dean Phillips also saluted Associate Dean Cheryl Hughes, who is returning to the classroom after spending the last few years in an administrative capacity.
Moving from the classroom to the Dean’s Office is never an easy transition, and it’s even more difficult for those who, like Cheryl, have a passion for teaching and connecting with students — who thrive on the classroom dynamic. But Dr. Hughes had a smooth transition and made the most of her time as Associate Dean of the College.
She shaped and led a new advisory board for the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies after its director resigned. She organized and led a new faculty orientation program, and directed a faculty development grant. She was also involved in the development of two new student retention programs funded through grants from Walmart and the Council of Independent Colleges.
In saluting her at a faculty meeting, Dean Phillips said Professor Hughes had done a thousand little things, too, in order to bring sanity to an incredibly busy, bustling office.
“Cheryl has served the faculty and the College exceedingly well at a very challenging time in the life of the institution,” said Dean Phillips. “She has given unflagging and effective service to the College, day in and day out, on the weekend and through her personal vacation time. The College is stronger for her efforts… I am grateful for her passion, her commitment to fairness, her willingness to entertain competing views and values, her readiness to assess, envision solutions to problems, and then to do the grunt work to make ideas become reality, and her insights and critiques that have made my work passable and possible at times.”
As another year at Wabash winds to a close, there will be other opportunities to pay tribute to the amazing and dedicated people who help the College achieve its greatness. But in a week when people like Melissa Butler, Tom Campbell, Mac Petty, Tobey Herzog, Cheryl Hughes, and Bobby Horton are lifted up, well, it’s a pretty good week.