Catawba Bids Farewell to Three Faculty Members

Three Catawba College faculty members will retire at the end of this academic year, and they each looked back on their tenure at the college with a shared pride in their students. Drs. Janice Fuller (English), Paul Baker (Mathematics and Computer Science) and Rhonda Truitt (Education) will bid farew...

Three Catawba College faculty members will retire at the end of this academic year, and they each looked back on their tenure at the college with a shared pride in their students.  Drs. Janice Fuller (English), Paul Baker (Mathematics and Computer Science) and Rhonda Truitt (Education) will bid farewell to their careers in academia and set off on new adventures.  Collectively, the three have given 82 years of service to the college.

Dr. Janice Moore Fuller

Dr. Janice Moore Fuller, Catawba’s Writer-in-Residence and Professor of English, joined the college in 1981 and confides she has always felt “damn lucky” to be at Catawba. 

“Every day for the past 36 years, after I’ve had my second cup of coffee, I have felt a rush of excitement, wondering what adventure I will have, wondering what my students will teach me that day.”

Her wish “for each of my students, past and present, is that they will find something they love to do as much as I have loved teaching.”

She has relished how her recent students have embraced “old school” values like service and citizenship while using 21st-Century technology to reach out to the world and make it better.  

She hopes members of the campus community remember that “I was passionate about what I taught and that empathy and compassion were important to me in my teaching.”   She’d like to be remembered by words associated with the Oxford Clerk from the Prologue to Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”: “gladly would he lerne and gladly teche.”

This Greensboro native and first generation college student was an Angier B. Duke Scholar at Duke University, where she earned her undergraduate degree in two academic disciplines, English and Music.  She earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Although she has spent much of her academic career in her home state, she has traveled with her students to far flung places like Guatemala, Estonia, the Galapagos Islands, Ireland, Wales, and Provence, often through courses she developed for Catawba’s exceptional honors program.  She served as a visiting professor of English in 2007 at Harlaxton College, the British campus of the University of Evansville, as part of Catawba’s then semester abroad program.

She is proud to have helped Dr. Bruce Griffith and Dr. Lou Ann Kasias develop Educare, a program for first year students once offered at the College. For 32 years, she has served as faculty advisor to “The Arrowhead,” Catawba’s arts magazine.

As a writer, she has been awarded fellowships for artists’ colonies in Ireland, Spain, Scotland, Portugal and Russia.  She has published four poetry collections, including “Séance” (winner of the Oscar Arnold Young Award for the best N.C. Poetry Book of the Year). 

She collaborated with Theatre Arts Professor Dr. Beth Homan to bring two of her plays to the Catawba stage: “Machine Play” and “As I Lay Dying” (a stage adaptation of William Faulkner’s novel). 

Fuller received awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to attend two six-week Summer Institutes at the University of Arizona to study Homer. She also received NEH awards for eight-week summer seminars, one in Ireland to study William Butler Yeats, and the other to study post-colonial literature at the University of London.

During her years at Catawba, Fuller was voted by students Professor of the Year five times and was awarded the Swink Prize for Outstanding Classroom Teaching.  At Catawba, she has held the Leona Fleming Herman Endowed Chair in English and the Weaver Endowed Chair of Humanities.  She was the recipient of the Kenneth Clapp Tri-Delta Award (2012), the Phi Epsilon Award (1990), and the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award (1999).  Most recently at the April 2017 Awards Convocation, she was recognized as the recipient of Catawba’s prestigious Trustee Award for her service and contributions to the college.

In retirement, she’d like working on children’s picture books with strong female characters, developing a book of correspondence between two cats, and “most importantly, dancing, writing, and examining insects and amphibians with my two grandchildren, Emory and Ellis.”

Dr. Paul Baker
When Dr. Paul Baker joined the faculty in the fall of 1982, he was hired as an Associate Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science.  But he says that in the early days, most of his teaching was on the Computer Science side of things.  “That has evolved so that this year, I’m teaching almost exclusively Mathematics.

“We used to have a required one-hour computer literacy course,” Baker remembers.  “One semester I taught six sections of the computer literacy component (approximately 50 kids per section) so that I taught every entering student that year.”

A U.S. Navy veteran who served eight years of active duty during the Vietnam War, Baker holds his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts degrees in Mathematics from UNC Chapel Hill.  He earned his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Delaware at Newark and also holds a Master’s of Divinity degree from Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury.

He says he takes pride in the quality of Catawba’s Math and Computer Science graduates, although he admits students have changed quite a bit throughout his tenure.

“Students over 35 years have found it more and more difficult to concentrate on solving a problem.  In some of the earlier upper-level courses, I’ve had students who would spend two hours or more trying to solve a single problem.  Now the average time spent solving a problem may be five minutes.  If they can’t solve it in five minutes, then they may spend a long time (a half hour) looking on the Internet for a solution.  If the Internet fails to provide a solution, they give up, saying the problem is too hard.”

He championed the plus/minus grading system at Catawba and counts it as an achievement for the institution.  “We used to only give A, B, C, D, F [grades] and that caused grade inflation.  If a student with a 69.8 and a 79.2 were both going to get a C, I would be inclined to move the 79.2 up to a B, since that student performed so much better than the 69.8.  With the plus/minus system, the 69.8 gets a C- and the 79.2 gets a C+.  We can more accurately describe student performance with the plus/minus system.”

Baker also takes pride in the new buildings and facilities on campus, including Ketner Hall that replaced “the old business building that used to be below the tennis courts and the Ketner Building.”  He gives a nod to the classroom technology, including widespread campus Internet access, and adds, “having a lunch room you can be proud of is wonderful.”

His advice for students: “You can make a difference in our world today.  Don’t give up in despair.  Maybe you cannot change the entire world, but at least you can change the entire world of one child.”

His advice for faculty: “Care about your students, however don’t forget that you are a professor.  Your job is to educate and not to entertain.  Of course, it’s good if you can do both.  If a student doesn’t do the work, don’t be afraid to fail the student.  In high school, no child is left behind; in college, some are left behind.”

He hopes he will be remembered because “he cared for people, and because he cared, he wasn’t scared to say what he thought.”

Baker’s caring philosophy is at work well beyond the confines of the Catawba campus.  His personal concern for the people of Cambodia, born of his knowledge of that country and its plight during his military service, has taken him there on mission trips with his church and other groups over more than a dozen years.  He has also be involved in mission work in Russia.

He wrote and published a four-volume book, autobiographical fiction, entitled “A Shadowy Passage,” based on his experiences as a naval intelligence officer during the Vietnam War.  During that time, he made numerous contacts with many Cambodians and developed a special affinity for that country and its “gentle” people who have been so adversely affected by years of military conflict.

Baker has also published and presented numerous professional research papers with titles that belie his ironic sense of humor, including “Do Two Half Lives Make One Whole Life?” “Math: Not a School-Plate,” “What Else Besides Zero,” “Finding Zero,” and “Chicken or Egg or Proof by Assumption.”

His plans in retirement: “Oh, repair the house, write a book, paint the house, play some chess, mow the yard, put my vast stamp collection in order, repair the house, play the guitar and compose some songs, work on the house, enjoy my grandkids, do some math for fun, repair the swimming pool, go swimming, etc.”

Dr. Rhonda Truitt
Since joining the faculty in 2006, Dr. Rhonda Truitt, an Associate Professor of Teacher Education and chair of the Department of Teacher Education, says she and her colleagues “have always worked with quality students in Teacher Education.  They continue to be strong students and represent us well as teachers in many school districts throughout the state and the country.  We receive positive feedback regularly about their high level of preparation and performance.”

And the quality and caliber of the students that Dr. Truitt has helped prepare for careers as teachers are really defining reflections of her expectations of and for them.  She hopes people will associate the word “dedicated” with her tenure at the college and understand that she has “willingly served the college whenever requested or needed.”

Catawba honored Truitt with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award in 2013.  That award is given in recognition of fine spiritual qualities practically applied in daily living and with the belief that this person will uphold the spiritual standards of Catawba by their noble characteristics.  A committee of students and faculty choose both a student and a staff member annually to receive this award.  The award was established by the New York Southern Society as a permanent reminder of the noblest human qualities expressed and followed in the life of its first president Algernon Sydney Sullivan.

She has served as the Director of the Ritchie Academy for Teacher, the Director of Graduate Programs, Coordinator of the Elementary Education and the Special Education programs, as Title IX Coordinator for Athletics at Catawba, and as co-chair of the most recent Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) of the college.  That QEP resulted in the Catawba 2 Career program that “has proven to be very successful” in both helping Catawba retain sophomores who are academically at risk and helping these students become more aware and focused on the career they are preparing to attain.

The collaborations she has forged with administrators in the Rowan-Salisbury Schools have benefitted several decades of teacher education students who have completed their student teaching requirements in this system, under the watchful eye of Dr. Truitt.

Truitt earned an Associate of Arts degree in Liberal Studies from Edison Community College in Fort Myers, Fla., before attaining her Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla.  She earned her Master of Education degree and Principals’ Certification from the UNC Greensboro and acquired a Doctor of Education degree from UNC Chapel Hill.

Prior to joining the faculty at Catawba, Truitt held several positions within the Alamance-Burlington School System in Burlington, including Elementary School Teacher, Observer/Evaluator, Elementary School Assistant Principal, Elementary School Principal, Grant Writer, Director of Elementary Education and Title I, and Interim Associate Superintendent of Curriculum.  She also served a year as a Teacher Education Consultant within the Human Resource Management Division of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

In retirement, Truitt plans to relax, read and travel.

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