Catawba bids farewell to three faculty members

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 18, 2017

Catawba College

SALISBURY — Three Catawba College faculty members will retire at the end of the academic year, and they each look back on their tenure at the college with pride in their students.

Drs. Janice Fuller, who taught English; Paul Baker, mathematics and computer science; and Rhonda Truitt, education, will end their careers in academia and set off on new adventures. Collectively, the three have given 82 years of service to the college.

Dr. Janice Fuller

Fuller, Catawba’s writer-in-residence, joined the college in 1981. She says 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,” she said.

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 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.”

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

For 32 years, she has served as faculty adviser to the Arrowhead, Catawba’s arts magazine. She has published four poetry collections, including “Séance,” the winner of the Oscar Arnold Young Award for the best N.C. poetry book of the year. She collaborated with theater arts Professor 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.

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. 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 in 2012, the Phi Epsilon Award in 1990 and the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award in 1999.

Most recently at the April 2017 Awards Convocation, she was recognized with the Trustee Award for her service and contributions to the college.

In retirement, she wants to work 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 Paul Baker joined the faculty in fall 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 in computer science. “That has evolved so that this year, I’m teaching almost exclusively mathematics,” he said.

“We used to have a required one-hour computer literacy course,” Baker said. “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 championed the plus/minus grading system at Catawba. Baker also takes pride in the new buildings on campus, including Ketner Hall, which replaced “the old business building that used to be below the tennis courts and the Ketner Building.” He gives a nod to classroom technology, including widespread campus internet access.

And, he adds, “Having a lunchroom 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 published a four-volume book, an autobiographical fiction titled “A Shadowy Passage,” based on his experiences as a naval intelligence officer during the Vietnam War. He made numerous contacts with many Cambodians and developed an affinity for that country and its “gentle” people who were so adversely affected by years of military conflict.

Baker has published and presented professional research papers with titles that belie his 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, Truitt, an associate professor of teacher education and chairwoman 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.”

Truitt 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 spiritual qualities practically applied in daily living and with the belief that the recipient will uphold the spiritual standards of Catawba with 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 human qualities expressed and followed in the life of its first president, Algernon Sydney Sullivan.

Truitt has served as director of the Ritchie Academy for Teachers, director of graduate programs, coordinator of the elementary education and special education programs, Title IX coordinator for athletics, and co-chairwoman of the most recent Quality Enhancement Plan. 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 focused on the career for which they are preparing.

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

Truitt earned an associate of arts degree in liberal studies from Edison Community College in Fort Myers, Florida, before attaining her bachelor of arts degree in education from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida. She earned her master of education degree and principals’ certification from UNC-Greensboro and a doctor of education degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

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