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Endowed Professorships

Establishing endowed professorships in key grant-getting areas would help bring more resources to the college and lift its reputation

At The University of Alabama, endowed professorships recognize and reward exceptional faculty members. Because they are so highly prized within higher education, endowed professorships are a powerful tool for recruitment and retention. These positions are typically held by gifted faculty members whose accomplishments indicate great potential and whose efforts are focused on carving out new areas of research or performance.

In the College of Education, we currently have two endowed professorships in the areas of special education (Dr. Kristine Jolivette) and whole child education (Dr. Greg Benner). Both professors honored their distinctions by teaching and leading through example.

Dr. Kristine Jolivette, the Paul W. Bryant and Mary Harmon Bryant Chair of Excellence in Education, was recently awarded one of five Spencer Foundation Mentoring Awards in 2020, bringing national recognition to The University of Alabama and the College of Education.

While Kristine’s research has her spending most of her time working with students with and at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD), mostly in correctional facilities, she also spends a great deal of time fostering the next generation of researchers through a collaborative writing group she created at UA.

Dr. Sara Sanders, COE Post-Doctoral Fellow and Kristine’s colleague stated, “Academia can be isolating when faculty remain in their individual silos, working alone in the office, fighting feelings of inadequacy and imposter syndrome. Through our collaborative writing days, Kristine has demonstrated the power of collegiality, collaboration and positive peer support, even when all are working on distinct, individual projects and manuscripts. Kristine’s mentorship has served as a catalyst, changing the culture of our college to one that increasingly values collegiality, support and teamwork. Today, it is common for faculty from across the college to gather informally at coffee shops and restaurants to work and support one another; this shift has occurred because of Kristine’s mentorship.”

Our other endowed professor, Dr. Greg Benner, the Helen and Pat O’Sullivan Professor of Education, can be characterized as a live wire in his passion for the social and emotional learning of students. After a decade of success in implementing Whole Child (SEL) in Washington school districts, Greg is currently focused on developing initiatives to strengthen Alabama schools and communities.

“Development of social and emotional skills is foundational to student success in both academics and life,” said Greg.

The University of Alabama’s College of Education (with Benner as principal investigator) recently received a $5 million federal grant to study the importance of social and emotional learning in relation to the academic and overall success of elementary school students.

The project studies how social and emotional learning, or SEL, is vital to a student’s success in the classroom and in life. SEL teaches students to be aware of and manage their feelings while understanding others in any environment because they have learned to do so in a safe and positive SEL environment at school.

The key benefit to this project includes giving participating elementary educators in Montgomery, Tuscaloosa City and Jasper City Schools the ability to deliver appropriate SEL instruction to all early elementary learners in kindergarten through third grade, including those with or at risk for emotional and behavior disorders. The program will eventually expand throughout Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida.

“Our goal is to give elementary educators the ability to improve the social and emotional health of the students they serve, including those who are struggling most,” said Greg.

While these two endowed professors are making strides on local, state and national levels, the College of Education would benefit from having more inspirational leaders.

Dean Peter Hlebowitsh explains, “The College only has two endowed professors. The faculty of the COE is young and in need of senior professorial leadership, especially in the grant-getting disciplines. In this sense, establishing several endowed professorships in key grant-getting areas would be an enormous help in bringing more resources to the college and lifting its reputation as well.”

Key areas of grant-getting capacity that might be supported through an endowed professorship include exercise science, educational neuroscience, special education, educational measurement, STEM education and early literacy.