Q&A with JBU’s Most Influential Women

By Lucas Roebuck ’97
Thursday, June 16, 2016

We asked 14 of the most influential women of JBU, past and present, about their impact on the university and had them respond in their own words. The women were selected by an anonymous panel of JBU administrators from a list of nominees generated by the Brown Bulletin editorial staff. Surprising, insightful and hopeful, these short exchanges offer hints of wisdom and inspiration for all genders and generations.

Susan BarrettSusan Barrett

Susan Barrett is a former CEO of Mercy of Northwest Arkansas and is the incoming chair of JBU’s Board of Trustees.

BB: As you’ve served in many leadership roles, what do you see as the most important characteristics of the next generation of leaders?

Barrett: The next generation of leaders need faith, honor, trust and ethics. Also needed in this rapidly changing world is attentive communication, truth-seeking insight, orchestration of peace-filled relationships and authenticity.

BB: What female role models would you encourage JBU women to emulate?

Barrett: I encourage young women to look for strong women to encourage them, while finding role models in both genders to help shape their lives. It doesn’t take long to discover if any potential role model is minimizing your potential or stretching you to maximize your possibilities.

BB: Healthcare is an industry that crosses economic, scientific, political, moral and spiritual lines. What should JBU’s role in the healthcare landscape be?

Barrett: I was not a Sunday School teacher, a preacher, a Biblical study author or any of the roles we traditionally think of as ministry. Healthcare was a place I was able to live out my understanding of ministry to others during the most vulnerable moments of the human experience — life, death, moral complexity, ethical decisions impacting real lives in critical times. JBU’s role in educating and preparing students for this ministry has far reaching importance.

Robbie CastlemanRobbie Castleman

Dr. Robbie Castleman is a retired member of the Biblical Studies faculty at JBU.

BB: The evangelical faith traditions of JBU students espouse diverse positions on the Biblical role of women. How have you navigated sometimes-conflicting theological views?

Castleman: On rare occasions I’ve had students ask me “Is it okay for a woman to be teaching Scripture?” I first listen carefully for the root of their concern and then ask questions concerning their experiences and particular passages or teaching they find troublesome. Then, as they are willing, I help them engage those texts with care and fidelity to the biblical texts, intentions and patterns of Jesus, Paul, Peter and other New Testament writers in how they treated women. The issue isn’t about me. The issue is the biblical witness.

BB: You’re the most published JBU faculty in university history. Is there a secret to your prolific nature?

Castleman: Living a long time. Twelve books and Bible study guides in about twenty-five years isn’t really “prolific.” I have to dig deep to be obedient to the call to write — I’d much rather just teach. But writing is a way of extending my teaching beyond my own reach. And God seems to have used this for His purposes. I am definitely not a slave to hours behind a computer.

BB: You’ve been a crucial voice in helping JBU articulate its position on marriage. What role do you see JBU having in the future in the broader national discussion on marriage?

Castleman: My academic background is in the intersection of biblical studies and theology. It’s where I do my best thinking. So, I was happy to participate on the committee. I believe JBU’s greatest strength for engaging this discussion is our commitment to the unique authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Jesus Christ holding the fullness of both grace and truth seen in Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, as the hallmark of our own ethic and the way we treat others in His name.

Robyn DaughertyRobyn Daugherty

Robyn Daugherty ’85 and ’03 is the JBU athletic director.

BB: Under your leadership, what are the most important goals for JBU athletics?

Daugherty: My overarching goal is to impact lives. Student-athletes learn to follow, lead and encourage one another through JBU athletics. They also learn how to manage competing priorities in life, balancing rigorous academics with practice and competitions while also saving some time for fun. Ultimately, I want JBU student-athletes to develop leadership skills by engaging with others on campus as RA’s, SMLT leaders, Passion leaders, etc.

BB: Considering your entire career as a Golden Eagle, what is your most shining moment?

Daugherty: There are many shining moments — from seeing student-athletes begin a relationship with the Lord, to championships won on the court and field! What brings me the most joy is seeing former student-athletes come back for reunions and celebrations and seeing that the relationships they developed with teammates and coaches have remained intact.

BB: What are the positive impacts that participating in athletics have on women attending JBU?

Daugherty: It provides an avenue for relationships that build women of character and influence. Student-athletes spend a significant amount of time together through their sport, and they develop very deep bonds. The support, encouragement and accountability that these relationships provide are critical to a student’s overall development and readiness for life as a woman after college.

Glenna Belle Davis

Dr. Glenna Belle Davis, retired professor of health promotion and human performance, served JBU from 1964-1994 and pioneered the women’s athletic program.

BB: What are you most proud of during your tenure at JBU?

Davis: When I was hired at JBU, they didn’t have any physical education classes for women. So, I started five classes of P.E. for women as well as the women’s sports program — volleyball first, then basketball and softball. It was important to the girls to have a program and a time for activity. JBU leadership was very supportive of the different programs I started.

BB: In 30 years of teaching, what motivated you most in your career?

Davis: I was motivated by the obligation to get going. I liked teaching physical education better than health education, but I still meet students now who compliment me on my health education classes. I always started my classes with prayer and taught with the perspective that everything that is associated with our body is associated with the Lord, which inspired good discussion with the students.

BB: What would you tell women today was the key to your success?

Davis: Intestinal fortitude — that’s all I know — the willingness to put forth. When I got my undergraduate degree, I worked from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. and then went to school until about three or four in the afternoon. You have to sacrifice and work hard for your success.

Pat Gustavson

Pat Gustavson, retired vice president for finance and administration, worked at JBU from 1980-2009.

BB: Did you feel a burden to blaze a trail for others as the highest-ranking female at JBU for decades?

Gustavson: Despite becoming the first woman to serve on the JBU Cabinet in 1985, I never felt that I was “blazing a trail.” Instead, I was standing on the shoulders and alongside some wonderful women leaders. I arrived too late to know scientist Dorothy Woodland or choir director Mabel Oisen, but they were JBU legends. Alice McQuay, Adriane Hall Carr, Ida Adolphson, Martha Henderson and Shirley Thomas, among others, were in various leadership roles during my early years.

BB: Did attitudes change toward women in senior leadership during your tenure?

Gustavson: The JBU culture was collaborative, entrepreneurial and mission-oriented. I felt the same motivation to do my job well that all of my colleagues felt. Gender never felt like an issue — positive or negative.

BB: What accomplishment during your time at JBU are you most proud of?

Gustavson: There were so many changes! I served as business officer for Presidents John E. Brown III, George Ford, Bill George, Lee Balzer and Chip Pollard. The endowment grew significantly, a whole lot of square footage was built, degree completion and graduate programs were initiated, two major centers were established and JBU grew and received a lot of positive recognition in the process. But I was even more blessed by the few crises we experienced. JBU emerged stronger from each one because of the talented, dedicated employees and the way God’s hand seems to have stayed on this special place. (Isaiah 40:31)

Kim HadleyKim Hadley

Dr. Kim Hadley is vice president for finance and administration for JBU.

BB: You are the only female member on the president’s cabinet. Does this fact present any special challenges or opportunities for you or JBU?

Hadley: Within organizations, a variety of viewpoints generally makes for richer discussions and more effective decisions. My experience as a professional woman adds value and perspective to cabinet meetings that I believe is important; but more importantly, I enjoy and embrace my role in encouraging JBU’s emerging leaders, many of whom are women.

BB: Compared to many peer schools, JBU is in solid fiscal shape. What initiative or accomplishment are you most proud of that has helped JBU stay
financially strong?

Hadley: I am grateful, rather than proud, because our financial strength is primarily due to God’s blessing and decades of good stewardship of that blessing. I have endeavored to follow that same path of financial stewardship, while being grateful for God’s continued blessings on JBU.

BB: What advice would you give to women students who are grappling with the unique social pressure of balancing family and career?

Hadley: Over the course of my life and career, God has called me to work both within the home and outside of the home as my family circumstances changed. I encourage each woman to ask God for wisdom on what is best for her and her family in each season. God does not waste any experience we walk in our lives. I always encourage women to pursue as much education as possible when given the opportunity and to work with excellence as a way of bringing glory to God. Most importantly, though, I tell women to have a sense of humor, to be intentional with their use of time, and to extend a little grace to themselves. There is a lot of freedom in knowing that apart from God there is no perfection.

Alice McQuayAlice McQuay

Alice McQuay ’58 served JBU from 1969-2002, working in alumni relations and university development.

BB: You served JBU through several presidential administrations. Which initiative or project that you worked on had the most significant impact on the university?

McQuay: One continuous goal of all the JBU administrations was to provide a campus community of fellowship and collegiality. The Walker Student Center (the last project I was involved with before retirement) and the Walton Lifetime Health Complex both accomplish camaraderie in all the different facets of community living and fellowship. The current $5 million renovation of the Walton Lifetime Health Complex is a big plus for both the JBU community and the residents of Siloam Springs.

BB: Fundraising has a significant impact on JBU. Why do you think JBU has done so well, compared to its peers?

McQuay: JBU does well in fundraising because the advancement people sincerely believe the mission statement of honoring God and serving others, and JBU’s mottos: “Christ Over All” and “Head, Heart and Hand.” Their lives reflect what they believe. They are well prepared in fund-raising skills and understanding their donors. They believe the Founder’s motto: “Trust God and go to work!”

BB:  What advice would you give the non-teaching JBU staff on how they can influence and mentor JBU students outside of the classroom?

McQuay: At every opportunity involve students in conversations about themselves and their aspirations. Listen, listen, listen. Be a constant friend and mentor, without telling them what to do, except in supervisory situations, e.g., work-study students. Always be a role model in gracious Christian conduct, work ethics and proper attire.

Carolyn PollanCarolyn Pollan

Dr. Carolyn Pollen served on the JBU board of trustees for more than 25 years, including as vice chair, and is the longest serving woman in the Arkansas House of
Representatives (1975-99).

BB: You were often one of a few or the only female voice in groups dominated by men. What has changed now that more women are finding a seat at these tables?

Pollan: I have often been asked why I think there are not more women in elected office. It’s simple. Not many women run for office. You can’t win if you don’t run. And the same has been true for other leadership positions. Slowly that is changing as women are pursuing education and awakening to their individual God-given gifts of leadership — though women are still the most underrated and untapped resource in the world. More women are preparing for their turn to sit at the table and have gained a sense of achievement and joy in using their abilities. I have found the “mother-ness” in us can be a potent and powerful “essence of leavening” at a decision making table.

BB: As JBU looks into its next century, what advice would you give the current board in their work to further JBU’s mission?

Pollan: I think it would be helpful if JBU’s board members, with their varied and extensive leadership backgrounds, forecasted changes they believe will be necessary to prepare students for the rapidly-evolving future.

BB: As you think about the progress JBU made during your tenure on the board, what accomplishment, initiative or event was the most impactful or significant?

Pollan: My 25-year tenure from the ’80s to the millennium spanned five university presidents. These were trying, but exciting years. It was important to me that we retained the spiritual core of JBU even while there were changes in students, programs, facilities and leadership. JBU is still a one-of-a-kind place!

Trisha PoseyTrisha Posey

Dr. Trisha Posey is director of the honors scholars program and associate professor of history.

BB: How does the Honors Program contribute to JBU’s culture of academic excellence?

Posey: One of the stated missions of the Honors Scholars Program is to “enrich JBU.” We enhance the good work that the academic divisions and colleges are already doing by providing high-achieving students with opportunities to take academic risks — through challenging and creative courses, student research, study abroad and conference participation (among other things).

BB: What has been the most challenging or memorable lesson you’ve learned through your experience at JBU?

Posey: My students have much to teach me. Each has a unique story, and one of the most valuable things I can do as a teacher is provide students the opportunity to share their experiences and insights with their classmates. This is challenging because it means giving up some control of my classroom, but it makes the learning experience that much more rewarding for everyone.

BB: What have you done to help balance the pressures of a full-time job and a family?

Posey: I work hard to keep my home space free from work. I live in the country, where we keep goats and chickens, tend a garden, and enjoy good rest (as much as possible with three little children). We do not have internet access at home and I make it a general rule not to check email on my cell phone when I’m home. Keeping the Sabbath is also important to me—it keeps me grounded.

Marquita SmithMarquita Smith

Dr. Marquita Smith is the chair of the communication department and diversity coordinator.

BB: You have brought an important voice to the discussion about ethnic and cultural diversity at JBU. What do you see as important next steps in JBU’s
efforts to attract a diverse student body and faculty?

Smith: We must attempt to realize the goals outlined in our strategic plan. In order to achieve the goal of reflecting our local and regional diversity, in terms of diversity among students, staff and faculty, JBU must become more intentional and deliberate in recruiting diverse faculty and students. A diverse faculty bodes well for attracting a diverse student body, and vice versa.

BB: What would you tell the next generation of women about the importance of mentorship in their personal and professional lives?

Smith: Mentors are HUGE! Get one or two. The relationship between a mentor and student is the most influential relationship in a young woman’s career. One of my mentors, Professor Michael Mercer, has engaged with me for 27 years. Throughout my lifetime, I have had effective mentors who went far beyond being a teacher or adviser. They have served as Christian role models, consultants, problem solvers, supporters and encouragers.

BB: The world of journalism is rapidly changing. As a journalism educator, how to you respond to this dynamic industry?

Smith: My philosophy for students interested in pursuing journalism-related careers is to treat their time in the industry as if they were Peace Corps volunteers. Graduates should work at a media organization with the expectation of improving lives of community residents, informing the perspectives of a diverse population, speaking truth and helping create life-defining opportunities. Their critical thinking and verbal and written communication skills are transferrable and will serve them well in any career.

Carla SwearingenCarla Swearingen

Dr. Carla Swearingen is the dean of faculty development and associate professor of chemistry.

BB: Many groups have made a concerted effort to get girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields at an early age. How do you see that playing out now and in the future?

Swearingen: Pablo Picasso said, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once [she] grows up.” The same can be said for STEM fields, built on “why” and “how” questions that come so naturally to children. While many young people express early interest in STEM careers, girls drop out at higher rate than boys. If we want to encourage more girls in STEM, we need to 1) allow for inquiry into personally meaningful topics, 2) pair girls with passionate female STEM mentors and 3) build young girls’ confidence so
they believe they are just as capable as boys.

BB: JBU’s female student population has been the majority for years, at times approaching 60 percent. How important is it for female students to have female faculty to engage with?

Swearingen: When considering a field of study or career, we naturally look to those who are similar to us. Our thinking is, “If they’ve made it, I can too!” It is critical that female students have realistic role models who can share with them both the joys and the stresses of their chosen path. The true value of education is not prescribing a certain career path, but rather letting young women know that they have choices in life, and that in the end what is most important is being obedient to what God calls you to do.

BB: In your role as dean of faculty development, what do you see as the biggest challenge impeding faculty success today, and how is JBU addressing it?

Swearingen: Faculty have so many demands on their time, functioning as teachers, scholars, committee members, spiritual mentors, advisers, etc. I see my role as being a support for faculty to help them do their jobs more effectively and efficiently by offering opportunities for grants, workshops and mentoring. (Aside from that, I am working in the lab on imparting to faculty the quantum mechanical effect of being in two places at the same time, but I can’t talk about that publicly yet.)

Shirley ThomasShirley Thomas

Dr. Shirley Thomas, retired dean of undergraduate studies and professor of English and honors, served JBU from 1969-2001.

BB: You were instrumental in the founding of the Honors Program. Has that program fulfilled its promise?

Thomas: My vision for the honors program was to provide special classes for highly-motivated students, and it has done that. However, that vision rapidly changed to 1) using honors as a laboratory for best practices (for use in any class); and 2) giving top JBU students and faculty opportunities to enter broader conversations by participating in prestigious off-campus programs and research conferences. Today, the broader non-honors curriculum at JBU reflects practices that faculty first tried in honors classes. The apex of my career occurred when I heard a faculty member from a large, highly-regarded university say right before the winner was announced at a national scholarly writing competition: “Oh, JBU will win it! They always do.” Then a JBU student won. I bowed my head and said fervently, “Thank you, Lord.” 

BB: You were a powerful faculty voice during your
time at JBU. Did your gender enhance or detract from your influence in the proverbial faculty lounge?

Thomas: I never thought of myself as “a powerful faculty voice,” or even a female voice, although the majority of my dear colleagues were men; so I really don’t know how to answer this question. In early years, I myself was strongly influenced (intimidated!) by a powerful JBU woman —Dr. Dorothy Woodland.

BB: Much effort has been made to encourage women to study in a STEM major. Does that take away from the women who choose to study in the humanities?

Thomas: No.  It just gives more women more options. Dr. Dorothy Woodland was a STEM faculty member.

Sandra Van ThielSandra Van Thiel

Dr. Sandra Van Thiel, former chair of JBU’s division of teacher education, served JBU for 34 years, retiring in 2013.

BB: Women have historically dominated K-12 teaching majors. How has that impacted JBU?

Van Thiel: JBU has always worked to have a gender balance on campus. But, typically education has been considered a female profession — viewed as low paying and something that anyone can do even without training. However, teaching is an excellent career for both genders. The pay and benefits are excellent for starting careers.

BB: The role of a teacher in society is significant. What is the most important teaching principle for new JBU teacher education graduates to keep in mind?

Van Thiel: Be sure you know the school district and state laws for sharing or demonstrating your faith. The younger your students are, typically the stricter the laws are. As Christians, we are responsible to follow laws. Anytime you have a question, best to ask your administrator and keep them informed. Remember, if you work in a public school, you are a public servant. May Christian teachers continue to bring the Light into our public schools.

BB: As you think about both K-12 and the college student, what do you see as the biggest pedagogical challenge and how should it be addressed?

Van Thiel: To me it’s making teaching relevant. It takes extra work but can be so influential on students. First, students need to realize how the learning helps them understand the world around them. Many students have misunderstandings that are never challenged. Teachers must know what those are or they may actually reinforce the misconceptions. Second, one of the biggest challenges to teaching is making concepts concrete to the student level. The number 2 is abstract to a young child. Keep making it concrete (things they can touch) until the child understands.  Evaporation is an abstract concept for children, so make it concrete by applying it to puddles, drying clothes and more. Third, children need to see the importance of basics. Basics in every field need to be understood (and maybe memorized) so they automatically know and can think at higher level. If a student has not memorized the four operations (adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying) and does not understand fractions, algebra will be Greek to him. Telling children they need to learn a concept so they can pass their tests has no relevance for them. When students see that being able to write out the number 254.34 in words is necessary to write a check, it makes learning relevant.

Terri WubbenaTerri Wubbena

Dr. Terri Wubbena, chair of the division of communication and fine arts, is the longest serving member of the JBU faculty.

BB: You joined the faculty of JBU four decades ago. What was the environment like for female faculty in the 70s?

Wubbena: When I came to JBU in 1976, there were only a few other female faculty members — Dodie Brookhart, Ida Adolphson, Ruth Smith,  Helen Wilmoth, Glenna Belle Davis and Lavonna Dodd, and surely there was at least one woman in teacher education. I joined Anne Ashe — and four men — in the music department. I had just completed my master’s program and was 23 years old (and was initially mistaken for a student). I felt I had quite a bit to prove if I were to sense that I belonged.

BB: What have been the most consistent strengths of JBU during your long tenure at JBU?

Wubbena: The mission of JBU was the same as it is today, captured in just three words — head, heart, hand — and in that order. The mission drew me to JBU, and I’m still committed and passionate about it.

BB: As you look back on your career, what personal accomplishment or success surprises you most?

Wubbena: When I look back over my career, I don’t think in terms of personal achievements. It’s what “we” have accomplished, how “we” have succeeded because of what “we” have done or received. That “we” is the faculty and staff of the two divisions that I’ve had the privilege to chair. I take great delight in collaborating with others to empower students to be successful. Though, the 1992 renovation of the lower-level Cathedral — Jones Recital Hall — and the 2009 opening of the Berry Performing Arts Center are two highlights I’ll never forget, and were made possible through the prayers, support and efforts of many.  n

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