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Final Honorees

Sept. 21, 2017

Kutztown University has been proud to feature many faculty and staff Difference Makers over the past two academic years.  While we planned to feature Difference Makers on the web during the 13-month long Sesquicentennial Celebration from 2015-16, the tremendous response from our alumni provided enough nominees to carry us into the current school year.  Our final Difference Makers feature includes all of the remaining nominees.  While we may not have been able to locate photos for all of them, we want to make our readers aware of their dedication and contributions to the history of KU and its students. Please take some time to read about all of our honorees. We thank all KU alumni for their nominations and congratulate each and every one of our Difference Makers for being a part of this program.

Nominator: Jodi Follweiler
Nominee: Dr. Robert Blackson, Professor of History

Jodi's Memories: He required us to read a history book that pointed out misrepresentations in traditional high school history stories that we all currently probably believed. It made me realize that I was reading one version of history. I was reading the story according to the nationalistic white view of the men who interpreted this country's history. Big eye opener.

Nominator: Roxanne Martin '86
Nominees: Nicolas Bowen, Associate Professor of Fine Arts; George Sorrels, Professor of Fine Arts; Petter Traugott, Professor of Fine Arts

Roxanne's Memories:

Nick Bowen: the best.

Peter Traugott: I can still hear him asking, "Where's the light source?" when I teach my students today.

George Sorrels: for believing in me.   

Nominator: Tammy L. (Zink) Taylor '91 M '98
Nominee: Dr. Mary Burkett, Chair of Art Education and Crafts

Tammy's Memories: I had the privilege of having Dr. Mary Burkett as a professor for my undergraduate classes, and she was my advisor for my master's program.

Dr. Burkett was a blessing to me. While working on my master's in art education and teaching at a middle school, I became pregnant with twins. The twins were delivered early, and did not survive.  I was devastated, and as I returned back to work and back to my graduate classes, I came to a point where I felt I could not finish my master's thesis. The paper was basically written, but I still needed to defend it, and I had lost all desire to complete this final step. Dr. Burkett gave me the encouragement I needed through this difficult time. Because of her, I defended the paper and was able to complete my master's degree, for which I am so grateful.

Our paths crossed several years later as I was facing a decision about whether to return to work again after my son was born, and Mary gave me some advice which I have passed on to others: "If the mother isn't happy... no one is happy." Her words gave me the courage to make the choice that was right for me and my family.

Teaching is so much about caring and listening, and that is what Dr. Burkett did for me, and what I have tried to emulate that in my own teaching career.

Nominator: Patricia Denmon '72
Nominee: Richard Gordon; Dr. Charles Marple, Professor of Elementary Education/Student Teaching; Dr. Richard Smith, Professor of Elementary Education

Patrick's Memories: I graduated from Kutztown University in May of 1972 and started teaching in September of that year. I recently retired from teaching. Looking back, I had a wonderful career, with wonderful memories, and so many good stories.

I retired as a third grade teacher. I taught other elementary grades since 1972, but my last years were spent as the lead teacher of a grade level consisting of nine third grade classes. It is fitting that I ended with third grade, because that is where I started. I am not referring to my first assignment, but rather student teaching.

I student-taught at the Kutztown Lab School. I loved it there. Everyone at that school was so helpful and positive. Everything good that I thought and felt about teaching until my last day came from that school. The faculty was wonderful to me, and from the first moment, they treated me as a professional.

So, how can I nominate just one teacher? I really could nominate three: Charles Marple, Richard Smith and Richard Gordon. These three mentors taught me what it means to be an elementary teacher, and how to be a true professional.

If I do have to pick one, it would be Richard Gordon, because he was my cooperating teacher and he helped me to be the best teacher I could be. He did this through his constructive criticism, his great example and his complete trust in me, in allowing me to plan most lessons and activities.

I do not know where these men are now, and I know there is no longer a lab school. The lab school and these teachers had a profound and lasting effect on me.   

Nominator: Michael Moyer '86, Tom Lessel '89
Nominator: Jake Holder '85
Nominee: Dr. Ted Hartz, Dean, College of Business

Michael's Memories: Many may remember Dean Hartz for the low average GPA (rumors swirled around 1.5 to 2) his students earned in his Accounting II and Corporate Finance classes. Ironically, that is why I am submitting this nomination.

If not for Dean Hartz (among other professors) elevating and maintaining rigorous standards, the value of our KU business degrees would not hold as much value. There is no doubt in my mind the study habits and effort required to succeed in his Corporate Finance class thoroughly prepared me for daily career challenges and the pursuit of advanced degrees and designations. 

So while I anticipate many submissions will be about warm and fuzzy memories, I submit this nomination on the basis of thanking him for requiring us to robustly learn our craft.

Jake's Memories: Professor Hartz was/is an awesome professor, and simply a great guy. I highly recommend him for this recognition. 

Nominator: Dawn Gitler Leeson '99
Nominee: Vicki Mayk, Director of Media relations from 1990-99

Dawn's Memories: The staff member that has made an incredible impression on my years at KU was Vicki Mayk in the Office of Public Relations.

Vicki took me on as a freshman in the PR department where she taught me the ins and outs of media relations from the standpoint of a journalist (which is vitally important to successful media relationships). She helped me to see that communications was to be my passion in life. She has helped me through the years with references, professional guidance and as an overall mentor in how one can grow and change in their career.

She is a cornerstone of my Kutztown success!   

Nominator: Cara Swetsky '14
Nominee: James McNiff, Assistant Professor of Speech Communication and Theatre

Cara's Memories: I had Professor McNiff for various classes, and also as a supervisor for numerous organizations and extracurricular activities. He was also my advisor.

Professor McNiff took the time to get to know each and every one of his students who had the pleasure of being in his class. Even if you weren't in his class, he knew almost every student within the department, and would be sure to say hello and ask them how they were doing.

Besides being a friendly face in between classes, he was also a wonderful professor. He taught in a way unlike any professor I came across in my four years at KU. He didn't disregard ideas that might have been different from his, or weren't in his lesson plan. Instead, he opened the floor, allowing students to interact, discuss and learn with and from one another while directing from his own experience as needed. He brought life to the classroom.

As an advisor, well, I'm convinced he is the only reason I graduated on time. He spent a massive amount of time working with me when it came to scheduling classes, letting me know what had to be done in order for me to graduate. When I couldn't find room in my schedule to take an internship, he made it his personal mission to rearrange my schedule with the dean of communication studies. When I would become worried about my schedule, or school, or just how hard college life in general can be sometimes, professor McNiff would open his office door and help me sort it out.

I was an 18 year old, know-it-all freshman who thought just attending classes was enough college experience, but he paved the path for me to get involved in clubs and activities that I probably would have never noticed otherwise. I was a regular speaker on his student panel, and I graduated as vice president of the Communication Club and president of the Public Relations Club. I can honestly say I probably would have never been a part of any of those things had it not been for the push from professor McNiff.

Following my graduation, I still kept in touch with Professor McNiff. When I landed my first job in August of 2014, he was one of the first people I thought to notify, as I do not doubt he had a large impact on my current career choices.

His teaching ability and his leadership go unmatched. Yet, he was always more than that: he was a mentor, and more importantly, a friend. Professor James McNiff deserves to be recognized for all he has done for Kutztown University and his students.   

Nominator: Jennifer (Kirkwood) Butler '93
Nominee: Dr. George Monroe, Professor of English

Jennifer's Memories: Since graduating from Kutztown in 1993, my primary professional focus has been helping adults through career transition. I love what I do, and am confident that I am good at it-and isn't that what a strong post-secondary education is all about?

Dr. Monroe was a tremendous professor-I know that the written communication skills I utilize every day are thanks, in part, to the time he took to grade every paper word-by-word. I also have a lifelong love of etymology, which I credit to Dr. Monroe.

As my faculty adviser, Dr. Monroe went above and beyond, impacting my life in ways that remain with me to this day. I recall sitting in his office one day in tears because I thought I was going to fail a physics class. Dr. Monroe was trying to convince me to swallow my pride/fears and just go talk to the professor about the grade. He gave me his thoughts then on the saying, "what's the worst that could happen?" and how important it is sometimes to truly reflect on the worst possible outcome for a situation. If the worst possible outcome, he told me, is a little embarrassment, I should never use that as a reason to avoid a situation. Such a simple idea, but it profoundly impacted how I still, to this day, make decisions and face my fears. I often incorporate his thoughts and advice as I work with people struggling to make career choices of their own. It makes me feel good to pass along a kernel of wisdom from a man who was taken from us too soon.    

Nominator: Rachel Roland '89
Nominee: Dr. Jim Nechas, Assistant Professor of English

Rachel's Memories: Jim didn't change my life, so much as propel me forward. He was an encouraging presence when I was in his class. He told me that I was good enough to write for a living. He got me a freelance writing job for Rodale's Children Magazine while I was a KU student so I could have real clippings to go with my resume when I graduated.

The fact that a college professor and successful freelance journalist at the time (Philadelphia Magazine) thought my writing was good enough for a national publication meant the world to me. He introduced me to the concept of networking, which has put me in good stead.

Jim was encouragement in action.    

Nominator: Erwin K. Sitt '08
Nominee: Laura Scappaticci, Student Success Coordinator

Erwin's Memories: Laura Scappaticci is a standout for the better! No words can ever explain how much of a difference she has made in my life.

Honestly, I have learned the very hard way, countless numbers of times, that a person like Laura Scappaticci is exceptionally rare. Early in my freshman year at Kutztown University, I was phenomenally happy that I had met her, and happily selected her to be my academic counselor.

What really stands out is that Laura Scappaticci is the easiest person to build and maintain rapport and connections with. The following portray her:

A. Very sweet and friendly
B. Understanding
C. Very helpful D. Open-minded
E. Enthusiastic to go above and beyond the norm
F. Very happy
G. Empathetic and resourceful
H. Compassionate and sensitive

When I was a freshman, I got the true impression that she had made an enormous difference in my education and college life. Not only that, but she is also definitely an awesome role model  who has made a great impact in other areas of my life-such  as my social life, career and life coaching. I just wish that there were more people like Laura Scappaticci. I cannot thank Laura Scappaticci enough; I definitely hope that she will keep up the great characteristic traits and add to them, too! I appreciate her to the point of wanting to be in her shoes, so I that could know what it is really like for her to have made such an impact on me. I only wish Laura Scappaticci the absolute best, and I sure hope she will do the same for me!      

Nominator: Marian W. (Werner) Borneman '64
Nominee: Rosemarie G. Sloat, Associate Professor of Fine Arts

Marian's Memories: Rosemarie Guitierrez Sloat, a painting instructor at KU, became my inspiration, and through her encouragement, I was enabled to finish my education.

My sister was a Kutztown University junior when I was told by my parents that I had to attend KU, too, because they were opening a business there. I was strong in academics, but chose to apply to the art department because I thought it offered more variety to teach. I would have chosen library science, but that was my sister's major. Upon being interviewed, I was told they would accept me based on my grades and SAT scores, but that I would "surely switch to an academic subject." My art portfolio was pretty pathetic.

Depressed and walking to campus from my College Hill home, I would struggle with drawing boards and books. Mrs. Sloat would toot at me from her little sports car when she passed. She was approachable and understood that I needed a cheerleader, and that is what she became. She encouraged me to take the required academic classes in the summer, leaving more time for art in regular semesters. I can't say I ever caught up with the other students in my art classes. Mrs. Sloat, however, encouraged me upon graduation to continue immediately into master's classes at Temple University, as she had done.

Now retired from teaching and arts-related businesses, I am presently in a portrait class, still trying to improve. I have seen Mrs. Sloat's portrait of Ethel Merman in the National Gallery of Art and her other prizewinning paintings. I know I will never attain her level of expertise, but I will keep trying, and I will be forever grateful to her for enabling me to find myself and be content with who I am, and how I have succeeded thus far.      

Nominator: Roger D. Phillips '76
Nominee: Barbara Varchol, Dean of Women

Roger's Memories: I think my path first crossed with Barbara Varchol's sometime after I became involved with the Residence Life Office as an RA. 

To be honest, my memory is fuzzy on the precise events in the beginning of my relationship with Dr. Varchol. But what I do remember very clearly is being in her office nearly every day for conversations over wide-ranging topics, some of them being challenges I faced as a student or as an RA, while others were just the questions and dilemmas floating around in a my head and heart as I tried to figure out my way forward in the world.

To this day, I am truly astonished-I can't think of a stronger or more appropriate word-that an institutional VP gave me the amount of time and attention that she did.  I reached the point where I could practically just walk into her office, and if she was able, she'd stop what she was doing, bring her coffee over to her side table and go with me wherever I needed or wanted to go for that day's conversation. I learned enormously about the kind of person and professional I wanted to be by her invitation to her humanity.  

Nominator: Robert McCloy '69
Nominee: Esther Willitts, Professor of History

Robert's Memories: No one I've encountered before or since has brought history alive like Miss Willits. Some students would try to sit through her lectures twice if she didn't notice them. She was an inspiration throughout my entire teaching career. A close second is professor Anne Schaeffer, who taught English composition and literature. She demanded your best and helped make a competent writer out of me.