A campus for all: Sally Ebest advocates inclusivity, earns Chancellor’s Award
From early on in her career, University of Missouri–St. Louis English Professor Sally Barr Ebest understood the power that the college setting has to expand mindsets and change lives.
While undergraduate students are often the focus of resources for development, Ebest believed that in order to maintain a rich, progressive academic environment, graduate students and future professors need strong support systems as well. By reflecting on her time as a graduate student, she developed a vision to help others build fruitful careers.
“When I began my doctoral studies, I was a total naïf. I knew nothing about the need to attend conferences, network, research, publish, do academic service and teach so that my undergraduate students were engaged in learning,” she said. “Once I became a professor, my goals centered around mentoring graduate students so they could hit the ground running.
“This philosophy stemmed from my beliefs in feminism and social justice. Underrepresented groups such as women and teaching assistants deserve the mentoring and insider knowledge that more mainstream individuals often gain naturally by virtue of their gender, race and class.”
And over 29 years serving the UMSL campus in a variety of positions, Ebest has put her philosophy into action.
As director of the English department’s writing program, she spearheaded the design and implementation of monthly “brown bag” workshops and pre-semester orientation workshops. As TA coordinator for the Center for Teaching and Learning, she developed campus-wide orientations and the Certificate in University Teaching program.
As an author and researcher, she has written scholarly books such as “Changing the Way We Teach” and “The Banshees: A Literary History of Irish American Women Writers.” And in her six-year term as director of the Gender Studies program, she created various certificates to allow student veterans flexibility in studying gender, coordinated the Transgender Spectrum Conference and provided a safe space for LGBT members of the UMSL community.
For her continuous efforts to support fledgling careers in academia and make the UMSL campus a welcoming place for all people, Ebest was awarded the UM Presidential Award for Excellence in Service this summer.
And now, she has also won the 2016 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Service, which will be presented to her at the State of the University Address on Sept. 14. Along with the award comes a $1,000 honorarium.
Young-Im Lee, a PhD candidate in political science, has benefited directly from Ebest’s work.
“She was all ears when this first-time instructor had to deal with difficult classroom situations,” Lee said. “Her teaching and mentorship contributed to my professional development and growth as an instructor, which complemented my own department’s academic training. Through her service at UMSL, she helped graduate students like me not only survive but thrive in graduate school.”
Tom Meuser, director of the Gerontology program, has collaborated with Ebest on coordinating conferences and seen firsthand how Ebest’s demeanor and determination have been a boon to the UMSL community.
“Sally is a leader in the mentorship of graduate students and junior faculty for excellence in university instruction,” Meuser said. “She was the visionary leader of the Gender Studies program, known for fostering cross-disciplinary collaborations. Her list of service activities is most impressive, and her warm, collaborative, innovative spirit motivates others to action.”
While Ebest has in large part been focused on professional development, she has not neglected the importance of personal growth.
“My experiences at UMSL have made me a better person and our students successful educators,” Ebest said. “Equally important, UMSL’s unflinching, generous support showed St. Louis and the surrounding areas that our campus was fulfilling the mission of the urban land grant university: to establish not just a notable presence in the community, but also to create genuine, long-lasting partnerships; to underscore our commitment to diversity; and to disseminate education, information and mentoring experiences to individuals who otherwise might find postsecondary institutions intimidating.”
This semester Ebest is transitioning once again as she takes on a new role as a Founders Professor. Her next writing project will be researching Irish-American women’s domestic suspense novels.
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