An unstoppable force for good: Lynn Staley earns Chancellor’s Award for devotion to students, campus, community

by | Sep 7, 2016

A Chancellor's Award comes as no surprise to those who are familiar with her steadfast dedication.
Lynn Staley, Chancellor's Award recipient

A Chancellor’s Award comes as no surprise to those who are familiar with Lynn Staley’s steadfast dedication to her students and the entire campus. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Anyone who has spent much time at all on the University of Missouri–St. Louis campus over the past 13-plus years has likely come into contact with Lynn Staley. Why? Because she’s everywhere. At least it certainly seems that way.

Staley, an associate teaching professor in the English department since 2003, regularly teaches up to five courses a semester on topics that range from business writing to short fiction analysis and more. She is an outspoken member of the Faculty Senate and Budget and Planning Committee, assistant director of the Gender Studies program, founding member and former chairperson for the Service Learning Leadership Team, and current chair of the Bachelor of Independent Studies committee – all of this, and yet this list constitutes only a small sampling of her current and past appointments.

In short, if there is something to be done for UMSL, some way to improve the university’s mission or to enrich the student experience, Staley wants to be ­­– and most likely already is – involved.

It is this unparalleled level of commitment to her students, colleagues and the university as a whole which has resulted in Staley being named the 2016 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence to a Non-Tenure Track Faculty Member. She will accept the award, along with a $1,000 honorarium, at the State of the University Address event on Sept. 14.

According to Kathleen Nigro, director of the Gender Studies program, the UMSL campus simply “could not have a more dedicated or deserving recipient of the award.” In a letter detailing Staley’s qualities and achievements to the awards committee, Nigro praised Staley’s commitment to making sure her students get all of the time and expertise she can possibly offer, as well as her insistence on truly listening to and incorporating their feedback into her ever-evolving pedagogy.

“I find Dr. Staley’s sensitivity to student voices highly commendable,” Nigro said.

It is perhaps these very students’ voices that ring out most profoundly in testament to the difference Staley makes.

“Lynn has a drive to see the success of her students. She made it a point to learn about us and our goals, and tailor her lessons to have the greatest possible benefits for us,” said Kyle Igel, a former student who took one of the real-world-centered business writing courses that Staley specializes in and is so sought after for.

“Dr. Staley’s course did more to prepare me for the professional environment than any other course that I took during my undergraduate studies,” Igel said.

Another former student, Layne Paubel, reaffirmed Staley’s commitment to supporting her students in ways that extend far beyond the traditional walls of the classroom. From providing feedback on writing for other courses, to offering resume critiques and guidance for future job plans, to assuring students that her door remains open long after their time in her classroom has passed, Staley’s efforts result in someone who, according to Paubel, is not only a teacher, but a “mentor, superhero and an all-around amazing lady.”

“As a student preparing to teach at the college-level,” Paubel said, “I hope to model many of my actions after Dr. Staley. She will forever go down in my memory as one of the best instructors I have come across in my academic career.”

Through listening to her students’ praise, a simple yet profound cornerstone of Staley’s teaching philosophy becomes remarkably clear: She’s a person first, who sees other people – especially her students – for the whole of who they are. This grounding in humanity allows Staley to truly believe in the limitless potential of everyone she teaches. She firmly commits to fostering growth at every turn by meeting students where they are and carefully guiding them toward where they want to be. It’s all a skillful balancing act that Staley describes best in her own words.

“I work constantly in my classes to open my students’ eyes to their own possibilities and strengths,” she says. “I provide measured critiques but positive reinforcement, because no one ever became a lesser person because a teacher called them a genius and told them they had talent.”

Such devotion to the bigger picture of her students’ lives, not to mention her commitments to community service and bettering UMSL as a whole, takes a great deal of personal time and effort that often extends beyond normal working hours. When asked where she gets the motivation to commit so much of herself, Staley is quick to credit her family, including her husband and other family members. Not only do they provide the supportive environment that she says every educator needs in order to be truly successful, but they also accept and understand the fact that what she does is also who she is.

“Being a teacher isn’t a role one can ever really step out of or leave behind,” Staley explains. “It’s always with me, in every aspect of my life. It’s the lens through which I approach everything.”

This natural orientation towards learning and service is also perhaps the reason why Staley never adheres to the concept of being “too busy” to lend a hand wherever it’s needed.

“When you love what you do and you see a need, you meet it,” Staley says. “It becomes something that isn’t about having the time – or not; it’s just what you do.”

The UMSL Experience

Jami Hirsch

Jami Hirsch