Teaching Professor Linda Wells-Glover to be honored at St. Louis American Foundation’s 35th Salute to Excellence in Education
The message informed Wells-Glover, a teaching professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, that she would be honored for her dedication to UMSL’s students at the Special Milestone 35th Annual Salute to Excellence in Education Scholarship & Awards Gala.
She was thrilled by the news, noting it was especially gratifying to be nominated by Dean of the School of Social Work Sharon D. Johnson.
“The award is really famous in the African American community,” she said. “For years, I’ve seen people get the award, and I never dreamed it could happen to me. I’m so humbled because I know this is a great honor. I’m so honored, and I’m really excited about this.”
Since 1988, the event has celebrated outstanding educators and provided much-needed funding for St. Louis-area schools. Over the years, the foundation and its partners have also awarded millions of dollars in grants and scholarships to Black students. This year, Wells-Glover and her fellow awardees will be recognized during a ceremony Oct. 1 at the America’s Center in downtown St. Louis.
Wells-Glover has become known for her commitment to and scholarship of diversity and social justice during her time with the School of Social Work. However, her academic career started in a much different place.
“I didn’t take the traditional path to social work,” she explained. “When I went to college, I was one of those people that was very undecided.”
Though she came from a family with ties to social work, Wells-Glover initially studied business at Fontbonne University and graduated with a BSBA. She went on to work in administrative positions in the business world but quickly realized she didn’t connect with the work. But she connected with the people and gravitated toward serving others.
After about a year, Wells-Glover had an epiphany. She recognized that social work was her true calling and enrolled in an MSW program at Washington University in St. Louis.
“I always tell people my whole world changed,” Wells-Glover said. “I awakened a passion, and that flame has never gone out for me. It’s the best feeling, I think, to finally figure out what you were meant to do.”
She knew she wanted to utilize her social work training in an educational setting. After completing her master’s program, she sought a role that balanced those interests.
A position with one of her alma maters, Fontbonne University, offered the best of both worlds. As director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Wells-Glover developed programs and worked to meet the needs of specific groups on campus such as international students and Black students. Through that work, she also became interested in diversity training. It motivated her to become a certified facilitator and eventually lead diversity trainings for faculty, staff and students at the university.
“I think people sometimes don’t realize that you can do social work on a college campus,” she said. “I was able to take my social work background and utilize all those different skills. Then I started doing facilitation, diversity trainings, and that led me to realize how much I actually enjoyed the concept of education.”
Wells-Glover served as director for five years before deciding to pursue her passion for education. She taught at several institutions, including St. Louis Community College, Webster University and WUSTL, before coming to UMSL.
It was a fairly natural transition from student affairs to the classroom. At Fontbonne, she had become practiced at engaging students in trainings and personal matters and brought that experience to academics. At UMSL, her BSW and MSW classes primarily focus on diversity, race and social justice.
“Part of the code of ethics as a social worker is that we believe in social justice for all,” she said. “That tenant in my social work education is not only a professional value, but a personal value. That’s just who I am.”
Wells-Glover believes in creating an energetic, experiential environment in her classroom. To that end, she frequently uses hands-on activities to reach her students.
In her “Introduction to Diversity” class, students play “the bead game.” Each person is given a plastic cup and a bag of colored plastic beads representing different races and ethnicities. Wells-Glover then proceeds to ask questions about their lives, such as, “My neighborhood is predominantly _____.”
At the end of the game, students are left with a visual representation of their social circles and how their lives look in terms of diversity. It’s often more impactful than discussion alone and helps students examine their personal experiences more critically.
Students also participate in a cultural immersion project at the end of the semester. They consider their own blind spots and then engage with those cultures or communities. Some students interview international peers about their experiences in the U.S., while others might attend a church service where they’re in the minority.
“That tends to be a really powerful experience for students,” Wells-Glover said. “As social workers, it is really critical for us to put ourselves in a minority position. It gives us a chance to put ourselves in a more vulnerable position and think about the different identities people have and how that impacts their day-to-day life.”
The vibrant social justice movement in St. Louis has also been a boon to Wells-Glover’s courses. She’s been able to expose UMSL students to activists who’ve worked diligently to make change in the community.
Sometimes these issues can be challenging to discuss, but Wells-Glover works to ensure students have productive conversations in class.
“One thing I try to do is provide opportunities in class to make people feel comfortable and safe, so that we really can have those difficult dialogues around race, sexual orientation and social class,” she said. “One of the ways I hope I’m making a difference is to create environments where we can have difficult dialogues without walls, where we’re all working together to move forward.”
“I’m very grateful to my dean for all her support, and I’m very grateful for my colleagues in the School of Social Work, who are very supportive of social justice issues,” she said. “I’m very grateful for my wonderful students because they are so passionate, and they all are here to make a difference. They inspire me. They work hard in the classroom, and they continue to go out into the community after they get their degrees and make a difference.”
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