Thanks, Faculty: ‘Proud to be a Vol’ and ‘True Inspiration’

Mike FitzgeraldNicole Benjamin is a ’08 graduate of UT Knoxville. She now attends law school at the University of Memphis.

“I was the first person in my family to attend college and I had no clue what to expect. I was a nervous wreck when I entered my first class as a freshman. It was political science 101,” Benjamin said.

“Professor Mike Fitzgerald, or ‘Doc’ to his students, entered the room. I sat in the first row. He began to speak about the ‘honorable ladies and gentlemen of the Orange and White,’ something he would reference again and again. It made me proud to be part of the university community as a one-day freshman. I felt I belonged there,” she said.

“From his first lecture to his last lecture, I sensed his passion and dedication for his students.”

Benjamin said she once challenged a grade she got on one of Fitzgerald’s exams.

“I sent Doc an e-mail. He could have been pretentious, but he wasn’t. Instead, he complimented me for speaking up about what I believed to be correct,” she said. “He even said I should think about being an attorney, which has been my lifelong dream,” Benjamin said.

In time, Fitzgerald became Benjamin’s adviser.

“I met with Doc many times over the course of my college career. We would talk about my career aspirations, world events, etc. One meeting lasted at least two hours. I felt that I had found a faculty mentor.

“Through our discussions, Doc realized that I really wanted to focus on American studies. I eventually changed my major, but I did get a second major in political science.”

Benjamin took the special course Fitzgerald taught about Winston Churchill, which coincided with an international conference sponsored by UT’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.

“I was in a class mixed with graduate and undergraduate students. It made me work harder and pushed me to know my own potential,” she said. “I wish that I could have taken more of Doc’s classes. He remains as one of my greatest memories of being a UT student.”

Benjamin said Fitzgerald wrote a letter of recommendation for her to attend law school.

Now working to fulfill that career goal, Benjamin said she has a message she’d like to send Fitzgerald:

“Doc, I will make you proud,” she said. “And I will always be an honorable lady of the Orange and White.”

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Palmira Brummett in front of Eileen Donan CastleAllison Elledge is a graduate student in history at UT Knoxville. She said history Professor Palmira Brummett has been a “true inspiration for me professionally and personally.”

Elledge was a teaching assistant for Brummett in a world history class and subsequently took two of Brummett’s classes.

“She is open to different points of view, she’s engaging, and offers criticism constructively rather than harmfully. She has a strong affinity for creativity, experimentation in the classroom, and academic freedom.”

One of the courses Elledge took from Brummett is “Teaching World History,” which requires students to create and defend a yearlong world history syllabus, complete with specific assignments, paper topics, discussion topics, lecture topics and sources.

With Brummett’s encouragement, Elledge said, she’s presented her work from that class at a conference in Boston and has applied to present it at another conference this year.

“Dr. Brummett is encouraging of her graduate students and she remembers our work; she treats us like colleagues. Academia is a large network of scholars who read and depend upon each other for good scholarship. Dr. Brummett has made efforts to bring graduate students into that network,” Elledge said.

“On a personal level, Dr. Brummett has been supportive of me because I am a full-time graduate student with a full teaching assistantship, but I also have a family. My husband and I have five daughters. Sometimes, life seems overwhelming, but Dr. Brummett has encouraged me during those stressful times to stay with it, put one foot in front of the other, and keep the goal in sight.”

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In honor of Faculty Appreciation Week, Tennessee Today is featuring stories and videos based on comments about great faculty members submitted by students, alumni and others.

You can send a shout out to your favorite faculty member or read what others have written.

Also this week, area merchants will offer a variety of discounts for UT faculty.

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