Thanks, Faculty: Students, Alumna Say Instructors Saw Them through Struggles

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John HaasSarah Proffitt, who recently graduated with a degree in communications studies, says her hero is Professor John Haas, director of the School of Communications Studies.

“During the course of my time in college, I struggled from a severe eating disorder,” Proffitt said.

Because of her health struggles, she was often late for class, or missed it altogether.

“It was very hard for me to keep my focus on my school work and my grades suffered,” she said.

Things were so bad, she said, that she got her days confused and missed the final.

Realizing her spring 2009 graduation would be delayed because she’d have to retake the class, she went to Haas and told him everything.

“I met him in his office, head hung low and desperate for some advice,” she said.

Haas helped Proffitt arrange to retake the class during the summer. He also talked to her about attending graduate school and helped her figure out her career options. Proffitt plans to get her master’s degree in counseling psychology and specialize in substance abuse and military combat stress.

“I wish I would have met with Dr. Haas on my first day at UT,” Proffitt said. “He actually cares about his students and is willing to do whatever it takes to see them succeed.

“I wish I could do something to thank him… but he said that me being successful would be the best thank-you gift I could give.”

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Mary Jane MoranLori Caudle is the preK-K program coordinator for the child and family studies department in the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UT Knoxville and will complete her doctorate this summer. She taught elementary school for one year after completing her teacher education internship and then returned to graduate school. Her goal is to work with early childhood preservice teachers in a faculty position at a university.

As she finishes her doctorate and prepares to move into academia, Caudle said she’s sad to be leaving her mentor, Mary Jane Moran, associate professor of child and family studies.

“Not only is she a mentor, but she is my friend, colleague and advocate,” Caudle said. “Dr. Moran not only inspired me to fulfill my dreams, but she guided me down the right path — picking me up when I stumbled, pushing me along when I grew tired, motivating me when I felt hopeless, giving me advice when I needed it, and inspiring me by being such a successful researcher and teacher in the field.”

Caudle said she lost her mother during the course of her studies, and she recalls the empathy she felt from Moran.

“I immediately called Dr. Moran, but she was traveling so I left a message. She called me right back from the airport when she got off a plane. I remember telling her that my mother had passed away. I was so upset I don’t remember the entire conversation, but I do remember that she said, ‘Oh Lori!’ and then expressed such sorrow and understanding that it renewed my hope that everything would be OK. After my mother passed, Dr. Moran took care of me in ways that were above and beyond, always checking in with me and showing a deep concern for my well-being. Without her support, I don’t know that I would have continued in graduate school during that heart-wrenching time.

“I have always told Dr. Moran that I strive to be like her; she is filled with such vast knowledge and is still able to relate to others in such passionate ways.”

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Deborah WootenPaul Norris Wolf Jr. is completing the alternative teaching program while pursuing a master’s degree in education. He is now a special education teacher at Walnut Hill Elementary School in Roane County. He credits Deborah Wooten with helping him through some rough spots in the classroom.

Wooten is an associate professor of reading in the Theory and Practice in Teacher Education Department. Before coming to UT in 2002, she taught elementary school for 23 years, both in the rural schools of Mississippi and in the urban classrooms of New York City.

“Two years ago I found myself at the crossroads of being both a teacher and a student at UT,” Wolf said. “I was having a terrible time in my classroom, and felt like I had little support from my school district supervisors. Dr. Wooten realized that I was having a difficult time, and took time after class to listen to my concerns and offered me a great deal of much-needed support.

“During the next year I was in a new school system where I used many of the techniques Dr. Wooten taught in class. My experience with her ‘Writing and Sharing Connections,’ a strategy to prompt reading in grade school, helped me aid struggling readers and writers in both elementary and middle school classrooms.

“I still routinely consult with Dr. Wooten regarding instruction techniques and, through our conversations, continue learning to become more professional.”

In honor of Faculty Appreciation Week, Tennessee Today will feature 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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