The tiny elephants march across the window sill ... a proud pachyderm parade, trunks upraised in the traditional elephant salute. A yellow wooden one doubling as welcome sign dangles from a doorknob, while a blue plushy one perches on top of the computer clutching a peanut in his trunk, compliments of a fellow faculty member who stops by regularly to feed him.
The elephants are now sharing space until Valentine’s Day with an array of portly snowmen bundled up in jaunty winter garb. Move suddenly or sneeze near the one covered in glitz and glitter and you’ll get a light show and a rousing rendition of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” “That one is activated by motion, and it scared the cleaning crew half to death the first time they came in the office and set it off,” laughs Dr. Sue Hollandsworth, the occupant of this eclectic office.
And just as the snowmen sport an array of hats, so does Hollandsworth in her professional life. Not only is she the Assistant to the Dean of the Graduate School of Education and Professional Development, but she also is the certification officer and the NCATE (National Council for Accreditation for Teacher Education) coordinator for the impending accreditation visits for the Graduate School of Education and Professional Development and College of Education. In addition, she teaches two graduate courses each year. A full schedule, to be sure, but then that’s been the hallmark of her long career in education. It was a sometimes arduous climb up the academic ladder, but grit and unflagging determination got her to where she is today.
Her home base is Pocahontas County, where she was a teacher and principal and also worked for a year with the West Virginia State Department of Education as a liaison for special education for Pocahontas County. A graduate of Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., Hollandsworth got a M.A. in Educational Administration from what was then known as COGS (College of Graduate Studies), the forerunner what is now Marshall’s South Charleston campus. COGS’ delivery system was unique at the time and it worked, Hollandsworth says. Faculty members climbed into cars and drove to wherever the students were, sometimes driving two or three hours each way. Web classes and other distance education technology would come along later as the then-primitive delivery systems improved and other options were opened.
“I wouldn’t have my degree if it weren’t for COGS,” she says candidly. “In Pocahontas County there was not much access to higher education, but COGS brought the classes to Lewisburg, which is only 30 miles from my home. We had a good rotation of classes so I was able to finish in two years.”
Hollandsworth taught for more than 20 years in the county, everything from fifth grade to gifted classes to math for K-2, rounded out with social studies and reading. She taught in elementary and middle schools, teaching whatever courses were needed at the time. Her skill with students and her versatility eventually led to her being offered the dual position of principal/teacher in two schools, a small K-8 school in Hillsboro, and Marlinton Middle School. It was a challenging time, she remembers, but, with a year off in between, she ended up staying for two years before going back to Hillsboro as principal for another 12 years.
It was about this time she considered entering the Marshall doctoral program in Curriculum and Instruction. “I had thought about it for a long time, but unlike the master’s degree the [distance] options weren’t there,” she says. But with some friendly prodding from a friend who also wanted to take classes, she was willing to give it a try by taking one class—no assurances past that. The experiment worked, and with that one class, the academic die was cast—she was officially a doctoral student. Her new endeavor wouldn’t be easy and would put some heavy-duty miles on her car as the drive from her home in Pocahontas County to the Charleston area, where the classes were held, could be long and grueling. The two friends left school at 3 p.m., drove 140 miles once and sometimes twice a week, attended class from 6-9 p.m. then drove back home, usually arriving sometime before midnight. The doctoral program was a dream for both of them, so they followed this tight schedule for two-and a half-years until finally all their coursework was completed.
Just as she was making changes in her academic life, she also made a career shift when she accepted a position with the West Virginia Department of Education as their liaison with special education programs in Pocahontas County. It was a temporary position, lasting a year, but she was able to work with schools throughout the county. Later she signed on as a consultant with the Webster County schools. And once again she was about to become a tried and true road warrior, forging an up-close and personal bond with both interstates and country roads.
“I was offered a graduate assistant’s position, which I didn’t want to turn down, so for the next several months I worked on Monday in Webster County, left Monday night and came to Charleston where I worked as a G.A. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, went back to Webster County on Friday and then home to Hillsboro for the weekend.” But it all paid off when she was awarded her doctorate in May 2006, and was soon offered a job as a faculty member in education on the South Charleston campus, which led to the position she is in now. And she’s the first to give credit to her supportive family for making it all possible: her husband, Daniel, a retired contractor/builder, and her sister, Barb, who filled in for her whatever the need.
The multi-faceted Hollandsworth wears yet another hat, one she cherishes as an authorized lay preacher in the Presbyterian Church. She fills a pulpit as a visiting pastor at least once a month, something she’s been doing for the past 15 years. It took two years of study and dedication to receive her certification by taking classes on Saturdays and attending summer retreats, but today she alternates among the Elk Hills church which is near her Mink Shoals home, her home church in Hillsboro and a Greenbrier County church in Frankford. She’s generous with her time and fits in other churches as requested when she can. And, not surprisingly, she sings in the choir of whatever church she’s attending.
An expert in knitting and crochet, Hollandsworth makes her needles fly as she creatively crafts garments such as sweaters, scarves and household items for lucky friends and family members. It’s a stress reliever, she says, and very relaxing. Now she’s ready to move on to weaving, learning on her small table top loom.
Right now a good deal of her work is focused on the upcoming NCATE (National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education) re-accreditation visit, which she stresses is very important to the Graduate School of Education and Professional Development. An off-site visit set for this April and an on-site visit follows in October. Taking care of the myriad details involved with the accreditation takes intense organization, detailed planning and hard work, but she’s confident they’ll be ready to make the good showing they’ve made in the past. It’s taking a lot of faculty and staff effort, so it won’t because of luck from her collection of 300 elephants.
Like most collections, this one started with a single one, a gift from a college roommate, and just grew. They’re made of almost any material you can think of--wood, glass, ceramic, stone, native materials, one fashioned by Fenton glass artists, an ebony one her mother brought back from Ethiopia. Some look solemn, some are playful and one even trumpets lustily. The collection threatened to overwhelm her house until her husband built a special cabinet to house them. And he doesn’t mind adding to the collection—every year he presents her with a unique one to join the herd.
Looking back over her lengthy career and impressive
educational achievements, Hollandsworth gives full credit to a supportive family
and to friends. “I simply could not have done any of it without the support of
my husband and my sister,” she says. “I worked very hard to get my degrees, but
I had a lot of encouragement from friends as well. A friend urged me to join her
in the doctoral program; another one pushed me to take lay religion training.
Someone once told me not to worry, God will open doors, and that has happened
throughout my life. I got the job when a fifth grade teacher was needed, then I
got the opportunity to be a principal ... I’ve been lucky to be in the right
place at the right time. You have to be committed to what you want; you have to
have a good support system.” And she adds with an impish smile, “You also have
to be willing to drive long distances in all kinds of weather!”
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