Celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week: A Legacy of Mentorship

Trevecca has thousands of stories to tell, and we can only begin to chip away at them if we try hard enough. And if we’re lucky, we might notice something special—like a pattern of influence and encouragement.

At Trevecca, every student has an encourager; every encourager has been shaped by a mentor; and every mentor has been poured into by an influencer.

And every influencer was once a student.

The National Center for Education Statistics estimated that in the fall of 2016, there were 3.6 million full-time-equivalent elementary and secondary school teachers engaged in classroom instruction. NCES also estimated that in 2015, there were 1.6 million faculty teaching at American colleges and universities.

Teacher Appreciation Week is May 6 through May 10, and with the influence a teacher can have on a student, there is a lot to appreciate.

That is something Trevecca’s Dr. Eric Wilson knows well. Wilson serves as associate professor of music at Trevecca and oversees the department as chair.

When he takes his place at the front of the classroom in the Jackson Center for Music and Worship Arts, Wilson remembers what it was like to be a student—as well as the encouragement from his professors that drove him forward.

“Anything that I have been able to do that has positively affected my students comes from me modeling practices of teachers I’ve been blessed to have throughout the years,” Wilson said. “The ones who are most challenging, the ones that you see how much you grew through being challenged by them, the ones who weren’t just satisfied to cheer you on but to encourage you because they knew you had more.”

Thinking back to his influencers in the classroom, Wilson said one professor in particular made a lasting impression. After a composition lesson during which Wilson’s professor tore his work apart, he said his professor explained to him the importance in having confidence in your own work.

“Dr. Pellegrini was very Italian and very intimidating, and when I found out he was going to be my comp professor, I tightened up because I had heard how heavy-handed he was,” Wilson recalled. “I went to my first lesson, and it didn’t disappoint. I said, ‘OK with all due respect, I don’t understand why you’re changing what you're changing. This is what I wanted to say with this composition, and this is why these notes are here.’ He said, ‘Good. You told me why.’ He wanted you to know why you were writing what you were writing.”

Wilson said it was his work under Pellegrini that shaped the way he interacts with students.

“He forced me to examine what I was doing and note that every choice was made carefully, and it made me a better composer then and a better number of things now,” he said.

Though Wilson said his teaching style differs from that of his mentor, he knows Pellegrini’s influence on him resulted in confidence in his work. Because of that, Wilson is able to pass down to his students the things that he gained.

As a former student of Wilson and now a faculty member at Trevecca, Prof. Taylor McPherson said the influence Wilson had on his confidence in his work and the depth of his faith was tremendous. Now, in his own work as Trevecca’s vocal studies coordinator, McPherson channels all that he learned from Wilson over the years.

“Dr. Wilson always encouraged me in the sense that he made me feel like someone truly cared about me—he was always willing to sit down and talk to me,” McPherson said. “Something like that just makes you feel special, and when you’re working so hard on your degree, it makes it feel like all the sacrifices you’re making in learning and trying your best are worth it.”

Across campus in the Tidwell Building, Dr. Lena Hegi-Welch sits in her office waiting for her next advisee. Like Wilson, Hegi-Welch has influenced countless students at Trevecca, and she said it is because of her own mentors during her time on the Hill that she wanted to pour into others.

“I remembered how significant professors like Jim Quiggins, my academic advisor, and Jim Knear, who was one of my major professors, had been in my life, and thinking of being able to ... teach students and maybe pay some of that forward felt like a privilege,” she said.

Hegi-Welch, who is the dean of Trevecca’s School of Arts and Sciences and a professor of communications, left the Hill in 1981 with her undergraduate degree to pursue her master’s in communication studies at Auburn University. Just beginning her career, she was eager to make a mark on her students in the ways that her own teachers had for her.

“I’ll never forget this, but Dr. Quiggins had sent me this big box of teaching activities and old textbooks, extra copies of books and these wonderful simulations for teaching speech,” she recalled. “He sent that because he knew I was going to be developing my own class.”

After more than 30 years of working as a professor of communications studies, Welch has become to others what Quiggins was for her.

“Dr. Welch is undoubtedly my greatest influence from my time at Trevecca, and if you ask around, she is the same for so many others,” said Hannah Pollok, Class of 2017. “She never hesitated to give me advice on how I could improve but always followed with encouragement. Dr. Welch is the kind of professor that understands how important our coursework is ... and at the same time, she loves to laugh and chat with her students about life. I have said it for years and I mean it—I want to be just like her when I grow up.”

Dr. Amanda-Grieme Bradley, assistant professor of psychology and chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, now looks to Welch for mentorship as well.

“Now, Dr. Welch is my biggest mentor. When I need to know how to navigate things, she is always who I go to,” Grieme-Bradley said. “I don’t know that I fully see myself as a mentor—I just really feel like I’m where God loves me to be at this point.”

And though Grieme-Bradley said she has a hard time seeing herself as a mentor, her students say otherwise.

Leah Kepley, who graduated as a math major in 2016, said she connected with Grieme-Bradley and Dr. Stephanie Cawthorne, professor of mathematics, during a time when she was questioning her direction.

“Both of them modeled so well for me what it looks like to be … a respected professional and [a real person] at the same time, and I think no matter what I end up doing professionally, I’ve had such good examples that, no matter what, I've got a confidence that I can adapt to any circumstance,” said Kepley.

Now that the Class of 2019 has left the Hill, Trevecca’s mentors hope the students feel prepared to use their own talents to encourage those that they meet.

“My hope is that Trevecca is a place where we help students identify the gifts and talents that God has given them, and then we strengthen those so when they graduate, they’re able to use what He’s already provided for them,” Welch said. “It can be in any kind of area, but I want them to be able to use their abilities and their passions that they have cultivated here to represent God for His glory. We never know what kind of influence we might have on someone else.”

By Bailey Basham, ’17
Media contact: Mandy Crow, mmcrow@trevecca.edu, 615-248-1695