Stetson Kicks Off New Academic Year at Convocation
Robin Diedrichs’ academic career prior to attending Stetson “wasn’t pretty,” she confessed as she gave the keynote address Wednesday evening at Convocation in the Edmunds Center on campus.
Diedrichs earned “lots of D’s and F’s” while attending a small college in Pensacola, bounced from major to major, married at 20 and had a baby, she said. When her mom, a teacher who had earned her master’s degree from Stetson, convinced her to try the DeLand school, Diedrichs faced another obstacle.
“I am ashamed to say that at 21 I didn’t even know how to drive,” she told the audience of students, faculty, staff and administration. “And I was a commuter student. So, in order to go to Stetson, I had to learn to drive, and I was pretty terrible at it. But I persevered through my fears and started my classes.”
Diedrichs, who was named Volusia County Schools Teacher of the Year in 2017, was just one of the speakers who each urged students to “go beyond.”
That phrase wasn’t proclaimed as the Convocation theme in the program, but it could have served in that capacity for the annual event which, as President Wendy B. Libby, PhD, said in her opening remarks, “represents the coming together of our community to usher in the new academic year.”
Craig Maddox, DM, associate professor of music, gave the 2019 McEniry recipient address. The McEniry Award “represents the most prestigious teaching award given to a DeLand campus faculty member,” said Provost Noel Painter, PhD, in his introduction of Maddox.
Joe Cooper ’79, MBA ’82, chair of the Board of Trustees, also addressed attendees.
And it was announced, to his surprise, that John Tichenor, PhD, associate professor of management and chair of the Department of Management, was named the 2018-2019 Advisor of the Year.
The evening was eventful.
Diedrichs, who earned her bachelor’s degree in education in 1992 and her master’s in elementary education and learning disabilities in 2000 from Stetson, said the university “stretched me out of my comfort zone in so many ways.”
“I was scared to death,” she continued. “… Yet, my strengths had always been wrapped around school, kids and reading. I don’t know why I didn’t realize it then, but teaching was my calling and heading to Stetson was one of the most important decisions of my life.”
Diedrichs praised her Stetson teachers. Also, she confessed that she “might have a book hoarding problem,” adding that “I passionately want to turn kids onto books.”
To further that goal, she reached out to Stetson professors eight years ago “with an idea that has grown far more into something that I could have ever anticipated.” It turned into the DaVinci Club, an afterschool literacy club promotes reading, the arts and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
“At the time, I taught at a low-income school in DeLand, and I wanted to provide the students with an afterschool club that promoted reading and the arts,” Diedrichs noted.
She contacted Bette Heins, PhD., a professor of education, “and before I knew it my idea was a reality,” Diedrichs said, with financial support coming from Stetson’s Nina B. Hollis Institute for Educational Reform.
“Today, the club has over 50 students participating each year in my school and has spread to other schools both here in DeLand and out of state,” Diedrichs said. “This would have never been possible without the support of my alma mater.”
Maddox opened his remarks by reiterating the event’s unofficial theme: “If you students haven’t heard it enough that you’ve got it memorized, I’m going to say it a few more times: Go beyond. What does that mean? … It’s my job to encourage and guide students to go beyond any limitations they put on themselves. I can only do that if a student is willing to risk going beyond what they are already comfortable doing.”
As a voice professor, Maddox stated he will “often tell fearful students that singing isn’t like skydiving, where if you make a mistake you can die. If I can convince the student to sing without fear of failure, they can really go beyond.”
Following Convocation, Tichenor said he didn’t see the honor of Advisor of the Year coming his way.
“I love to do advising. We all need good mentors, and that is a big part of what Stetson education should be. Students come here and I think parents send their students here for the small, close relationships they will have with faculty members,” he commented.
“I leave my office door open. I’m the chair of the Management department, which means a lot of students come to me for a lot of things. If they come into my office, I’m not just going to say, ‘Oh, where’s the form I need to sign?’ I’m going to ask them, ‘What’s going on? What are you doing after you graduate?’ A lot of them don’t know, but somebody needs to ask them.”
Cooper implored students to “take advantage of your time here.”
“It is precious,” he said. “Know that the friends you’ll make will be lifelong. In and out of the classroom, you will learn things that take you out of your comfort zone. Be bold. Step out and embrace this wonderful opportunity to learn and grow. Unexpected opportunities will find you. Don’t let them pass you by. Most importantly, may you find purpose in life here. And don’t forget your family and friends who have invested so much in you.”
President Libby opened Convocation with this: “We especially welcome our newest students, faculty and staff, and invite them to celebrate with us the values and missions of this university 136 years after our founding in 1883. Here, we devote ourselves to preparing students for what lies ahead after their time with us here at Stetson. We devote ourselves to equipping them with the knowledge, skills and confidence to go beyond the expected and shape their success stories to tackle complex challenges, and to lead lives that matter. Students, you will be Hatters all your lives.”
She also urged attendees to “make sure you take your picture with John B.” – a reference to university benefactor John B. Stetson. A bronze larger-than-life statue of him is another newcomer to campus — installed in Palm Court last week.
– Rick de Yampert