Better Faculty = Better College
At the heart of any great educational institution is its faculty, and the Virginia Military Institute is no exception. The Board of the Jackson-Hope Fund recognizes the importance of faculty development and has provided funds for faculty members to travel to professional conferences and to conduct research.
It also has supported leaves to allow faculty to engage in scholarly activities within their respective disciplines, such as conducting research and writing books, as well as providing technology training grants to prepare the faculty for teaching in the 21st century.
“Since 2001, the Institute’s Academic Program has enjoyed remarkable and generous support from the Jackson-Hope Fund, support that has profoundly shaped and sustained the intellectual development of the Corps of Cadets,” said Brig. Gen. Charles F. Brower IV, former Deputy Superintendent for Academics and Dean of the Faculty. “The significance of the Jackson-Hope Fund cannot be exaggerated. Contributors to the Fund have stepped forward impressively to provide the Institute the support it needs to maintain the academic momentum we have generated and to further sharpen the edge of academic excellence we all seek to create.”
Brower added that the selection of VMI Philosophy Professor Duncan Richter as an Outstanding Faculty Award winner for the Commonwealth of Virginia for 2008 marked the fifth VMI OFA winner since 2002.
“The competition for this award is extraordinarily intense, as the pool of talent in the Commonwealth is sparkling and deep,” said Brower. “For the Institute to compete successfully requires careful recruitment, high standards and clear expectations, rigorous evaluation, and an aggressive commitment to faculty development. In my judgment, the Jackson-Hope Fund played a crucial role in our successes in faculty development and recruitment these past few years, providing funding for the faculty’s travel to present the fruits of its scholarly engagement, support for a broad array of faculty development projects, and resources for our recruitment efforts to help us to attract the high quality faculty we need to educate our cadets and establish our national reputation as a premier undergraduate college.”
Col. Mary Ann Dellinger knows well the value of support from the Jackson-Hope Fund. It made possible a faculty development leave in 2008 for her to continue the draft of her monograph, The Muse Unchained: Politics, Prison, and Poetry in Francoist Spain. The writing portion of the project followed considerable research, most of which had to be completed in Spanish archives and with personal interviews with ex-political prisoners.
The professor of modern languages and cultures also attends two conferences in Spain each year thanks to Jackson-Hope funding.
“At VMI we pride ourselves on development of the ‘whole cadet,’ which often relegates our research to the proverbial back burner, yet we cannot uphold academic excellence, much less our ratings, nor model intellectual behaviors for cadets, if faculty members do not contribute to the existing body of knowledge in their respective fields,” said Dellinger. “Scholars need time for research as well as the travel opportunities to share findings and to open new lines of inquiry within their professional community. I am profoundly indebted to Jackson-Hope for the research opportunities they have provided cadets I have mentored and especially my own work.”
Like Dellinger, Lt. Col. Daren Timmons requested a departmental leave to better understand how molecules self-organize into either flexible or rigid systems. A Jackson-Hope funded leave allowed him to do just, and he spent a semester in the research laboratory of Professor Hong-Cai Zhou at Texas A&M University. The leave was productive, resulting in a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, along with a review article in Coordination Chemistry Review, and several others are in the works. One of Timmons’ former cadets is now a graduate student in chemistry working in Zhou’s lab, and the professor is back in his lab at VMI, mentoring several cadets in undergraduate research.
Despite the complexities involved in transplanting his family and joining a new lab, Timmons said the time on leave was well worth it.
“Just having large blocks of uninterrupted time each day to read, to think, to conduct experiments, to write, to publish—in short, to ‘do chemistry’ was wonderfully refreshing and motivating.”