A university is nothing without its students. Simultaneously, it takes committed faculty and staff members to make the wheels turn and keep the lights on. As another academic year finishes, faculty and staff at University of the Cumberlands recently came together for dinner, fellowship, and a celebration of each other’s achievements.

During the event, the Cumberlands administration recognized new retirees, award winners from prior years, and current staff and faculty who have reached milestones in their service to the university (10 years of service, 15 years, and so on). They also announced the winners of the 2023 faculty and staff awards.

This year’s retirees – who each received a new rocking chair, par for the retirement course – are Dr. Bruce Hicks and Dr. Connie Howard. Dr. Hicks joined the Department of History and Political Science in 1986. For many years, he was the only political science professor, teaching the entire curriculum, sometimes four different courses a semester. He is known especially for his dry wit and sense of irony, good humor, consistent cooperation, and regular regimen of running and swimming. Dr. Connie Howard is a 1974 Cumberlands alumna who returned to campus to teach in 1976 and has served the school ever since. She taught classes in the Department of Health, Exercise, and Sport Science, a fitting department for her own love of exercise and the great outdoors. In retirement, she will continue to serve as vice president and wolf rancher at Refuge Ridge in Williamsburg, KY.

Among the staff members who reached milestones, two received standing ovations: Ms. Patsy Cross and Ms. Irma Ivey, both of whom have now served as staff members at Cumberlands for 40 years. Both women work in the Office of Development on campus and are widely known for their exceptional work ethic and kindness.

Last but not least, the faculty and staff awards. These award recipients are nominated by students and fellow Cumberlands employees and are chosen by a board of fellow faculty and staff. The 2023 University of the Cumberlands award recipients are as follows:

Staff Community Service Award – Caleb Hetrick

The Staff Community Service Award is given to a full-time administrative or staff member dedicated to the care and concerns of the university community. The recipient exemplifies and supports the ideals for which the university stands. By example, the recipient inspires in others the desire to serve for the good of the university community and carries out his or her assigned duties faithfully, even assuming responsibilities beyond those required.

Caleb Hetrick started his time at the university as an undergraduate student and joined the staff after graduation. He has worked in several departments at the university and is considered highly among his colleagues for his dedication to the students and the university as a whole.

Hetrick consistently takes time to listen closely to the needs of the students he works with and works diligently helps them find a solution to their financial aid needs. One colleague said, “He is very approachable and always willing to go the extra mile for each student. It is evident that he has a heart for service.” Hetrick continues serving others through his activities in his church and throughout the community. He is very active in his church, and he has been very involved in the Laurel Lake Baptist Camp for the past decade.

Excellence in Teaching Award – Dr. Sheena Lawson

The Excellence in Teaching Award goes to a faculty member who is vitally concerned with teaching; is concerned with students and sets high standards for them; is recognized as being competent, knowledgeable, and a scholar; is flexible and creative in classroom activities; makes connections between the subject and the lives of students; and demonstrates their support of the philosophy and purposes of the university. Dr. Sheena Lawson is admired as an inspiring, selfless role model who takes pride in her work. She goes above and beyond as she manages multiple responsibilities, including teaching capstone courses in the day and evening, helping in the graduate department, and supervising student teachers, all while caring for two young children.

One nominator said, “She is a professor that you hear about from other students. You hear about how well she teaches, but more importantly about how she believes in you.” A student of Dr. Lawson’s commented, “Although this was my hardest semester to date, she did a fantastic job of relieving some of my stress while maintaining high expectations for students. She showed a genuine interest in the success of her students, and she even reached out multiple times to provide extra assistance on anything that we needed. Her kindness, genuine concern, and unlimited positivity made this exceptionally difficult semester one on which I could thrive.”

William T. Miles Memorial Award for Community Service – Dr. Jennifer Knuckles

The William T. Miles Memorial Award for Community Service is presented to a member of the faculty who has made a significant contribution to the community in an area consistent with college goals. Service to the community is a hallmark of Dr. Jennifer Knuckles. Whether it be to an individual student in a meeting or a project that affects the entire community, she invests 100 percent in the process. Her service to students includes supporting them as an advisor in and out of the classroom, and participation and support of various research projects within her discipline. As the faculty liaison to a student organization, she has led the students on a number of community improvement projects and disaster relief efforts. In partnership with the Kentucky Departments of Behavioral and Public Health, she supervised groups that implemented the Center for Disease Control’s Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER).

In the classroom, Dr. Knuckles involves all students in the discussion, relying on their diverse backgrounds to contribute to the lessons taught. This gives students the opportunity to experience diverse opinions and viewpoints in a welcoming and safe environment. Students are treated with respect and are truly made to feel like they are part of the class. Outside the classroom, she supports other departments and organizations on campus by guest lecturing about the role of social work in the medical disciplines and participates as a faculty advisor to students in various medical disciplines across campus. Dr. Knuckles has collaborated with AIKCU faculty to build curriculum for use in classrooms related to reuniting mothers and children who are born dependent on substances. In addition, she has chaired the Department of Human Services at Cumberlands for more than 10 years. Finally, her commitment to the university and its mission has led to the development of, and national approval for, a social work degree at Cumberlands.