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Pfeiffer students urged to follow John Lewis’ example

In 2008, when Dr. Michael Thompson, the dean of the Undergraduate College at Pfeiffer University, first met former Rep. John Lewis, he asked the late civil rights icon what message he should bring back to his students.

“Tell them to get in the way,” Thompson recalled him saying. “You often heard Lewis giving this call to action, alongside his insistence to ‘get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.’ ”

Thompson, also a longtime professor of History at Pfeiffer and the director of its Undergraduate Honors Program, told this story on Aug. 18 during a convocation ceremony that launched the 2021-22 academic year. His aim was to make a personal connection for the audience to “one good person” who embodies three Pfeiffer ideals: honor, community and civility.

“Lewis’ life may be both instructive and provide a challenge to how you might approach your time at Pfeiffer and beyond,” Thompson said.

Lewis represented Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District from 1987 until July 17, 2020, when he died of pancreatic cancer. He worked for social justice and civil equality, enduring beatings and arrests along the way. He also “never stopped seeking out ways to change people’s lives for the better,” Thompson said, citing Pfeiffer alumnus Marcus Sawyers (2018) as an example.

Sawyers parlayed an internship in Lewis’ congressional office into a staffer position there. A standout on the men’s basketball team, he ended his career in college hoops with 11 games left in his senior season and headed for Washington, D.C. to work for Lewis.

Sawyers owed a lot of his success in Washington to Lewis.

“Under his mentorship I was able to develop into the young man I am today,” Thompson said, quoting from a letter that Sawyers wrote to him. “Although hard times will come, it is important to remember that brighter days will (also) come. Congressman Lewis used to tell me, ‘Never get lost in a sea of despair – always keep the faith.’ ”

Thompson ended his talk by challenging those in attendance to do things daily to create a Lewis-inspired “Beloved Community.” After noting that roughly 40 percent of entering students in the U.S. don’t make it to their second year of college, he suggested that, rather than looking to the right and left and wondering who won’t be here at graduation, students look to their neighbors and think about how they might help ensure their success.

Convocation attendees were also introduced to three Pfeiffer professors who received awards in recognition of their contributions to the University.

Dr. Aimée Bellmore, an associate professor in the Counseling and Human Services program at Pfeiffer University, received the 2021-22 Mary E. Foster Webb and Henry Thomas “Toby” Webb, Jr. Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Mary, who died in 2007, was a teacher for approximately 30 years. The majority of her career was spent as an educator in the Albemarle City School System. A scholarship fund that supports education students at Pfeiffer is also awarded in her name each year.

Toby began teaching and coaching at Albemarle High School in 1947 and went on to become superintendent of Albemarle City Schools in 1966, a post he maintained until his retirement. His success as a football coach at Albemarle High School led to his induction into the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Coaching Hall of Fame. He received an honorary Doctor of Public Administration from Pfeiffer College in 1976.

Between 2013, when Bellmore’s tenure at Pfeiffer began, until the start of the current academic year, she served as program coordinator, primary faculty member and sole student advisor of Counseling and Human Services. The program now includes Tiffany Rikard, an assistant professor who’s a doctoral candidate at UNC Charlotte.

Since 2013, the number of Counseling and Human Services majors has jumped from 15 to 52, though the latter number “will likely jump up in a couple of months when first-year students start declaring,” Bellmore said after receiving the award. She has placed more than 100 students in internships since 2015, the year she began compiling records. She played a leading role in establishing the Social Justice Studies minor, which was launched during the 2020-21 academic year.

Bellmore was nominated for the Webb Award by members of Pfeiffer’s student body. She’ll receive a $1,000 acknowledgement and an additional $1,000 she can use for approved professional development expenses.

Dr. Elizabeth Harrison, an associate professor of music lauded for her high standards and quality teaching, was recognized for receiving the 2020-21 Webb Award. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented her from receiving the award at a ceremony last year.

Harrison, who holds a doctorate from Stanford University, serves as Pfeiffer’s music coordinator. Music at Pfeiffer has advanced in several ways on her watch; the Pfeiffer University Band program is back, led by Dr. Joseph Earp, the director of Instrumental Music, and the music education major will be reinstated beginning in Fall 2022 (pending accreditation approval).

Dr. Raushan Gross (2009 MBA), an associate professor of Business Management, received the Beyond Boundaries Award, which is given by the Alumni Association Board of Directors to a faculty or staff member who goes above and beyond for Pfeiffer.

Gross, a prolific blogger and author who holds a doctorate from Regent University, is noted for the ways in which he prepares his students for real-world scenarios in business. He was nominated for Beyond Boundaries by Frank Suggs (1971).

Suggs, who studied business at Pfeiffer, first met Gross several years ago when he conducted a mock interview in one of the professor’s classes. He praised Gross for taking “full advantage of the business expertise of many alumni to add to the classroom experience of his business students,” and he pointed out that Gross often meets with prospective students of Pfeiffer to encourage them to attend the university. Gross lends his assistance whenever and wherever he is needed outside the classroom, Suggs said.

Ken Keuffel, who authored this article, has served as Pfeiffer’s Assistant Director of Communications since December 2019. He welcomes story ideas from Pfeiffer’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. The form for submitting story ideas is at www.pfeiffer.edu/newsform.​