Senate stunt stuns chair

At one point in time Austin Hall had students dozing off during an instructors lecture or giggling as they pulled pranks on their colleagues. Since then Austin Hall has retired its classrooms, open only for special occasions.

Last Thursday the mischievous laughter could be heard echoing throughout the old school building once again with one more trick to host.

Knowing smiles greeted the chair of the Foreign Language department, Dr. Debra Andrist, as she had no idea that she was about to be presented the “Faculty Senate Award for Academic Leadership as a Department Chair for 08-09” at the Faculty Senate meeting.

“What a nice ‘trick’ it was! I was invited to apprise Senate of the ‘latest’ since the formation of the independent Department of Foreign Languages, in 2007 when I was hired to be ‘founding’ chair,” Andrist said. “I both got to tell the Senate a bit about FOL and was pleasantly surprised and greatly honored to be chosen for such a prestigious award at SHSU!”

The annual award’s decision is voted on by the Senate.”A Senator, in my case, Dr. Hill, nominates a chair. I believe that there is a slate of nominees,” Andrist said.

Upon receiving the award, Andrist expressed her gratitude for what means a great deal to her as she serves her mission as chair holder.

“Chairs are shared-governance facilitators chosen by their colleagues to serve as galvanizers of action and interpreters of a department’s actions and strategic plans,” Andrist said. “I was thrilled that the Department’s teamwork had been so successful; as the athletes say, there’s no “I” in teamwork. I personally felt very honored to be a facilitator as recognized by my peers across campus and so gratified that my hard work had been noted in a more general campus context.”

“In my opinion, she has transformed us from a back-water program into an exciting and modern department of foreign languages,” Professor David Gerling of the Department of Foreign Languages said.

Born in St. Francis, Kansas, the road to success has brought Andrist to many different parts of the world.

“I’ve had some great opportunities, beginning with thanks to my parents’ philosophy of child-rearing: they ‘traded’ kids with Mexican and Brazilian friends and made sure that my siblings and I had every chance to learn about the world first-hand,” Andrist said.

Working her way around the world, Andrist took up teaching in Spain and Mexico.

“Living, studying and working in another country and culture is such an opportunity to learn, simply amazing! And fun, too,” Andrist said.

The chair offers a piece of advice for a student who debates on whether or not they should take a chance, take a field school and learn about other cultures.

“GO, GO, GO! It’s a life-changing and enhancing experience,” Andrist said. “It’s absolutely mandatory to be an informed participatory citizen of the world and a person of education and character.”

Andrist earned her Ph. D in Spanish at the State University of New York, Buffalo in 1985; M.A. in Spanish at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City in 1979; B.A. in Sociology, Spanish, Journalism and English, Fort Hays Kansas State University, 1972.

Several degrees under her belt, Andrist speaks of one program proven most beneficial to her career.

“Honestly, being in an undergraduate “open” honors program where I could take anything at any point was wonderful. Every opportunity was most beneficial at the time,” Andrist said.

Andrist was hired out of graduate school at SUNY; Buffalo to be a faculty member at Baylor University, Waco, TX. But before she made her way to the South, she battled the bitter winters of the North.

“It’s the physical logistics that are challenging: we’re talking hats and coats and boots and scarves and gloves and car undercoating and icy wind that blows people over. However, we’re also talking scenery year around and a climate that brings people together in the winter and leads them to great appreciation for summer! I also went to Utah for my MA, plus being from near Denver, Colorado, so I was accustomed to winter,” Andrist said.

Perhaps the winters are responsible for an odd little fact that few people know about the hard-working chair.

“I was a hot-dog skier in my day,” Andrist said.

Although there were challenging slopes faced, motivation was found as Andrist worked her way through this obstacle course called life. A motivation she also finds in the hills of Huntsville.

“Human dynamics are always challenging! Brainstorming to figure out how to keep everyone on board while moving beyond the immediate challenge to teamwork–and coming up with something that works–is incredibly motivating, “Andrist said. ” SHSU is meeting challenges and moving forward with enthusiasm and success. I am most gratified by my success with being a facilitator.”

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