Dr. Francene Kirk Awarded Abelina Suarez Professorship

Thursday, April 25, 2013

During the Faculty Recognition event on April 24, Dr. Francene Kirk, Associate Professor of Communication and Fine Arts in the School of Fine Arts, was awarded the 2013 Abelina Suarez Professorship.

Five other Fairmont State University faculty members were nominated for the high honor:

  • Dr. J. Robert Baker, Professor, Senior Level, College of Liberal Arts, Department of Language and Literature, and Director of the Honors Program;
  • Dr. Debra Hemler, Professor of Geoscience, College of Science and Technology, Department of Biology Chemistry and Geoscience, Coordinator of Geoscience and Graduate Faculty;
  • Dr. Anne Patterson, Professor of Music, School of Fine Arts;
  • Dr. Rhonda Sanford, Professor of English, College of Liberal Arts, Department of Language and Literature and Graduate Faculty;
  • Dr. Jacqueline Webb-Dempsey, Professor of Education, School of Education, Health and Human Performance and Graduate Faculty.

A bequest by the estate of Abelina Suarez has been used to establish Fairmont State University’s first named professorship, which will carry her name and that of the discipline of the honoree. Honorees will carry the title in perpetuity, but a new award will be made every five years. The presentation of this professorship is intended to recognize extended and continued excellence by a member of the University faculty. This year marks the third award of the professorship; the first recipient in 2002 was Dr. Judy P. Byers, Abelina Suarez Professor, Senior Level, of English and Folklore Studies, and the second in 2007 was Connie S. Moore, Abelina Suarez Professor, Senior Level, of Nursing.

Abelina Suarez, who was born in 1910 in Spain but grew up in Anmoore, W.Va., was the first woman to graduate from Ohio University in a field called German chemistry. She was a math and science teacher in Harrison County for more than 30 years. She attended Fairmont State Teachers College in the 1940s and also earned a master’s degree in education from West Virginia University. Through her generosity and foresight, Suarez designated a portion of her estate to support educational opportunities at Fairmont State.

Dr. Francene Kirk teaches communication, puppetry, children’s theatre, creative drama and theatre education. Since coming to FSU in 2000, Kirk has directed numerous plays and musicals for the Masquers season and for Town & Gown. Kirk has mentored undergraduate research projects and facilitated the creation of student-devised theatre pieces. She was honored for her work in Theatre Education by the City of Fairmont Arts and Humanities Commission. In 2008, she received the William A. Boram Award for Teaching Excellence. A former public school teacher, Kirk served as the Coordinator for Fine Arts at the West Virginia Department of Education for two years. Kirk earned her B.A. from Glenville State College and her master’s degree from West Virginia University. She received her Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with content emphases in Theatre and English in 1998 from WVU.

One of Kirk’s former students, Celi Oliveto, is a candidate for Mary Baldwin College’s Master of Letters in Shakespeare and Performance and will soon be an MFA candidate for the same program. She wrote the following about her experience as Kirk’s student: “Dr. Kirk’s example from my undergraduate experience constantly reminds me to push myself to become a better artist and teacher. As fine arts educators, we struggle with the idea that the arts are the ‘easy A’ classes. Dr. Kirk not only taught me to appreciate that the arts are indeed fun and emotionally freeing, but also to vigilantly regulate theatre’s joy for meaningful, purposeful directives such as: leadership, team building, the importance of meeting a deadline, applying creative analysis and critical decision making to support a goal. Dr. Kirk tirelessly works to create working theatre instructors who will hold fine arts students as accountable as that of a math or biology teacher.”