Teresa Gunter ’20 will admit that when she first started taking classes at the University of Lynchburg in Spring 2011, she had no idea what she was getting herself into.“Although I enrolled as a degree-seeking student, it was sort of an experiment to determine if I was capable,” Gunter, an Access (age 25 and older) student and the administrative assistant for the University’s Academic Achievement Center, said.
The first class Gunter took was Interpersonal Communications with Dr. Jimmy Roux. Then the experiment continued into the summer, when Dr. Edward DeClair invited her to join the Westover Honors College. Gunter, a grandmother, accepted his offer but said she sometimes jokingly calls herself “Westover-the-Hill.”
This year, Gunter will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in history and a minor in museum studies. She also won the Westover Senior Thesis Award for her paper about Pierre Daura, namesake of the University’s art gallery. Earlier in the spring, her research on Daura also took the top prize at the 2020 Phi Alpha Theta National History Honor Society conference.
Asked why she chose to major in history, Gunter answered with a string of questions: “Doesn’t knowing more about the people in the past who shaped the world as we know it today make this life a bit more interesting?
“How would our lives be different if our grandfathers hadn’t worked in the WPA’s Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression? Or, if Southern ancestors hadn’t sold their Piedmont farms and slaves, taken off for Illinois, and then found themselves facing off with their cousins on a Civil War battlefield?”
Gunter praised Lynchburg’s History Department for its “depth and academic diversity” and said she regrets not being able to take at least one class with each of its faculty members. “Faculty seem to take a great deal of pleasure in the development of their students,” she said.
“Early on, we were immersed in the research and writing process in the class Historian’s Craft. That class is a gift for history-curious students because an entire semester is devoted to a topic of their choice and digging into archives and primary documents.”
For the Westover Honors colloquium Common Soldiers of the Civil War, Gunter and her classmates, led by Dr. Adam Dean, researched Historic Sandusky, a historic home that’s owned by the University and played an important role in the Battle of Lynchburg in 1864.
One of Dr. Lindsay Michie’s classes, Art and Revolution, “will satisfy anyone’s love for both history and art,” Gunter said.
Gunter said museum studies was “the perfect partner” to her history major. “We researched, wrote about, and debated knotty legal and ethical issues, like the repatriation of human remains,” she said.
“We were introduced to best practices in identification and conservation, and after I completed a course in the finances of nonprofit organizations, I was convinced that highly successful and astute fundraising was within my purview.
“Dr. Barbara Rothermel guided us through a rigorous curriculum, and her expectations were high.”
Other than sometimes being mistaken for the professor on the first day of class, Gunter said her experience as an Access student was pretty much the same as that of a traditional undergraduate.
“Academically, I have the same workload and feel the same angst — probably more — about tests and papers,” she said. “At the beginning of every semester, I’m a bundle of nerves until I get class syllabi and plot out the entire semester on a calendar. … Just like other seniors, thinking past the next looming deadline is difficult.”
Gunter said she’s looking forward to finishing her coursework this spring and, once the COVID-19 crisis has passed, relaxing a little.
“When we’re out of this crisis, I’m planning to head off to a white-sand beach and blue water and live spontaneously — at least for a week or so,” she said. “I’m ready to throw off deadlines and rigid schedules for a while. I’ll continue to volunteer for the Daura Gallery each week and perhaps contribute in new ways.”