The University of Lynchburg’s Westover Honors College will soon have a new dean. Associate Professor of English Dr. Beth Savage, who has served as assistant director of the program for six years, will take over for Dr. Ed DeClair on July 1. Dr. Laura Kicklighter will take the open position as assistant director of Westover, while Dr. Nancy Cowden will continue in her role as associate director.
DeClair was director of the Westover Honors Program from 2002 to 2018, and has served as dean since the program became a college two years ago. He’s confident Westover has a bright future with Savage.
“Dr. Savage is well-positioned to lead the Honors College,” DeClair said. “She is an outstanding teacher and a creative and energetic colleague who will lead the Westover Honors College to new success. Well-liked by faculty, staff, and students, she also brings a strong commitment to high-quality interdisciplinary teaching.”
Dr. Allison Jablonski, provost and vice president of academic affairs, echoes that support and said Savage “ has a wealth of experience in leading students through the vigorous intellectual study of literature, as well as study abroad experiences.
“Her choice of literature for her students seems to be a dynamic process, changing with the context of the students she’s teaching and the state of the world. I don’t think ‘static’ is in Beth’s vocabulary, and her students benefit from her approach to their learning and well-being.”
An Agnes Scott graduate with a PhD in English literature, Savage has a special interest in gender theory and 18th-century drama. Her research has focused on, among other things, celebrities of the 1700s and and masculinity and cross-dressing in 18th-century erotica. Her Fall 2016 honors colloquium was titled “Icons of Excess: Three Centuries of Celebrity Culture.”
“She is, for certain, the hardest English professor I’ve ever had, but I’ve never learned more from anyone else,” computer science major and Westover Fellow Cameron Short ’20 said. “I don’t think she necessarily did anything different, but the attitude she brought to class made all the difference. …
“The classroom was an equal environment; she had no more footing than we did. And as such, she did everything she could to draw the knowledge out of us. … Because of the attitude we all had, it wasn’t hard to speak out. I’d say it was pretty informal, but that has the wrong connotation. I suppose Dr. Savage represented a friend who just happened to teach the class.
“She would call us out on mistakes we made and would joke with us over the absurdities of the pieces we read. She was and is the most human and personable professor I have had. She became a mentor. When I had doubts about the path I was taking, I turned to her because I could think of no one else.”
Short is one of more than 200 students enrolled in the Westover Honors College today — up from just a handful when Westover started as a program in 1987. Most of that growth happened during DeClair’s tenure, inspired by the vision of University of Lynchburg President Dr. Kenneth R. Garren for a top-quality honors program.
Savage knows she has big shoes to fill, but she’s excited to meet the challenge.
“I look forward to building on the recent growth in the Honors College,” Savage said. “Over the last five years or so, the program has consistently brought in around 60 first-year students. With a bigger program comes a stronger need to intentionally build community among students, and our beautiful new space in Westover Hall will help us to do that.”
In particular, Savage added, the new space will provide “more opportunities for our students to live, study, and hang out together, along with teaching spaces where their faculty can continue to use innovative and dynamic strategies to engage our students.”
As someone who has directed the gender studies department since 2009, Savage isn’t new to administrative work.
Still, it’s not exactly what she envisioned herself doing.
“I came here to teach, and I love to teach,” she said. “To me, students are the point.”
While she’ll be teaching fewer classes as dean of Westover, she’ll still get to work closely with students — a major benefit.
“This role will allow me bigger influence in recruiting incoming students and talking to their families about the benefits of the Honors College,” Savage said. “It will allow me to continue to work with current students in and outside the classroom in helping to develop volunteer, internship, and leadership opportunities; and it will enable me to be a liaison with graduates who can help us build larger networks for our existing students and future graduates.
“It is an exciting and broad-ranging role to step into, and I’m looking forward to finding new ways to build on the program’s many successes.”
Designed for gifted students who want more out of their academic experience, Westover Honors College is often described as a “vibrant learning community.” Over the course of four years, Westover Fellows engage in a dynamic curriculum that replaces most of the University’s general education requirements.
From a two-day retreat that kicks off the first semester, to wide-ranging honors colloquia that may include study abroad, to an independent senior honors thesis, Westover Fellows learn through formal and informal experiences that challenge and deepen their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.