Dr. Nancy VanArsdale and Dr. Shala Davis Honored as Distinguished Professors 

Dr. Nancy VanArsdale (left) and Dr. Shala Davis (right) were honored as ESU’s Distinguished Professors. Photo Credit/ ESU, Edited by Natalie Irula

Ronald Hanaki

Staff Writer  

Dr. Nancy VanArsdale and Dr. Shala Davis were honored as ESU’s newest Distinguished Professors at the All-University meeting held at the Abeloff Center for Performing Arts on Sept. 7. 

ESU Interim President Ken Long made some introductory remarks before calling Interim Provost Margaret Ball to the podium. 

“I am thrilled to be here to celebrate this year’s Distinguished Professors,” Ball said.   

“This award is incredibly important to our academic realm.” 

Dr. Andi McClanahan from the Department of Communication presented the first award upon Dr. Nancy VanArsdale for her, “excellence in teaching, scholarship and service.” 

VanArsdale joined the university in 1990. 

She holds a bachelor’s in English from Bucknell University and a graduate school business certificate from New York University (NYU). 

She also holds a master’s and a doctorate in English both from NYU. 

Notably, VanArsdale has served as President of APSCUF-ESU since the year 2000. 

“Her leadership has been crucial in guiding the university through contract negotiations, scholarship fundraising, recruiting students, communicating with statewide APSCUF, and implementing new instructional modes necessitated by the pandemic,” McClanahan said. 

VanArsdale also served as chair of the Department of English from 1999 to 2014. 

As chair, she oversaw the implementation of the ESU Writer’s Studio and the graduate program in Professional Writing. 

She has also collaborated with the Department of Communication to create a concentration in public relations. 

Van Arsdale is an internationally recognized scholar and Fulbright Scholarship recipient.  

She has taught 15 different courses and has 19 publications to her credit. 

Moreover, she is considered an expert on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and has co-authored a book entitled “Approaches to Teaching The Great Gatsby.” 

She has been a consultant to Time magazine and worked at Time magazine before coming to ESU. 

After her introduction, VanArsdale stepped onto the podium to a standing ovation from her colleagues. 

“I want to thank the people who nominated me, committee members and President Long so that I could receive this honor,” VanArsdale said. 

“The Distinguished Professor’s award is truly important to me because in some ways I feel that I am its mother,” VanArsDale said. 

VanArsdale went on to reveal that in 1998, then-ESU President Robert Dilman approached faculty leaders about creating a Distinguished Professor award. 

It was VanArsdale herself who chaired the committee that ended up creating the honorable distinction. 

“One of our important duties as faculty is advising,” VanArsdale said. 

Last summer, VanArsDale was assigned a new student-advisee. 

The student was a senior who stopped taking classes in 2018. 

But she was also a mother, and her middle school son loved going to the baseball camps at ESU. 

Each day, the pair were greeted by an ESU senior. 

When the mother told him that she would have been a senior just like him, that student told her every day that she should come back to ESU to finish her degree. 

Then, VanArsdale pounded the table for emphasis. 

“That brings tears to my eyes since that’s how we do it,” VanArsdale said. 

Dr. Robert McKenzie, chair of the Department of Communication, presented the next award. 

“ESU also bestows its Distinguished Professor award to Dr. Shala Davis for excellence in teaching, scholarship and service,” McKenzie said. 

Davis has been the chair of the Department of Exercise Science since 2011 and a professor since 1996. 

She earned her bachelor’s in physical education and health from the University of Delaware and her M.S. in health and sports science with an emphasis in cardiac rehabilitation from Wake Forest University. 

Davis earned her doctorate in exercise physiology from the University of Virginia. 

At ESU, Davis developed a doctorate in health sciences. She also serves as the coordinator of the program. 

Davis also developed the Master of Science program in exercise science. 

Perhaps most importantly, Davis has been the chair of the Institutional Review Board at ESU since 2001. 

Further, Davis has secured over $500,000 in grant money for her research. 

She also served briefly as the Interim Dean of Health Sciences. 

Davis has a prolific publication record to her resume. She has over 70 refereed publications that she has co-authored with a variety of scholars. 

Her research interests include weight maintenance strategies and training and nutrition knowledge. 

Her latest article was published in 2019 and was called “Upper Body Training Methods and Their Effect on Lower Body Performance Tests.” 

Davis has authored five book reviews and delivered 45 presentations delivered at professional conferences and served as a peer reviewer at two prestigious scholarly journals. 

She also regularly advises NCAA Division I teams on educating student-athletes to eat for performance. 

“In essence, through her teaching of nine undergraduate courses, 13 graduate courses and three doctoral courses, her dynamism and organization continue to be integral to the conferral of three levels of degrees here at ESU,” McKenzie said. 

“When there is a discussion going on at this university and you are in the room, we know it.” 

“The energy that you bring brings the discussion to focus on what’s best for everybody, and that energy is something that we are all are of.” 

A large standing ovation greeted Davis as she stepped onto the podium. 

“Both large events and small events have guided me here both personally and professionally. Three of those events, in particular, have been embedded here in my time with the university,” Davis said. 

Davis said that the first event happened 20 years ago. It was 9/11. 

“Our lives changed that day, and it would never be the same,” Davis said. 

Davis said that the second event was Hurricane Sandy in 2012. 

Davis said that Koehler Fieldhouse became a shelter for those displaced by the hurricane.  

All they had were the shirts on their backs, but Davis was stunned by their raw gratitude to the university. 

The third event has been the pandemic. 

Those three events have led her to formulate the five guiding principles of her life. 

Five: Embrace the possibility of failure. 

Davis said that she was proud of how she has handled adversity. 

Four: Play to your strengths. 

As an educator, Davis sees her job as enhancing her student’s toolbelt. 

“Figure out what you are good at, take the step and make an impact,” Davis said. 

Three: surround yourself with good people. 

Davis said that she hit the jackpot with that at ESU. 

Second: don’t ever be satisfied. 

Davis said that she still gets nervous on the first day of school. 

“It’s not like I’ve never been there before. But I want to do it better,” Davis said. 

One: remember why we’re here, who we serve and the impact we have. 

Long returned to deliver some closing remarks about each professor. 

“I recognize and know that you have earned much respect from your faculty, colleagues and administrators.” 

“I know that you are also faculty members that our students look up to as they navigate their studies while at ESU and for many, even after they graduate.” 

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