I Spy Someone making a difference.
Sara Sanders: A storied Coastal careerby Brian Druckenmiller
To say Coastal Carolina University has changed over the past 25 years would be the understatement of the quarter-century. Countless improvements have been made to Coastal’s appearance, resources, athletics and (of course) academics. Sara Sanders, professor of English, has seen it all and is proud of what has come of our university. Her contributions have aided in the growth of not only the Thomas W. and Robin W. College of Humanities and Fine Arts, but of the entire university.
Sanders, who earned a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of South Carolina in 1981, came to Coastal in 1987, six years before the college left the University of South Carolina system. At this time, Sanders taught classes in portable units on what is now Prince Lawn. One of those units, an old blue trailer, was Sanders’ first office.
“I loved it,” said Sanders. “The school was growing faster than its buildings. Everyone was building the tradition of CCU.”
As the university grew, so did Sanders’ list of accomplishments. Although a faculty member since 1987, she has held numerous roles including director of the honors program from August 1992 to December 1996, first co-director of the Celebration of Inquiry (with Dr. Joan Piroch) and chair of the Department of English from August 2004 to August 2007. She received a Fullbright grant in 1989 to teach at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland for an entire year. Other awards include the Distinguished Teacher-Scholar Lecturer Award in 1997 and the S.C. Governor’s Award in the Humanities with her husband Stephen Nagle, a retired Coastal professor.
“She is the epitome of the scholar/teacher model that Coastal desires for its professors,” said Nelljean Rice, dean of University College. “As a colleague, she is supportive and encouraging; as a professor, she is willing to do anything to help a student learn the material.”
Her methods shine outside of the classroom as well. For four years, Sanders has held a seat on the Humanities Council S.C. Board of Directors. This past November, she was named the chair.
“It’s a rewarding group to be a part of,” said Sanders. “It’s great to get the community engaged in the humanities.”
Sanders has been a tireless advocate for the expansion of the humanities beyond academia. As the Kearns Palmetto Professor (2007 through 2012), a position awarded every five years that provides funds to a faculty member for research and other scholarly purposes, Sanders has been able to focus on her study of the power of story-telling.
“Writing is a modality for reflection and learning,” said Sanders. “Story is a way of knowing things—it’s a powerful way to understand the world.”
Since 1995, Sanders has been a medical humanist for the Conway Medical Center Palliative Care Team. In this role, she advocates the healing power of story. “Once you hear your own story, you can start to make sense of your life,” Sanders said.
Along with her efforts at Conway Medical, Sanders has also worked with the Sisters of Charity in Columbia to provide a story writing workshop at an annual retreat for Women Religious in SC. She edited “Eruptions of Amazement,” a collection of writings by participating Sisters made available online in 2009 at http://sistersofcharitysc.com/public/files/docs/Eruptions_of_Amazement_WEB.pdf.
Most recently, in August 2011, Sanders was named the director of the Jackson Family Center for Ethics and Values at Coastal Carolina University. Her goal is to continue the work started by Claudia McCollough. McCollough has been teaching at CCU since 1978, and founded the Jackson Center in 2004.
“It’s truly an honor to carry on what Claudia started,” said Sanders.
Although Sanders is heavily involved with the university and community, she has plenty of time to spend with family, including a recent visit to France with her husband. Her son, Brendan, is in his first year at the University of South Carolina pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering.
With all of Sanders’ achievements through her distinguished career, it is hard to envision Coastal Carolina University without her. Sanders plans on directing the Jackson Center for at least the 2012-2013 academic year, but her teaching obligations will be complete on June 30.
“She is an inspiring teacher, a distinguished scholar and a beloved colleague,” said Daniel Ennis, interim dean of the Edwards College. “Whether it is helping a student through a difficult academic challenge or mentoring a colleague throughout their first years at Coastal, Dr. Sanders has that rare quality that allows her to serve and lead at the same time. As a linguist, she'd appreciate my struggle to find the exact term to describe her—some combination of beloved, respected, esteemed and indispensible.”
“I have been delighted to come to work every day,” said Sanders. “I hope all of my students can get a job that gives them that satisfaction, too.”