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CCU Atheneum: Robin Russell, Josh Norman and Linda Kuykendall.
Robin Russell, Josh Norman and Linda Kuykendall.

Professors honored, humbled by Josh Norman's scholarship gift

by Melanie Smith
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“To teach is to touch a life forever.”

This iconic phrase is relatable to educators everywhere, especially to two professors in the Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts, Robin Russell and Linda Kuykendall.

Former Coastal Carolina University All-American Josh Norman paid homage to Russell and Kuykendall recently by establishing endowed scholarships in their honor. In November, Norman made a $1.5 million donation to his alma mater, the largest gift ever given to the University by a former Chanticleer student-athlete. The majority of the gift has been designated for the Brooks Stadium expansion project, and the rest of the donation is split among three academic scholarships.

The Robin E. Russell Scholarship will support students in the Department of Theatre, and the Linda P. Kuykendall Scholarship will support students in the Department of Communication, Media and Culture. The third scholarship, called the Joshua R. Norman Walk-On Student-Athlete Endowed Scholarship, will provide financial support for walk-on football student-athletes.

“Professors Russell and Kuykendall were the foundation of my educational experience while I was a student at Coastal Carolina University,” Norman said. “I have never forgotten their willingness to understand who Josh Norman truly is, and I wanted to give back to my two most important professors. Their persistent faith in me is why I wanted to honor them with the scholarships in their names and for their departments.”

“Have you made it yet, Josh?”

Russell is an associate professor of theatre in the Department of Theatre, but she is also recognized as the former host of “Coastal Now,” a University-produced program that showcased events on campus, as well as interviews with students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the University. Russell joined CCU’s faculty in 1995 and has directed countless theatre productions since.

Russell started her journey as an intern at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C., where she was involved in the productions “Richard III” with Stacey Keach, “Othello” with Avery Brooks and Andre Braugher, and “Fuente Ovejuna” with Josie de Guzman. In 1985, Russell earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from Coastal Carolina and a master’s degree in acting from the University of South Carolina in 1991.

Norman and Russell met in an introductory acting class at the beginning of Norman’s academic career, when his original major was theatre. Russell was immediately drawn to his energy and enthusiasm for life. Unfortunately, the demands of being a student-athlete did not allow Norman to continue as a theatre major, but that did not stop him from keeping in close touch with Russell. She continued to mentor him, providing advice and encouragement throughout his four years at Coastal.

When Norman changed his major to communication, Russell asked him if he would ever think of going back to acting; she realized he had a gift for being on the stage. He told her his first priority was to excel at football, but once he “makes it,” meaning he has achieved what he wanted to on the field, he will go back to acting. Whenever she saw him, whether it was across a parking lot or in the hallway, Russell would yell to Norman, “Have you made it yet?” Every time, he would tell her, “No, not yet.”

“I know that once Josh finally responds with 'yes,' it will mean he’s finished with football forever,” Russell said.

Russell says Norman wishes to give students, especially those exceptionally talented in the arts, a chance to attend CCU, regardless of their financial situation. He wants them to thrive and learn just as he did.

Russell was blown away and completely humbled when she found out about the endowment from President DeCenzo through an email. “I never in a million years thought something like this honor would happen,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes. “It has always been my goal to be a strong advocate for every student who walks through my door. We can only hope to have a positive impact that is lasting. One of the many joys of teaching is to learn from each of my students. And from Josh, I now must learn humility.”

Russell still feels his impact on her daily, even though he has been gone from campus for years. While she wishes he would finally tell her that he’s “made it,” Russell supports him nonetheless.

“When I met Josh, I was drawn to his warmth, confidence and boundless spirit,” Russell said. “I became a lifelong fan the moment I met him. I am so humbled and overwhelmed by this beautiful honor.”

A surprise visitor

Kuykendall is a senior instructor in the Department of Communication, Media and Culture. She has taught speech and communication for 32 years, and pioneered the structuring of the communication major at CCU. Her teaching expertise includes business communication, oral communication and small group communication.

Kuykendall is also an experienced consultant who has conducted workshops and seminars for Apple USA, Trans Louisiana Power and Light, Thomas and Hutton Engineering, S&ME Engineering, Tyson Sign Inc., WCI Corp., Burroughs & Chapin, and medical and legal professionals. She earned a master’s degree in communication from the University of Southwestern Louisiana.

Norman changed his major in 2009 to communication, and Kuykendall got to know him well. “Josh is a philosopher, he thinks everything through to the nth degree,” she said. “He is very interpersonal, making him an excellent public speaker as well."

Kuykendall has kept in touch with Norman over the years, advising him from time to time on his vocal diction and fashion choices. And Norman delights in dropping in on Kuykendall unannounced, catching her by surprise.

One day in Brittain Hall, Kuykendall turned on the projector and started her lecture, then noticed an unfamiliar figure in the back row. She continued teaching until she decided that this person may be lost or in the wrong classroom. She asked the unknown person if he was in the right class, only to have Norman flip his hat up and greet her excitedly. He had traveled to campus during bye week with the Carolina Panthers, and ended up giving a surprise lecture to the communication class on the transition from collegiate football to the NFL.

Another time, Kuykendall and her husband arrived at their seats in Brooks Stadium to enjoy a Chanticleer football game only look over and see Norman in the next seat. “Hi, Mrs. Kuykendall, I thought I would surprise you!” said Norman.

Kuykendall believes that Norman’s academic experience at CCU has played a large part in his success.

“He’s truly showing us that it wasn’t just all football,” she said. “To think that he is committing those types of resources to other people, that’s the giving part. That’s important that he made that connection with me, the connection stayed, and it’s not just sports that is important to him; it’s academics, too.”

Kuykendall has been involved with the creation of the scholarships from the beginning and has seen the entire process through. She is nothing short of grateful.

“I feel honored, I feel privileged. It’s heartwarming to think that, academically, he wants to help students,” Kuykendall said. “The Edwards College, Department of Theatre and Department of Communication, Media and Culture… we made an impact on him. That’s coming full circle. I think it’s wonderful.”

Related stories:

Former football All-American Josh Norman makes major donation to CCU
CCU awards Josh Norman with honorary degree of public service


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