COE: Butler's Gift, Service 'Revolutionary'

by Steve Charles

August 19, 2012

The theologian Frederick Buechner defined vocation as the place where one's "greatest joy meets the world's greatest need.” The same could be said of Professor of Political Science Melissa Butler’s service to Wabash and her gift to the Challenge of Excellence.

One of the pioneering women on the Wabash faculty and the first to earn tenure, Professor Butler is a strong mentor to current faculty members and one of the College’s most adventurous and innovative teachers. Her gift to the COE will continue to support these passions—faculty development and international travel—long after her retirement in 2013.

“I want other faculty members to have the opportunities I’ve had,” says Professor Butler, who has traveled around the world (including Antarctica), taught in England and China, and led Wabash students on immersion experiences in Europe and Latin America.

Butler’s personal mentoring and the value of the faculty development funds she supports converge in the career of Byron K. Trippet Professor of Political Science Lexi Hoerl.

“I have never seen anyone as gifted with working with freshman college students as Melissa,” says Professor Hoerl, who in her rookie year on the Wabash faculty co-taught and co-advised with Butler. “She has basically allowed me to follow along like a baby duck! I have watched her look at department budget things. I have talked with her about all sorts of processes. After faculty meetings my first year she would ask me, ‘What did you think of this? What was your impression?’

“She brings this constant spirit of innovation to everything she does, whether it’s thinking about our curriculum, or new opportunities that we can provide for our majors.”

Hoerl’s research on Machiavelli and preparation for last spring’s immersion experience in Italy for Wabash students were made possible by faculty development funds. It was a change in direction from the professor's previous research, and Butler supported her all the way.

“Melissa was the one who said, ‘You have this funding—go to Italy, put the language plan together, do the research, and do what you need to do to get ready for students on that immersion trip. If you want to commit yourself to this, use it.’

“She gave me confidence to engage in this change of direction and offered suggestions on how to do it.”

Hoerl is mindful that this will be her mentor’s last year teaching at Wabash.

“I will miss the way she has pushed me to constantly innovate, to constantly challenge myself and not be afraid of those new directions. I don't think I'll ever have her revolutionary personality, but perhaps I’ll have my own mini-revolutions.”

Asked for one word to describe her mentor and her service and gifts to Wabash, Professor Hoerl offers two.

“First, of course, is ‘revolutionary.’ The second, ‘towering’, because it is a towering legacy she will leave behind.”


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