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Peszka and West Named Distinguished Professors

CONWAY, Ark. (June 3, 2021) — Two Hendrix College professors have been named to distinguished professorships. Dr. Jennifer Peszka and Dr. Carol West will be formally installed at a convocation scheduled for Aug. 26.

The professorship Peszka will hold, the Virginia A. McCormick Pittman Distinguished Professorship, was established in 1981 by Dr. Margaret Pittman, a 1923 Hendrix graduate who made world-changing contributions as a research scientist. Pittman was the first woman to head a major research lab at the National Institutes of Health, where she helped develop the vaccines for typhoid, cholera, and whooping cough. Peszka will be the fifth faculty member to hold this professorship, following Albert M. Raymond (1981-1988), Bruce Haggard (1989-2010), Stephen Kerr (2010-2015), and Margaret “Peg” Falls-Corbitt (2016-2021).

Peszka’s nominators cited the quality and scope of her teaching, research, and involvement with various facets of the Hendrix community in recommending her for a distinguished professorship.

“She routinely works with students as they complete Odyssey projects that help them explore their passions and as they complete internships to help discern career interests, and she is an excellent career mentor to those students, many of whom keep in touch with her after they graduate from Hendrix. Dr. Peszka’s contributions to the life of the College are similarly impressive, and reflect her ongoing commitment to be an active member of our community,” they wrote. “Jennifer clearly sees her teaching as something to be shared in and out of the classroom—with her students and her colleagues—and the entire Hendrix community is better for her willingness to share her gifts as a teacher.”

Peszka holds a Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of Southern Mississippi, both with an emphasis in general and experimental psychology, and a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from Washington & Lee University. Her research deals primarily with sleep, including the effects of sleep deprivation and sleep hygiene. She served on the committee that developed the Odyssey Program, has twice chaired the Department of Psychology at Hendrix, serves as Marshal of the College, and is secretary of the College’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter, one of only two in Arkansas. In 2015, she was named Arkansas Professor of the Year by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Her current course topics include statistics; learning; sensation and perception; behavioral neuroscience; and sleep and dreaming.

From 2011-2014, Peszka co-held with her departmental colleague Dr. Jennifer Penner the Julia S. Mobley Odyssey Professorship, which they used to study the relationships between dating and mating decision-making and sleep. She currently holds the Charles Prentiss Hough Odyssey Professorship with anthropologist Dr. Anne Goldberg; they have examined the role of sleep and social relationships to healthy aging in “blue zones,” areas of the world where humans have longer lifespans.

The professorship West will hold was instituted in 1977, the year she began her career at Hendrix. Named for Harold and Lucy Cabe to recognize their generous and sustained support as friends of the College, it has been previously held by Robert W. Shideler (1977-1980), Arthur A. Johnson (1980-1990), John A. Ziegler (1991-1998), Garrett L. McAinsh (1999-2008), Ian T. King (2008-2010), and Lawrence Schmidt (2010-2021).

West’s nominators praised her long and notable career at Hendrix, including her work in pioneering curricular change. “It is because Carol’s life work as a member of this institution has so closely tracked—indeed, regularly foreshadowed—the place it has become that we find her worthy of its highest honor,” they wrote, noting that the entire Hendrix community has benefited from her contributions, both within and outside the classroom.

“Carol recognized early on that we can’t just teach writing in the abstract; we teach writing about something for some audience,” they wrote. “By immersing her students in topics they didn’t yet know they cared about, she enables them to learn what it means to have something to say, a skill they will rely on throughout their later lives. Fittingly, Carol is an active writer herself, publishing in the last three years alone two essays on Jane Austen, both influenced by her classroom work.”

West holds a Ph.D. and two Master’s degrees in English from Yale University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Franconia College. She currently chairs the Humanities Area at Hendrix, has chaired the Department of English multiple times, and was instrumental in the founding of the College’s Africana Studies program, which she chaired for 13 years. West’s course offerings include Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, African Novel, African Film, Women and African Literature, Crime Literature and Film, Arthurian Literature, and the Jane Austen Senior Seminar. From 2012 to 2015, she held the Isabelle Peregrin Odyssey Professorship, which she used to focus on technology and African Literature, guiding students through related study on campus, at literature conferences, and abroad. She served for a decade on the board of directors of the Africa Network, a national organization that promotes the teaching of Africa in liberal arts education. 

In 2016, West wrote a proposal that yielded a $89,270 U.S. Department of Education grant supporting a Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad trip to Rwanda that she led in the summer of 2017. The project, titled “Understanding Rwanda: Culture, Education, Development,” reached well beyond Hendrix, taking twelve K-12 teachers from the Mid-South (Arkansas, Texas, and Mississippi) and two Hendrix juniors who planned to certify to teach in social sciences or humanities fields on five weeks of intensive educational travel, lectures, meetings, and site visits in Rwanda. It was one of six U.S. Dept. of Education-funded Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad to Africa for which West served as grant writer and, in some cases, project director, from 1997 to 2017. Other destinations included Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Cameroon, Senegal, and Gambia. 

In addition to honoring this year’s distinguished professors, the Aug. 26 convocation will recognize Dr. Alex Vernon, the M.E. and Ima Graves Peace Distinguished Professor of English, whose installation took effect last year while the pandemic precluded an in-person celebration. The ceremony will begin at 11:10 a.m. in Reves Recital Hall, Trieschmann Fine Arts Building. (The venue may change based on whether any pandemic protocols in effect on that date can be implemented in that location.) Vernon, Peszka, and West join three other faculty members who hold distinguished professorships:

Dr. John Krebs, the Willis H. Holmes Distinguished Professor of Music;

Dr. Matthew D. Moran, the Elbert L. Fausett Distinguished Professor of Biology; and

Dr. Lyle Rupert ’82, the C. Louis and Charlotte Cabe Distinguished Professor of Economics and Business.

About Hendrix College

A private liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas, Hendrix College consistently earns recognition as one of the country’s leading liberal arts institutions, and is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges. Its academic quality and rigor, innovation, and value have established Hendrix as a fixture in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings. Founded in 1876, Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. To learn more, visit