Three Elon faculty members awarded endowed professorships

The professorships, announced during the university's Opening Day for the new academic year, support members of the faculty from a variety of disciplines across the university.

Elon University named three faculty members to endowed professorships on Monday, Aug. 16, during the Opening Day ceremony to launch the 2021-22 academic year. The professorships will support faculty members in the fields of biology, religious studies and strategic communications.

“Being selected as the recipient of such a professorship is a high honor which indicates that the faculty member is respected for excellence in teaching, scholarship, mentoring students and service to the university,” Elon President Connie Ledoux Book said.

Japheth E. Rawls Professorship for Undergraduate Research in Science

Jennifer Hamel, associate professor of biology

Professor Jennifer Hamel, associate professor of biology has been named the Japheth E. Rawls Professor for Undergraduate Research in Science.

Jen Hamel, associate professor of biology

This honor is a rotating two-year professorship that supports the efforts of faculty engagement with students in the scholarship of scientific discovery. The professorship is funded through a gift from the estate of Dr. Japheth E. Rawls Jr. ’35 and his wife, Virginia Riddick Rawls. The honor is for a faculty member in biology, chemistry, environmental studies, exercise science or physics.

“I’m honored to accept this award. I thank the Rawls family for generously creating this award as well as endowed grants for Elon students conducting undergraduate research,” Hamel said. “I thank my Elon biology department colleagues for their mentoring and support. I thank the undergraduate research program which has provided funding and other valuable resources for my students and I thank my collaborators at Elon and other institutions.”

A well-established mentor to students pursuing undergraduate research at Elon, Hamel works with her students through weekly meetings, hands-on training, professional and social development activities, and research data collection at a variety of field sites. Her students have presented their work and been recognized with awards at conferences, have received both Elon and external grants, and have co-authored publications in peer-reviewed journals.

Hamel says mentoring is central to her identity as a teacher-scholar, and she has mentored 23 students through her research program since joining the Elon faculty. She has led several efforts to engage colleagues and students in Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) in the seven years she’s been at Elon. “It brings me fulfillment and it is the activity through which teaching and scholarship come together for me. Mentoring is also the activity through which I think I have the greatest potential impact at Elon,” Hamel said.

After joining Elon as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology in 2014, she was named an associate professor in 2020. Among the various awards to support her research, which focuses on the behavior, ecology and evolution of insects, she has been awarded $109,787 in grant funding from National Geographic and Microsoft AI in 2018. In 2020 she was honored with the Excellence in Mentoring Award by the Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences.

Hamel currently serves as the interim director of the Elon Undergraduate Research Program, the co-chair of the Working Group on Course-embedded Research at Elon and co-advisor for environment and agriculture for the Peace Corps Prep Program. Hamel is also the co-chair of the Charles H. Turner program for undergraduate researchers with the Animal Behavior Society and a member of the Scientific Committee of Biotremology, an international society.

“Over the next several years, my aims as a research mentor are to continue mentoring independent research students in exceptional experience, to expand access to and reduce barriers to undergraduate research at Elon and to contribute to the enhancement of research mentoring at Elon and in my discipline,” Hamel said.

Hamel received her bachelor’s degree in art and Russian studies from Carnegie Mellon University and completed her post-baccalaureate coursework and research at the University of North Carolina at Asheville from 2003 to 2005. Hamel earned her doctorate in biological sciences from the University of Missouri in 2011.

Former Rawls Professors include:

  • Karl Sienerth, Chemistry
  • Greg Haenel, Biology
  • Linda Niedziela, Biology
  • Brant Touchette, Biology and Environmental Studies
  • Eric Hall, Exercise Science
  • Yuko Miyamoto, Biology
  • Kathy Matera, Chemistry
  • Amanda Chunco, Environmental Studies

Distinguished Emerging Scholar in Religious Studies

Andrew Monteith, assistant professor of religious studies

Assistant Professor Andrew Monteith has been named the Distinguished Emerging Scholar in Religious Studies, a professorship designed to support a junior faculty member in the Department of Religious Studies who exhibits the potential for a distinguished academic career.

Andrew Monteith, assistant professor of religious studies

Since joining Elon in 2018 as an assistant professor, Monteith has excelled as a teacher and scholar. He has designed and taught innovative courses, such as Religion and Power, Irreligious and Secular Traditions and Religion and Popular Culture, while distinguishing himself as a thoughtful, dynamic and effective teacher.

“Graduate school is a very long and expensive gamble, and I feel very lucky to have landed her at a university that privileges teaching and scholarship,” Monteith said.

Monteith’s research examines both past and present secularism in American life, as well as how America itself can serve as its own kind of religion. He is currently writing a book explaining the significance of religion in the early Drug War from 1875 to 1940. The tentative title for that book is, “Christian Kingdoms and Demon Flowers: How American Protestants Cultivated the Drug War.” Monteith began his exploration of the topic in his dissertation, “Threatening the Very Foundations of Civilization: Religion and the American Drug War, 1875-1937.”

“We also anticipate that, with the support of this professorship, Dr. Monteith will complete a number of other high-quality, peer-reviewed writing projects over the next several years and establish himself as a distinguished scholar in his field,” said a colleague in recommending Monteith for the professorship.

Monteith is a member of the American Studies Advisory Committee, the Athletics Committee, the ROTC Advisory Committee and serves as a faculty advisor to the Undergraduate Student Research Association.

Monteith received his bachelor’s degree in history from The Ohio State University in 2006, his master’s degree in religious studies in 2011 from Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s, Canada. He earned his doctorate in religious studies with an American Studies minor from Indiana University. Prior to Elon, Monteith served as an associate instructor at Indiana University from 2013 to 2017 and a Future Faculty Teaching Fellow at Butler University from 2017 to 2018.

The Distinguished Emerging Scholar in Religious Studies Professorship was endowed in 2000 and first presented to the Department of Religious Studies in 2001. President Emeritus Leo Lambert said the professorship would attract outstanding teacher-scholars to the university.

Other recipients of the Distinguished Emerging Scholar in Religious Studies professorship include:

  • Rebecca Todd Peters
  • Michael Pregill
  • Amy Allocco
  • Ariela Marcus-Sells

A.J. Fletcher Professorship in Communications

Kenn Gaither, professor of strategic communications

Professor of Strategic Communications Kenn Gaither has been named the A.J. Fletcher Professor in Communications in recognition of his excellence as a teacher, mentor, scholar and peer educator.

Kenn Gaither, professor of strategic communications

Gaither joined the faculty at Elon in 2004 after receiving his doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was a Park Fellow and recognized as a top doctoral student. He was promoted to associate professor in 2010 and to full professor in 2016, and recently completed his service as associate dean of the School of Communications.

“I have the great pleasure of working in a constellation of stars in the School of Communication,” Gaither said. “I would like to thank the teachers, scholars and mentors of the faculty and staff in the School of Communication for pushing me to be better each and every day.”

Teaching both undergraduate and graduate level courses Elon, Gaither is known as one of the “Swiss Army Knives” by his colleagues. In courses such as Communications in a Global Age, Public Relations/Corporate Citizenship, a senior seminar in international public relations and Public Opinion through New Media, Gaither has consistently received high marks from his students while also participating in study abroad programs in Brazil and Turkey. From 2006 to 2009, he served as director of the Communications Fellows program.

“Kenn is an all-around excellent contributor to the university and in his role as the A.J. Fletcher professor he will continue to support faculty and students in their scholarship, teaching and mentoring,” a colleague wrote in nominating Gaither.

His research specializes in international public relations, critical/cultural theory, propaganda and persuasion theory and advertising research, among others. Gaither is the author of 15 refereed publications and two books, both of which – “International Public Relations: Negotiating Culture, Identity, and Power” (2008) and “Globalization and Public Relations in Postcolonial Nations: Challenges and Opportunities” (2012) – were co-written with Patricia Ann Curtin, School of Journalism and Communication chair at the University of Oregon.

Gaither has received scholarly distinction from the Phi Kappa Phi honor society and leadership recognition from the Omicron Delta Kappa honor society. In 2007, he won the Elon University School of Journalism and Communication Scholarship Award as an outstanding faculty researcher.

In the wider community, Gaither has participated in Leadership Alamance and Alamance County Meals on Wheels. He also is involved in the wider academic community serving on the international editorial advisory board for the quarterly peer-reviewed journal, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator.

Gaither earned his bachelor’s in English writing and Portuguese with a Certificate of Latin American Studies in 1993, his M.F.A. in literary journalism in 2000 from the University of Pittsburgh and his doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2004.

Professor David Copeland, who retired in May 2021, served as the A.J. Fletcher Professor since joining the university in 2001.