a tribute to the fathers who inspire us

A Tribute to the Fathers Who Inspire Us

So much of who we are stems from our parents – and the older we get, the more we realize it. It may be a physical resemblance, looking in the mirror and seeing their faces and their mannerisms, but just as often, it’s the intangible things: the ideas and values our parents instilled in us. This Father’s Day, we’re thanking the dads of the world who have raised and inspired us. This is the story of one such dad. 

When Shelley Webb started pursuing a bachelor’s degree in engineering, her dad told her he thought she was called to teach instead. “I was like ‘Awww, Dad, not another sermon,’” Webb remembers. “I didn’t see any draw in teaching kids – and the idea of becoming a professor never occurred to me.”

Fast-forward 30+ years, and Shelley Webb is now the Director of Faculty Support at IWU-National & Global, working specifically with adjunct professors to ensure their needs are met. As of May 2022, she is Dr. Webb, PhD.

“I started teaching as an adjunct professor 14 years ago,” Dr. Webb says. “I thought to myself, ‘My father told me when I was 18 that I was called to this.’ When I told him I was planning to get my PhD, he said, ‘You keep pressing forward.’” As Dr. Webb reflects on the events that led her to pursue her PhD, she sees her dad in every facet of her history. 

In Grindstone, Pennsylvania, not far from Pittsburgh, David Washington grew up as one of 14 children. He was a football star, the pride of his little town. In the late 1950s, he secured a scholarship to Kent State as the first Black starting quarterback in the history of the university. Then, a white family moved to town and pushed for their son to be the new starter. Washington lost his position – and his scholarship.

“After he lost his scholarship, my dad enlisted in the army,” says Dr. Webb. “He got his bachelor’s degree in business and his MBA, and he worked his way up to become the director of labor relations for Ford Motor Company. He was really into equality, making sure people had fair opportunities.”

When Dr. Webb thinks of her dad, she remembers his hard work and determination – but more than that, she remembers his joy. “One of the things I loved most about my dad was that he never harbored any anger or bitterness,” she says. “We didn’t even know about the discrimination he faced in college until we were adults. He never let it consume him, never let his circumstances define him.”

David Washington passed away in 2019, but Dr. Webb continues to see his passion and commitment reflected in her own work. “As a director of labor relations, my dad dealt a lot with employee inequities, workers’ comp issues – anything labor-related,” Dr. Webb says. “That type of work carries over into my role, as an advocate for adjunct professors. Adjuncts don’t have the same benefits as full-time faculty, so my job is to help them get what they need.”

Dr. Webb’s father taught her to fight for equity, and she carries that legacy with her. Her dissertation focused on the intersectionality of Black adjunct professors at CCCU colleges, identifying how a professor’s race, religion, and adjunct status impact his or her experiences. “Just like my father fought for people’s rights at Ford Motor Company, I fight for the rights of adjuncts in these spaces,” Dr. Webb says.

Though her father didn’t get to see her complete her PhD, Dr. Webb feels his pride every day. She remembers her father as a man of wisdom, someone who didn’t let the world overcome him. “He was very community-oriented, very sensitive,” she says. “He always talked about his ‘kingdom-focused’ work. He’s left a wonderful legacy.”

To the fathers who inspire us this way, who leave us wonderful legacies: We are grateful for you. Your influence is the groundwork of our lives.

Thank you also to Dr. Shelley Webb, for sharing her story with IWU-National & Global, and for her tireless work toward equity in a world where injustice is so common.

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