When she inquired about a teaching position with The University of Southern Mississippi’s College of Education and Psychology more than 20 years ago, Mary Beth Evans wasn’t lacking in experience.
By then, she already had half a century of service in the field of education, from working as a teacher in a rural country day school to high school principal to professor at universities in the Midwest. But even after she and her husband retired to Hattiesburg, she still longed to continue working in her chosen field.
“I didn’t know if they would want to hire someone who was 71 years old, but I told them I could still teach and I felt like I had something to offer,” she said.
Twenty-two years later, Evan continues offering her experience, wisdom and mentorship as a research professor in Southern Miss’ Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education. And her students are grateful she continues to postpone retirement.
“At every class meeting, she helps us relate what we are studying to issues people encounter in everyday life,” said Southern Miss freshman music major Jean-Paul Brian of Mandeville, La., a student in Evans’ intermediate reading class. “She’s very engaged in helping her students succeed.”
Recently, Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa informed her that she is the recipient of one of its highest honors, the Distinguished Service Award, which she’ll receive Friday at the university’s Emeriti Dinner during its homecoming weekend.
“I’m gratified, not just for me, but that they gave the award to someone in education, because that’s the hope of the world,” she said.
Evans has taught or directed education programs for 72 years and has been instrumental in developing model summer school programs across the U.S. as well as programs in early childhood. She has also researched educational initiatives around the world, studying early childhood education programming in Taiwan, China, Haiti and England.
She has received a number of awards in her long career in education, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield’s Ageless Hero Award for Lifelong Learning in 2004. She has presented her research at numerous conferences and seminars at the state, national and international level, has been published in multiple journals and has been an active member of the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) since 1944.
Dr. David Daves, chairman of the Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education, said Evans’ students marvel at her energy, her enthusiasm for teaching, and her unwavering desire to inspire those about to enter a challenging, yet rewarding profession.
“Her students are her greatest fans and are always ready to praise Mary Beth for the invaluable gift she shares,” Daves said. “Not only does she teach them pedagogy and instructional strategies, she is a living example of the intangibles that it takes to be a successful teacher. She has the heart and soul of an educator.”