UCF alumnae Rebecca Gulick ’87 ’91MA, Nancy Naugle Haney ’91MA, and Rachel Cooey West ’91MA created the Beth Barnes and Katherine Keller award to recognize and honor their former UCF professors. According to the donors, “we arrived in the graduate program at UCF with no defined plans for the future, and we left with more than a degree” thanks to the wisdom and guidance of Barnes and Keller. We recently spoke to them about their gift and about their time at UCF.
What inspired your gift?
When the three of us were in the graduate program to earn a Master of Arts in English, two of our professors changed the trajectory of our lives, Dr. Beth Barnes and Dr. Katherine Keller. From them, we learned nuggets of wisdom that continue to guide us in the years since. We wanted a way to honor them and help others as we were helped.
Why does UCF matter to you? Why does this area of support matter?
Although English skills permeate all disciplines, they do not always seem to receive much support. When we looked at award and scholarship opportunities within the department, we learned that few existed. This award brings additional legitimacy to the program and draws attention that elevates the major.
How do you hope to play a role in the future of UCF?
Our degrees have led us to interesting and varied professional careers — none of which would have happened without the opportunities we received as graduate students. Our professors infused us with an enthusiasm to pursue knowledge and make connections—in literature and in life. Our friendship remains a pillar in each of our lives. We wish to help other English graduate students at UCF have the same enriching experience.
What is your favorite UCF memory or experience?
While we have many great memories, a few do stand out to us. When Toni Morrison came to speak at the university, the English graduate students were tasked with driving her to and from the event. The three of us were in a 1966 Chrysler with her discussing everything from mystery novels (she was reading P.D. James at the time) to current tabloid sensations. We also organized and hosted “Thwarted by Theory” workshops in which we invited guest speakers.
What the best of advice you’ve ever received from these professors?
Rebecca notes that from Dr. Barnes she learned that researching is never completed, just stopped, and from Dr. Keller she learned the importance of a sense of humor. For Nancy, Drs. Barnes and Keller taught her to laugh at life rather than letting it stress you out. They inspired her to never stop learning. Rachel’s memory is that they taught her how to research and analyze, but more importantly, they taught her how to just start writing and quit thinking about it.