It wasn’t until she saw herself alongside other young professionals honored as one of Columbia Business Monthly magazine’s “Best and Brightest 35 and Under” in September that Whitney (Jones) Prowell ’08 realized she wouldn’t have expected someone in her field to be highlighted in such a feature.
“I was shocked and excited I guess at the same time, because a lot of times you don’t see people in education – especially not those that are practitioners in the schools and the classrooms – being selected for positions in business magazines,” Prowell said. “It was exciting. It was motivating.”
Prowell is an assistant principal at Joseph Keels Elementary School in Columbia, South Carolina, and just because she was surprised someone in her position was recognized doesn’t mean Prowell and others like her don’t deserve it. The recognition is overdue, in fact.
“Teaching and education aren’t seen as something that people will be proud of you to do. You hear ‘You should be a doctor, a lawyer, a businesswoman,’ or things like that … But I will say now I feel like that’s changing,” Prowell said. “People understand the importance of educators and how intelligent you have to be to be an educator. You have to be a people person. You have to have content knowledge. You have to understand pedagogy to work with students to increase their confidence and achievement.”
In its fifth year, the annual Best and Brightest 35 and Under issue celebrates the women and men “who are rising stars in the business community” and have made social impact. The opportunity to impact the community where she grew up was the reason Prowell jumped at the chance to return to the elementary school she attended as a child – though she doubts it ever would have happened had it not been for professors in the Furman education department.
“One thing I liked about Furman was the first year they really immerse you in a variety of disciplines, and one that I got involved with was education,” Prowell said. “I had all these great teachers and experiences, and I ended up changing my major from business to education.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in education from Furman, Prowell went on to earn master’s, education specialist, and Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Administration degrees from the University of South Carolina.
“I’m a family person, so I was excited when I had the opportunity to return to Richland Two, the district where I attended school,” Prowell said. “It’s awesome to start out as a student at Keels, and then have these experiences that lead me to a career that I really enjoy, which brings me right back to my beloved Joseph Keels, now as an educational leader.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for education nationwide, and Keels is no exception. But Prowell, who is in her fifth year there, is proud of how the school has responded.
“COVID has been tough. I work in an elementary school, where you want to hug, high five, give stickers and see the smiles on their faces,” Prowell said. “Many of my teachers are first-year teachers or second-year teachers, and they were just getting their feet wet as teachers in a traditional setting. So throwing them a curveball of e-learning and dual modality (teaching e-learning and students on campus at the same time) – it really shows how resilient and intelligent educators are. It’s definitely a challenge, but at my school we’re making it through successfully right now. We just looked at some student data, and our teachers are doing an excellent job and so are our students. I’m proud of them.”
Prowell points to Furman William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Education Scott Henderson and Professor of Education and Department Chair Nelly Hecker as being particularly influential and inspirational to her still. She also keeps in close contact with Harry Shucker, Furman’s former vice president for student life and her advisor.
“I was a tough student, but when I got to Furman I think that all changed because of the relationships that I had with many of my professors,” Prowell said. “In college (Henderson) sent a personal note to my parents about how great I was doing. They still have that note. That meant the world to me, and I always wanted to be that type of teacher, that type of assistant principal. People like Dr. Henderson and Dr. Hecker are the reasons I became an educator. They changed what I wanted to do in life, and they changed how I wanted to do it.”
Prowell also was a member of the track team at Furman, where she set school records in the 60-meter and 100-meter high hurdles, and is married to former Paladin basketball standout Quan Prowell, the 2004 Southern Conference Player of the Year. Quan Prowell played for two seasons at Furman before finishing his collegiate career at Auburn University and competing professionally for a decade. They have a 2-year-old son, Carter.
See Columbia Business Monthly’s 2020 Best and Brightest 35 and Under by visiting its website.