At Furman, you often hear about the small classes that spur lively discussions and lead to close relationships between faculty and students. And part of that dynamic is the potential impact one faculty member can have on an individual student’s path.
Shane Embury ’23 wrote a letter nominating Tim Wardle, associate professor of religion, for the James H. Smart Award. Administered by the Cothran Center for Vocational Reflection, the award celebrates the memory of Jim Smart, a longtime history professor (1967-1995) known for his passion for teaching and learning, his dedication to student development and the importance he placed on students’ exploration of values and purposeful living.
It was a letter for the ages, and one that helped lead the staff at the Cothran Center to select Wardle for the 2021 honor.
In the letter, Embury, a biology major from Knoxville, Tennessee, recounted how she ended up adding not just another major, but a mentor to her Furman experience.
Embury explained she was simply looking to satisfy the textual analysis component of the GER by signing up for REL 211, New Testament and Early Christianity. But in an email exchange with Wardle in the summer of 2020, she received “a remarkable picture of [Wardle’s] character.”
“I had some reservations (about taking the class) due to my lack of familiarity with the Bible,” wrote Embury. “I expressed these worries to Dr. Wardle, and only a couple hours later, my computer dinged with the most kindhearted reply. He reassured me that the class is for everyone, regardless of faith, and that he tries not to assume prior biblical knowledge on the students’ part. Right away, I could tell how welcoming and nonjudgmental he was, and I felt secure in my decision to take his class.”
Describing herself as a “random name” on a class roster at that point, Embury was anything but. Wardle, who hadn’t yet met Embury face-to-face, took personal interest in her, connecting her with groups on campus to help her navigate her faith exploration.
“I had deeply struggled with a sense of belonging at Furman in the past, but having a professor genuinely care about me as a student – one of 2,800 students – made me feel like I had value at this university,” she wrote.
Wardle’s words, in a simple email thread, were just what Embury needed to confidently embark on her sophomore year at Furman.
Halfway through that fall semester, Embury added religion as a second major. She remembered how Wardle took her under his wing, supporting her holistically in everything from class selection to running a half-marathon.
And if Embury’s letter didn’t push Wardle to the top of the list for Jim Smart Award prospects, Roger Sneed’s endorsement clinched the deal.
“Tim never fails to have his door open for students who wish to discuss their classes, concerns and career trajectories,” wrote Sneed, professor and chair of the religion department. “Tim’s commitment and service to the department, students and the university is exceptional.
He noted that Wardle directed Theta Alpha Kappa, the religion department’s honor society, and served as the head of an ad hoc committee charged with drafting the position announcement for the Buddhism position.
“Tim’s record of advising and mentoring is one of the best I’ve seen in this department,” added Sneed.
Wardle, who joined the Furman faculty in 2012, celebrates his 10th anniversary with the university this August. In a reception for the Jim Smart Award on Jan. 25, Wardle received a plaque and more words from Embury.
“Although Dr. Wardle has only been present in a little over half of my college experience so far, he’s had the greatest impact, and most of that is just by showing that he cares,” she said.
“Whether it’s my physical or mental wellbeing, my plans for life after college, or the decisions I make while in college about course load, study away, and more, it’s comforting to know that there’s someone in Furman Hall 206-D who wants to help me be the best person I can be. And for that, I don’t think any award will ever be sufficient to express my gratitude.”
The Jim Smart Award is made possible through a gift from Jim’s wife, Bonnie Smart, who passed away Jan. 22, 2022. The award was established in 2015 in memory of Jim and in honor of the Smarts’ children, Rusty Smart and Susan D’Amato, a Furman physics professor who retired in 2021.