The Community's College
By Nancy S. Moseley '97
Donna Clevinger, Ph.D., celebrates the role of Radford in her family’s life with an estate gift to support the Honors College.
Away from the classrooms, lectures and tests that epitomize a premier educational institution, Radford University has another role: educating and inspiring its surrounding community as a cultural gathering space.
"I don’t remember a time when Radford wasn’t there for us,” said Donna Clevinger, Ph.D.
Clevinger grew up in Southwest Virginia. Together with her parents, Lawrence Earle Clevinger and Lorene “Allie” Wright Clevinger, she spent her formative years frequenting the University by attending events, concerts, theatre performances and sporting events. After church on Sundays, they often grabbed lunch and whiled away the afternoon driving around campus.
“Radford University came into my family’s life when I was a little girl. It was our neighborhood college, our go-to place. It was the one point we all shared together, the three of us.”
Clevinger enrolled at Radford after high school and immediately embraced the arts. She lived in Jefferson and Muse halls and performed in numerous plays on the McGuffey Hall stage. Eventually, she received a Bachelor of Arts in education and a Master of Arts in theatre from the University of Kentucky, followed by a Ph.D. in communication from the University of Michigan. She went on to a career as a teacher and administrator at institutions in Texas, Florida, Ohio, Mississippi and Virginia.
“The foundation for my career, even though it was just a few years, was formed at Radford. I never changed what I wanted to do as a person. I’ve given my life to the arts, and it’s been wonderful.”
When Clevinger came home over the years, the family always took time to visit the University. When her father passed away, she returned to help her mother and spent a semester teaching performance classes.
“My parents lived a life worth living. They gave a lot to their community, a lot to their church, a lot to their careers and a lot to me. We shared a lot over the years. But sharing our connection to Radford helped us enjoy life a little more.”
Today, integrating the arts and sciences, using one to teach the other, is invaluable to curriculum. Then, it was just the beginning of her devotion to an interdisciplinary approach to education.
“Teaching honors, you get a variety of students in your classroom. Aerospace engineers sitting next to music majors. We have so many options now to become educated.”
Niels Christensen, Ph.D., director of the Radford University Honors College, adds, “It’s that connection you build across disciplines with students who have different ideas and interests than you, but all share this common love of learning and academic motivation.” The Radford honors program began in 1980 and currently comprises 300 students and eight faculty fellows.
“Faculty fellows help spark curiosity and an excitement about the world around them outside the classroom. We think about students, we think about faculty and staff, we think about alumni. We are all serving the institution in different ways,” Christensen said.
The Clevinger Family Honors College Faculty Fellows Endowment will benefit the expansion of faculty fellow positions within the Radford University Honors College and help members enhance their work. Clevinger cites the great teachers she and her parents had as the impetus for the endowment. That, and their familial, authentic passion for the University and the role it played throughout their lives.
“I felt my parents the last time I was on campus. I could close my eyes and see them with me, oh so many years ago. They’re on campus, on the same sidewalks, with some of the same buildings. We were there, Mom and Dad and me. The memories are still very vibrant.
“Radford University’s biggest asset was access,” Clevinger said. “It was right in our backyards, but it provided access to another world. I appreciate the gift the University gave the Clevingers, even though they didn’t know it.”