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Carson-Newman University presents highest faculty, staff honors

The University presented its highest faculty and staff awards during its annual Honors Convocation. Those who honored were (left to right) Julie Wright, SOAR Award; Dr. Jeremy J. Buckner, C-N provost; Dr. Susan Underwood, Distinguished Faculty Award; C-N President Charles A. Fowler; Dr. Robyn Branca, Community Service Award; Kelly Lennon, SOAR Award.

Carson-Newman University presented some of its highest awards to faculty and staff during its 54th annual Honors Convocation on April 20.

Those honored were Dr. Robyn Branca, Kelly Lennon, Dr. Susan O’Dell Underwood and Julie Wright.

O’Dell Underwood is the University’s Distinguished Faculty Member for 2023. The honor is the University’s highest recognition of a tenured faculty member who is active within the community and recognized by their peers, students and alumni as an outstanding teacher and mentor.

“Teaching is a calling,” said University Provost Jeremy J. Buckner. “Dr. Susan Underwood leaned into her calling as a writer, professor, and mentor. Those who have learned from her, worked with her, and shared life with her know that Susan lives and works with honesty, vulnerability, and authenticity. She loves people and celebrates her Appalachian heritage.”

A professor of English, the Bristol, Tennessee, native is a 1984 Carson-Newman alumna. She earned her MFA from the University of North Carolina Greensboro before graduating with her doctorate from Florida State University.

She returned to C-N in 1990 as an instructor of English before moving up through faculty ranks. During her tenure, she has served as director of Creative Writing, as well as faculty advisor for C-N’s literary journal, “Ampersand.” An award-winning poet and novelist, O’Dell Underwood also earned C-N’s Teaching Excellence and Leadership Award and Faculty Creativity Award.

She is championed for her steadfast investment in her students and mentorship of her colleagues. “She deeply cares for her students and fellow faculty members,” said C-N student Hannah Halliburton. “She is incredibly kind and professional. She encourages students to be excited about writing, utilize their strengths, and be confident in their work.”

Kelly Lennon and Julie Wright are recipients of the 2023 SOAR Award, the highest honor given to staff members. Recipients must have served C-N for at least five years and exhibit passion for furthering the University’s mission, excellence in their job performance, and positivity in their spirit and attitude.

Lennon joined Carson-Newman in 2018 and is celebrated for going above and beyond in her support for departments and offices throughout the University. In overseeing Carson-Newman’s Print & Mail Services, she ensures that printed material is available at numerous campus events, often working well beyond expected hours to make sure needs are met. In the event of unexpected requests or challenging circumstances, she is known to quickly adapt without sacrificing quality or excellence.

A 1993 C-N alumna, Wright joined the staff at Carson-Newman in 1998 where she served in a variety of administrative roles within the Music Department before joining Adult & Graduate Studies. She now serves as administrative assistant to the Provost. Her peers note her passion for furthering C-N’s mission, excellence in job performance, and her positive spirit and attitude. Her efforts to attend campus events and support students and her colleagues are celebrated.

Branca is assistant professor of psychology and this year’s Community Service Award recipient. She joined C-N’s faculty in 2019. A licensed psychologist, Branca seeks to provide service to others. She conducted and shared results from a large research project devoted to understanding the stress that affects health care workers. Along with serving others through her church, she is credited for providing pro bono work and sharing how to manage stress through free podcasts and Facebook Live talks.

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