When I picture the perfect professor, adjectives come to mind such as: generous, hard working, available. I think of a professor who cares enough to make class interesting as well as informative, who uses classroom exercises and promotes deep discussions. Most importantly, I think of a professor who is enthusiastic about his or her subject and shows a genuine interest in my ability to succeed at it. When I asked colleagues and former students of our next recipient, Dr. Doug Skelley, to share information about him, I received response after response echoing those key traits that a true teacher possesses. One former masters student of Dr. Skelley’s wrote to me and said: “Dr. Skelley has been the most inspirational professor I have had in my higher education career, both at the undergrad and graduate level.”
Dr. Skelley’s dedication to his students has been nothing short of selfless. He has always gone above and beyond basic student-teacher interactions. He is always willing to read and reread papers giving constructive criticism and guidance each time. He will talk to undergraduates about how to proceed academically, he will talk to seniors about job options and internship opportunities, and he will talk to alumni about how to expand their career networks. He will talk to anyone who comes in his open office door, even if it’s about a sports game. Dr. Blake, the political science department chair, described Dr. Skelley as “the most patient and informed mentor that I have seen in my 18 years at JMU.” The former students who contacted me all pointed out his genuine interest in their well being, the individual attention he gave, and how much he made them feel special. They all expressed how grateful they were to have been students of his, and how he helped them in the course of their lives. His willingness to give his time so freely is particularly impressive due to his other time commitments.
It is hard to know where to begin when trying to explain all that Dr. Skelley has done for JMU. He began teaching here in 1980, after receiving his PhD at the University of Georgia. He has taught numerous undergraduate and graduate level classes in public administration, inspiring countless students to become involved in public service to change society for the better. For the last decade he has served as a coordinator for both the undergraduate public administration major and the Master in Public Administration program. As coordinator of the undergraduate major, he reconstructed the program to reflect changes in public administration and open up more career opportunities for students graduating with the major. A task, I am told, that must have taken hours upon hours of his time.
He has also been an integral part of JMU’s Master in Public Administration program, and has been pointed out as being responsible for completely rebuilding it. As Graduate Coordinator, he took a program that suffered from a lack of students and a lack of faculty, and turned it into a program that now has a generous amount of eager grad students and enough faculty to qualify it for full accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration. He was so effective as Graduate Coordinator, a position that initially rotated every two years, that he was asked to stay on and continue to build. Despite the workload of the position, he accepted, and now the MPA program has been able to flourish and expand under his guidance.
Dr. Skelley’s influence at JMU is not limited to these two public administration programs. The list of committees he has chaired or been a member of over the years is impressively long. To name just a few, he served for many years on the Graduate Council and on the Institutional Review Board, and also chaired the Arts and Sciences Symposium for a time. With all of his time commitments, Dr. Skelley has also maintained a dedication to his own scholarship, being consistently published for writing important articles and gaining attention for his work. He has also been active in the creation of the blossoming College of Public and International Affairs, something he will not even be a part of, but has generously given his expertise and valued input so that it’s inception goes smoothly. On top of everything he has done on campus, Dr. Skelley has also given back to the Harrisonburg community. With a colleague he has been working with Massanutten on the advantages and disadvantages of incorporation.
At the end of this school year, Dr. Skelley will be retiring from JMU. His legacy, however, will no doubt live on in the programs he has nurtured, the colleagues he has influenced, and the students who still respect him so much that they will take the time to send a glowing e-mail about him to a stranger. One former student told me, “Dr. Skelley has always been the ‘face of Public Administration’ at JMU…[and] he has always been a class individual.”
I can honestly say that Dr. Skelley has affected me as well, because it was an absolute pleasure learning about him and all of his many contributions to JMU. And because of that, it is my great honor to present Dr. Skelley with the All Together One Award.