NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Dr. Chay Runnels, associate professor, hospitality administration program coordinator and graduate program co-coordinator at Stephen F. Austin State University, is the latest recipient of an endowed professorship established to reward faculty members who serve as excellent mentors and teachers.
The Jim Towns Mentoring Professorship recognizes professors who instill, foster and promote a mentoring culture at SFA. The award is named for Dr. Jim Towns, a longtime SFA professor of communication studies.
The university will recognize Runnels at 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 8, in the Regents Board Room, Room 307, in the Austin Building on campus.
Runnels said she's honored to receive the professorship and follow in the footsteps of past recipients who have been recognized for their commitment to student success.
"I was so touched by the letters my former and current students and colleagues wrote supporting me for this professorship," Runnels said. "I've tried to make a difference in my students' lives, and receiving this honor just makes me want to work harder to be student-focused."
Runnels, who joined SFA's James I. Perkins College of Education and the School of Human Sciences in 2005, teaches undergraduate and graduate students in various courses, including customer relations in hospitality, destination management, convention and meeting planning, administration and supervision, and service management.
Students in her customer relations course manage the front-house duties at the Culinary Café, a customized learning experience where students work with a chef to operate a gourmet restaurant on the SFA campus. As program coordinator, Runnels assists with scheduling events, monitoring reservations, and acts as the liaison between the café and the public.
"I want my students to be as passionate about their studies as I was. My goal is to connect the dots for them and inspire them to become leaders in their fields," Runnels said. "I cheer their successes, and I try to encourage them when they struggle. Fortunately, I do a lot more cheering than encouraging."
Currently, Runnels is working on a grant with the National Park Service, Oglala Lakota College in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and an interdisciplinary team at SFA to develop an interpretation and tourism curriculum pathway for Lakota students at a tribal college. Her other research interests include service learning, course integration, destination and interpretive marketing.
Runnels received her bachelor's degree in American studies and master's degree in architectural studies from the University of Texas at Austin. She received her doctoral degree from SFA and is a certified Texas Friendly Program Trainer though the Texas AgriLife Extension.
Funding for the professorship was largely raised by Towns with the help of former students, colleagues and friends.