ECU’s Harriot College names two faculty to prestigious, distinguished professorship

In a break from tradition, East Carolina University’s Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences named two professors to the college’s prestigious rank of distinguished professor. The college normally only names one professor to its highest rank.

Dr. Wendy Sharer, professor of English, and Dr. John Stiller, professor of biology, are the college’s 22nd and 23rd distinguished professors. The announcement was made at the 59th annual college convocation on Aug. 19.

“I am incredibly honored and grateful to receive this recognition,” Sharer said. “The support I have received from colleagues and former students — locally and nationally — in applying for this award has been remarkable and humbling.

The Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences recently named two professors, Dr. Wendy Sharer and Dr. John Stiller, to the prestigious award of a distinguished professor during the college’s annual convocation.

“These colleagues and students, along with my brilliant and patient spouse — Dr. Brent Henze, who is also in the Department of English — are why I am able to make contributions to my field. They inspire me, motivate me, challenge me and empower me. They are the truly distinguished parties: I simply have benefited from having them in my life.”

Stiller added that the honor was a humbling experience.

“Over the years, it has been my pleasure to work with so many dedicated and talented faculty in Harriot College; it is truly an honor and humbling experience to be recognized as a distinguished member of that group,” Stiller said. “Honestly, the challenges of COVID-19, budget cuts and general meddling from outside the university have made me feel more extinguished than distinguished of late. So, it’s a real shot in the arm to be acknowledged for and reminded of the positive contributions I’ve been able to make throughout my career at ECU.”

The appointment to distinguished professor is the highest honor within the college and is conferred upon a professor whose career exemplifies a commitment to and a love for knowledge and academic life as demonstrated by outstanding teaching and advising, research and creative productivity, and professional service.

“What sets Dr. Sharer apart for this honor are the deep and ongoing connections in her work between scholarship and practice. Dr. Sharer’s scholarship is impressively and profoundly shaped by and enacted in her teaching, mentoring, service and leadership,” said Dr. Marianne Montgomery, associate professor of English and Harriot College associate dean for faculty and student affairs.

“During John’s time at ECU, he has distinguished himself as a preeminent scholar, a highly influential educator and as a leader who has faithfully served both his discipline and ECU to their great benefit,” said Dr. David Chalcraft, professor and chair of the Department of Biology.

Sharer and Stiller both joined ECU’s faculty in 2001, and since then have displayed the qualities and characteristics required of a distinguished professor.

Teaching and advising

Beyond teaching in the classroom, Sharer and Stiller have extended their mentorship and knowledge to students through thesis and dissertation committee work, and they have been recognized for their exemplary teaching through various honors and awards.

Sharer has taught courses to all levels of students at ECU from composition, foundations of college writing and functional grammar to persuasive writing, critical writing in English studies, and cultural rhetoric and writing. She has served as a member or chair on more than 20 master’s theses committees and on 26 dissertation committees. In addition, she has received the ECU Centennial Award for Excellence in Leadership.

“During my 20-plus years at ECU, I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with many superb graduate students. Seeing their impact — particularly the ways in which they push the field and the academy, in general, to be better — has been tremendously inspiring. I’ve found working with undergraduate students to be similarly gratifying,” Sharer said. “It’s beautiful to see how committed ECU students are to understanding diverse perspectives and experiences. The students I work with are a constant source of hope and evidence that self-interested divisiveness can be effectively challenged.”

Stiller has directed more than 10 graduate theses or dissertations committees, and he has mentored nearly a dozen undergraduate honors and capstone projects. In recognition of exemplary teaching, Stiller has received an ECU Scholar-Teacher Award, the UNC Board of Governors Distinguished Teaching Award, and the UNC Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching.

“The most enjoyable and rewarding part of my job is working with our students and impacting their lives in positive ways,” Stiller said.

Research and creative activity

Research and creative activity are important to Sharer and Stiller and are reflected in grant funding received, publications authored and awards received.

Sharer’s research interests include composition theory and pedagogy, and the history of rhetoric and composition, with an emphasis on feminist and activist rhetoric. She has co-authored or edited six books, and 19 articles or book chapters, and she has participated in 55 scholarly presentations and invited talks. In recognition of her creativity, Sharer has received Department of English and Harriot College of Arts and Sciences research awards, an ECU Faculty Senate Research and Creative Activity Award, two ECU Faculty Book Awards and the 2016 National Council of Writing Program Administrators Best Book Award.

“I have been blessed to research, write and teach alongside many dedicated and inspiring colleagues,” Sharer said. “Without these incredible people, most of the publications, positions and awards on my current vita would not exist.”

Stiller’s research interests include the evolutionary tree of life and the diversification and evolution of algae. He has supported his research with nearly $9 million of funding, which has resulted in the publication of 50 papers and 10 book reviews, chapters or articles in review.

Professional service

Throughout their careers at ECU, Sharer and Stiller have provided many hours of service to the academic community at large.

Sharer held the position of director of ECU’s Quality Enhancement Plan, “Write Where You Belong,” and has served as president of the Carolinas Writing Program Administrators, as a member of the executive committees of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, and as associate editor for Peitho — a peer-reviewed journal. Currently, she serves as president of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition.

Stiller has performed the duties as director of graduate studies for biology since 2020. He served three terms as chair of the Faculty Senate at ECU, and he has served as the president of the Phycological Society of America — a key international society for his discipline. In addition, he is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution, and the National Association of Biology Teachers, among others.

“As I look back on my career, what I value most are the triumphs of my students and junior colleagues, and whatever small contributions I made to help them achieve success and happiness,” Stiller said. “I know those will be the memories I cherish most when I leave ECU, whether head or feet first.

“I truly appreciate being afforded the opportunity to make real contributions in teaching, scholarship and service, and to be a role model for how to achieve a balanced and meaningful career.”

“I am excited for Drs. Sharer and Stiller to earn the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professorship this year,” said Dr. Allison S. Danell, dean of Harriot College. “I was proud and thrilled to formally recognize them at the college’s annual convocation, and I thank them for their service to the profession and for making a major difference in the lives of their students and colleagues.”