Union College Announces Winners of Excellence in Education Awards

Melissa Reid
Union College Director of Communications

“Her commitment to excellence was demonstrated every day in how she interacted with staff, students and parents. She embraced change as the way to give Lynn Camp students hope for a brighter tomorrow.”

This praise of Devonna Gail Brown’s career was issued recently in a statement by Knox County Superintendent Walter T. Hulett shortly after Union College officials made him aware that Brown had posthumously earned a prestigious education award.

Brown, who died in June, is one of three winners of Union College’s Excellence in Education Awards, a program launched last spring that recognizes outstanding careers in Knox County. Sister Mary Bezold of St. Camillus Academy and Sarah Bennett of Barbourville City School were also named winners.

Awards, which were determined by a strict set of criteria after finalists were selected from a large pool of nominees, will be formerly presented on campus during homecoming on Oct. 15.

Brown, who most recently served Knox County as assistant principal for Lynn Camp Schools, earned the Dr. Warren Robbins Educational Leadership Award for excellence in administration. She began her career with a 12-year stint as a Dewitt Elementary School teacher, followed by two more at West Knox and Lynn Camp Middle School. Her 10-plus-year tenure as assistant principal began at West Knox, which later became part of Lynn Camp Schools.

According to a quote taken from Brown’s anonymous nomination form, she “worked with at-risk students and parents daily and with great dedication.”

Bezold, who began teaching in Corbin more than 20 years ago, also won the Dr. Warren Robbins Educational Leadership Award. In addition to serving as co-principal of St. Camillus Academy, she also teaches children ages 3-5 at the school. She is an internationally certified Montessori teacher who not only developed the Montessori movement at St. Camillus Academy, but also has shared her training with other teachers in the area.

According to the unnamed source who nominated Bezold, she “exemplifies the qualities of an outstanding, dedicated leader in education.”

Bennett, who currently serves as a middle school language arts instructor, won the Dr. Mary Alice Lay Teacher-Leader Award for outstanding leadership in the classroom. In addition to her classroom responsibilities, she has served as academic team coach, cheerleading coach and taken three Odyssey of the Mind teams to World Finals. Bennett is respected for the blend of professionalism and care she takes with her students.

According to her nominator, “Sarah spends hours after school preparing engaging lessons for her students.  She is well prepared for class, expects each student’s best effort, and continues to grow in her field.”

Named for two of Union’s distinguished professors, Dr. Warren Robbins and Dr. Mary Alice Lay, the purpose of the Excellence in Education Awards program is to recognize teachers and administrators who have made significant contributions to the teaching profession. Both Robbins and Lay are iconic in representing Union’s legacy of supporting excellence in the education profession.

“Union is proud to establish these awards recognizing local educators who have devoted so much of their lives to educational success,” said Tom McFarland, acting president of Union College. “The winners exemplify the qualities of those for whom the awards are named. Dr. Robbins and Dr. Lay set the bar high for educational practices that we hold in the highest esteem.”

Robbins, who joined Union’s faculty in 1957, first served as a teacher, principal and a supervisor in the Bell County School System. From 1954-1957, he was supervisor in a Ford Foundation pilot program at Berea College to improve education in rural Kentucky.  His first positions at Union included associate professor of education and director of student teachers. He later became department head, vice president of graduate affairs, professor of education, dean of graduate studies, and dean of faculty. Robbins retired from Union in 1990 from the position of dean of graduate studies program and then served as professor emeritus of education.

Lay came to Union in 1961 as instructor of home economics after receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Kentucky. She continued her graduate studies through a National Science Fellowship in Nutrition at the University of South Dakota and through travel study in Europe via Indiana State University. She was promoted to assistant professor in 1969, the same year she was granted tenure. From 1978-1983 she stepped aside from her faculty duties to become Union’s director of alumni affairs. During this time, she completed another graduate program, receiving her Rank I certificate from Union in 1980. She returned to the faculty ranks and has served as associate professor of education from 1985 to the present.

Union College is a private liberal arts college related to The United Methodist Church and located in Barbourville, Ky.  To learn more, visit www.unionky.edu <http://www.unionky.edu> .