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The Legacy of William Meehan: Beloved Teacher and Advisor

01/21/2015

By Heather Greene

Upon graduating from Jacksonville State University in 1976 with his Master of Science degree in biology, Dr. William A. Meehan found himself at a career crossroads.

Having taught biology and earth science for three years at a small private school in Vestavia – Christian Heritage School – between earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees, Meehan could return to high school teaching. He was offered two additional job opportunities: working on leukemia research at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham or working in the health department in Mobile County.

“At that time, the survival rate for children with leukemia was very low,” Meehan said. “It was less than 50 percent – it is almost in the 90 percentile now. I knew I would get attached to the children working there. That would be very difficult for me. Mobile is very attractive and I had some good friends who are JSU graduates who were in the health department down there.

He was then approached by Dr. Theron Montgomery, future JSU president and Chief Academic Advisor at the time, who asked him to become a full-time JSU instructor. Meehan chose the path that would, unbeknownst to him, one day lead him to the highest position at the university.

“Quite frankly, the opportunity that Dr. Montgomery and, at that time, Dr. Landers, the head of the department, offered me to come and teach was just too exciting,” Meehan said. “That was just too much fun…You always think of how nice it would be to teach at your alma mater, or even your high school, and to be able to come back and do that at my university was very, very special. I had no idea I would be president and have that opportunity.” 

So in January 1977, Meehan’s early career with Jacksonville State University began in a humble classroom teaching human anatomy and general biology classes, which he taught both on and off campus.

On the differences between teaching high school and college, Meehan said, “I enjoyed both of them – two different levels of teaching, but both were very enjoyable. Education is fun when you watch the light bulbs come on in students when they ‘get it’ – whatever the subject matter you are teaching – when they understand it. It is exciting and very rewarding for teachers to watch that engagement.”

Meehan’s positive impact upon students has been demonstrated throughout the 38 years he has been employed at JSU, as countless students count him as a mentor during their academic careers. 

Christa Davis, who had Dr. Meehan as her advisor when she was a student, said, “Early in my college career, I struggled with studying and making decent grades in my classes. I became discouraged as I questioned if I should continue. Dr. Meehan was ‘Mr. Meehan’ during my time at JSU in the early 80s, and he was assigned as my new advisor. I didn’t know what to expect and was filled with so much doubt, but the moment I walked into his office, I immediately felt welcomed. I shared my concerns as he listened intently. His demeanor was sincere and compassionate. He encouraged me to stay in college and also shared some study habits that really helped. After meeting with him, my grades improved greatly and so did my self-confidence. Dr. Meehan offered sound advice, but mostly I was impressed by his listening skills and his innate visionary ability, which truly gave me hope. I began believing I could accomplish my goals and earn my degree. He truly turned my life around.”

Davis graduated from JSU in 1986 and kept in touch with Dr. Meehan over the years, updating him on her career successes and congratulating him on his. She returned to JSU only last week to become a development officer representing JSU's College of Arts and Sciences in University Development. 

“Dr. Meehan is JSU,” explained Davis. “His representation is impeccable because he is approachable to everyone, everywhere, at any time. He is genuine. Thirty years ago, I would never have dreamt to give back to my alma mater as a JSU representative, much less a graduate. Dr. Meehan made it possible, and I’m all the more blessed to have had him as my advisor and continued mentor throughout my professional career.” 

It goes without saying, but education and teaching are very dear to Meehan’s heart, and he continued to teach in some capacity until the day he became president in 1999. Even as an administrator prior to the presidency, Meehan continued to teach, joking that he was department head Dr. Romano’s “oldest graduate assistant.”

Meehan’s love of teaching carried over to his presidency, as he desires to provide students with the highest level of education possible and keep the focus of the university student-centered. Next week’s “Town & Gown” will focus on Meehan’s accomplishments as a student advocate.

Share your Meehan Memories here.  

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