End of an Era: Provost Rebecca Turner Retiring June 1 After 38 Years
A career that has lasted almost half a lifetime and helped transform JSU into a renowned university is coming to an end. On June 1, Dr. Rebecca Turner, provost and vice president of academic affairs, will retire from JSU after 38 years.
“I can’t tell you what a wonderful time I have had,” Dr. Turner said. “I can’t imagine a better place to work than in a university setting.”
In academic circles, to spend nearly 40 years at the same university is a rare feat. But for the Calhoun County native, JSU was where she belonged. Her career was fated from the beginning.
“I love JSU, it’s just that simple,” she said. “This university gave me my first introduction to higher education, and that’s a game-changer.”
Dr. Turner was a first generation college student when she entered JSU as a freshman. She transferred to the University of Montevallo as a junior in 1969 to major in social work because JSU didn’t offer an undergraduate degree in that field – an issue she would later remedy.
After graduation, she spent eight years as a social worker before an advertisement in a monthly newsletter for social workers caught her eye. It was from JSU, which was looking for someone to come in, teach classes and develop a social work undergraduate degree. “It had my name written all over it,” she said.
Dr. Turner remembers the date she interviewed for the job – July 29, 1981 – because it was the same day of the historic Royal Wedding between England’s Prince Charles and Lady Diana.
“I thought that would be my legacy,” Dr. Turner said with a laugh. “But as the years passed, so many other amazing opportunities came my way, and I think I made the most of it.”
Dr. Turner would go on to become JSU’s first woman vice president. Over her past 17 years in Academic Affairs, her accomplishments have included bringing the Red Balloon Initiative to campus in 2010, which was focused on transforming traditional learning spaces into learning environments that are movable and flexible and use technology. She has also led the university in adding several new academic programs, including its first doctoral degrees.
Turner decided to retire in order to spend more time with family, especially her 90-year-old mother, who lives alone following the death of Dr. Turner’s father in 2017.
“Just making sure all of her needs are being met is a real priority, especially now that she’s by herself,” Turner said. “I want to be able to spend as much time with her as possible.”
In addition to spending time with family, Dr. Turner hopes to travel and write in retirement. She also plans to continue serving on community agency boards and participate in accreditation reviews for the Council on Social Work Education and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. But mostly, she’s looking forward to relaxing.
“I’m looking forward to not constantly looking at my phone, checking for emails,” she said. “But I’ll always answer the phone if it comes from JSU.”
Taking over the helm as JSU’s next provost is Dr. Christie Shelton, JSU professor of nursing and dean of the School of Health Professions and Wellness. The JSU alumna earned her BSN and MSN from the university before receiving a PhD from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She returned to JSU in 2003 and served in a variety of leadership roles – including BSN program director, co-principal investigator, nursing instructor and associate dean – before becoming dean in 2013.
“I first remember Dr. Turner as a powerful leader at JSU when I was an instructor,” Dr. Shelton said. “The faculty within nursing always viewed her as a tremendous advocate for us, our programs, and our students. As time went on, I came to know her much better. She and I were the only two females at the table amongst four male deans when I first became dean. I watched her lead with power and passion and watched her move forward many successful initiatives. I experienced her encouragement and her guidance that she so readily provided to those on her team.”
Dr. Shelton’s tenure as dean has been one of marked growth for her school. Under her leadership, the School of Health Professions and Wellness has created several new programs – including a bachelor’s in respiratory therapy and a doctorate in nursing practice. The nursing program has grown to become one of the largest and most successful on campus, with graduates regularly outperforming peers on the licensure exam.
She serves as treasurer of the State of Alabama Association of Colleges of Nursing and as a board member-at-large of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. She is also a member of the Alabama Health Action Coalition and serves as a board member for Cleburne County Hospital, The Spectrum Option, and the Sanctuary Home.
Dr. Shelton becomes provost on June 1, and a national search will be conducted to secure her replacement as dean in the School of Health Professions and Wellness. She will serve in a dual role as provost and dean until a new dean comes on board. As she assumes her new position, she is thankful for the strong legacy passed on by her predecessor.
“As I have told her several times and as I still say, she has tremendous shoes to fill,” Shelton said. “Her legacy at this university will always permeate Academic Affairs. I am thankful for the opportunity to have been a mentee under her and to learn from someone I consider to be one of the best.”