MACON – College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Professor of English Dr. Mary Alice Morgan was named this year’s recipient of the Joe and Jean Hendricks Excellence in Teaching Award, presented annually at Mercer University’s Macon commencement.

The Hendricks Award recognizes a full-time teacher who best exemplifies the qualities that distinguished Joe and Jean Hendricks as teachers and mentors to generations of Mercer students. These include challenging and inspiring teaching in and out of the classroom, active engagement of students in the process of learning, discovery and leadership, as well as caring mentoring to motivate students and junior faculty to achieve their highest aspirations.

“Like Joe and Jean Hendricks, Dr. Morgan has endeavored to advance the mission of Mercer, educationally and through championing the University’s distinct ethos,” said Dr. Anita Olson Gustafson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Dr. Morgan helped create a culture of service-learning that has become key to Mercer’s identity and has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of Mercerians, encouraging them to go out and change the world.”

Dr. Morgan has served on the faculty at Mercer since 1997 and is trained in 19th-century American literature and women’s studies. As a former chair of the University’s Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, she developed service-learning courses on violence against women and sex trafficking and led conferences on LGBTQ rights, poverty and racial inequality. She has co-led eight Mercer On Mission trips to work in townships in Cape Town, South Africa, to promote educational development post-apartheid.

Dr. Morgan served as senior vice provost for service-learning for 13 years before returning to full-time teaching during the 2020-2021 academic year.

“Under Dr. Morgan’s guidance and inspiration, service-learning not only expanded at Mercer, it elevated Mercer to the upper echelon of university programs across the United States,” said Dr. Craig McMahan, University minister, dean of Chapel and director of Mercer On Mission. “Twice during her tenure in the Provost’s Office, Mercer achieved the Carnegie Classification for Curricular Engagement and Outreach because of partnerships that Mercer made in our community though service-learning modules. Additionally, Mercer was repeatedly named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction, and in 2016, Mercer was named as a finalist for the Presidential Award. These recognitions demonstrate the national prestige that Dr. Morgan’s initiative brought to Mercer.”

Dr. Morgan’s efforts also resulted in her receiving the Gulf-South Award for Outstanding Practitioner Contributions to Service-Learning in Higher Education for the organization’s southeast region, and she was recognized as a finalist for the national Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award, which recognizes deeply engaged, high quality academic work, community collaboration and change, and institutional impact.

“When I first joined the faculty at Mercer, I was inspired by the social justice legacy of transformative teachers like Joe Hendricks and Mary Ann Drake. To have been able to challenge and support Mercer students in putting their education into action through service and activism – not waiting until after graduation – has been a gift and a joy. As Mercerians, our graduates carry that ethos forward in so many ways,” said Dr. Morgan. 

“When I think of what I’ve learned from Dr. Morgan, I realize that she has motivated me to be eager for change, eager to make an impact, eager to be a powerful female leader and eager to inspire others to do the same,” added sophomore Nyiah Kelly, a double-major in biology and women’s and gender studies. “Dr. Morgan is the reason that I will not simply settle or accept social issues. She lights fires of inspiration within her students and goes above and beyond to make sure every student maximizes their highest potential, leaving them eager for more. She encourages self-reflection, instills knowledge and creates leaders.”

Dr. Morgan earned her B.A. from Duke University and M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Joe and Jean Hendricks Excellence in Teaching Award, which carries a $5,000 stipend, is named for two of Mercer’s greatest teachers, who are legendary at the University for their dedication to students and for their ability to engage students in transformative learning and discovery.

Dr. Jean Hendricks, a 1942 graduate of Tift College, earned her Ph.D. from Florida State University, served as chair of the Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and was the beloved dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in Atlanta.

Dr. Joseph Hendricks, a 1955 graduate of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, earned his Ph.D. from Emory University and taught for 32 years in the Freshman Seminar program, which he and his sister were instrumental in creating. He also founded the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and taught for years in the Department of Religion in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

A recent video produced by Mercer’s Center for Engaged Learning, which now oversees community engagement initiatives for the University, recognizes Dr. Morgan’s outstanding leadership and legacy.

Meet the Finalists

Jim Fleissner

Jim Fleissner is a professor at Mercer Law School whose teaching and scholarship focus on criminal law and procedure, evidence, trial and appellate practice, and legal history.

Upon graduating from law school in 1986, he was appointed as an assistant United States attorney in Chicago. As a federal prosecutor, he gained extensive experience investigating and prosecuting a variety of federal cases and held several supervisory positions, last serving as chief of the 45-lawyer General Crimes Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Since joining Mercer’s faculty in 1994, Fleissner has complemented his academic pursuits with engagement in practice, including additional part-time service as a federal prosecutor as senior associate independent counsel and deputy special counsel, as well as full-time service during a leave of absence as chief of criminal appeals for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago.

Fleissner earned his bachelor’s degree from Marquette University and law degree from the University of Chicago Law School.

Dr. Patricia Troyan

Dr. Patricia Troyan is an associate professor in Mercer’s College of Nursing. She has extensive teaching experience in undergraduate and graduate nursing education and has served in various other positions in nursing administration, program development and clinical practice. As a certified nurse midwife, she has a special interest in adolescent pregnancy, as well as eating disorders among women in all age groups.

Throughout her career she has participated in several professional nursing organizations, and has also served as a commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve Nurse Corps. In the Navy, she was afforded with numerous experiences related to professional nursing practice, including obstetrical and gynecological nursing, family practice nursing and fleet hospital training.

Dr. Troyan earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Syracuse University, master’s degree in community health nursing from the University of Rochester and Doctor of Education degree in adult education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research interests include adult education learning strategies and resilience in acute care BSN nurses, specifically in informal learning methods including mentoring and role modeling.

Sabrina Walthall headshop
Dr. Sabrina Walthall

Dr. Sabrina Walthall is an associate professor of science in Mercer’s College of Professional Advancement. Her areas of interest include science education, teacher professional development and science outreach.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Emory University and Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular genetics from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), before completing postdoctoral training with UAB’s Community for Outreach Development, where she worked closely on rebuilding science education at the K-12 level in the state of Alabama.

She has been awarded both National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) fellowships, an NIH training grant, several travel awards and was nominated for the K. Patricia Cross Leadership Award.

Her research on the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, and the hedgehog signaling pathway has led to several publications and platform presentations. As a graduate student, she was a peer mentor for the Ronald McNair Scholars Program and currently works closely with Mercer’s Federal TRIO Programs.