COLUMBUS, Miss. --Dr. Erin Kempker isn’t there yet.


That’s because Kempker, department chair and professor of history at Mississippi for Women, views words like “great” and “best” subjectively and doesn’t believe they pertain to her.

Kempker’s students would disagree.

Earlier this week, Kempker learned she was voted the Best College Professor in the Golden Triangle as part of The Commercial Dispatch’s annual “Best of” awards.

“I am extremely humbled and grateful,” Kempker said. “Teaching is wonderful, but it is hard work, and my work is possible only because of the superhero teachers at the Child & Parent Development Center (CPDC) and in schools throughout our town and area. There is not a spotlight big enough for the teachers who deserve recognition right now. My thoughts are THANK YOU, TEACHERS! You inspire me every day.”

Kempker joined The W in 2008, the same year she received her doctorate in history from Purdue University. She was named chair of the Department of History, Political Science and Geography at The W in 2016.

“Dr. Kempker’s teaching is really a thing to behold,” said Dr. Chanley Rainey, assistant professor of political science at The W and director of NEW Leadership Mississippi. “Her enthusiasm is infectious; she’s funny, charming and approachable; and the way she engages students seems effortless, even when I know it’s rehearsed. She engages students in a way that is informative and challenges them while also making them feel comfortable about offering their thoughts. The most amazing part? I was thinking of her lectures just now! Beyond lecturing, though, Dr. Kempker also invests a tremendous amount of planning into her courses so our history students can work with primary sources, explore local archives and conduct research. As a result, she has succeeded in ambitious projects with her classes, such as the Desegregation Project.”

Kempker’s research focuses on the divisive nature of women’s politics, particularly the interplay between feminist and conservative women over issues such as gender equality in the late 20th century United States. In 2018, Kempker published “Big Sister: Feminism, Conservatism, and Conspiracy in the Heartland.” It is a history of feminism and anti-feminism in the American Midwest that examines the realm of conspiracy theories and demonstrates their impact on Heartland conservatism.
She said good mentors are critical to building quality teachers. Kempker added everyone learns by seeing and doing and that the ideas and strategies of her mentors, Dr. Martha Swain, Dr. Nancy Gabin and Dr. Michael Morrison, are alive in her work.

“I hope I’m passing on good ideas and strategies to my students in turn,” Kempker said. “In teaching, you ‘do’ as if someone is always watching, because they are.”

As for being labeled “great” or the “best,” Kempker takes the approach that someone earns that level of distinction only “as the work of a lifetime.” She continues to be motivated to ensure students achieve the most they can in their time with her or in her class.

“Teaching American history and women’s history is not just another subject to me; teaching history is about learning the basics of the democratic experiment in which we are all engaged,” Kempker said. “Understanding the American experience is essential to students’ lives so that they understand the struggle for freedom and equality that has been going on since the Revolution. And it is essential to the democracy that we have an educated citizenry, one who understands how to recognize and make an evidence-based argument. I consider class time as precious; we do not waste it. It is always my goal that students feel that I care very much about them and want to make them better thinkers and writers and that I take our work together as students of history very seriously.”

The W’s Dr. Mark Bean, Dr. Rose Ford and Dr. Thomas K. Lee also were voted among the best college professors.

Sept. 28, 2020
Contact: Adam Minichino
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