Leadership comes naturally to Dr. Dorothy Kerzel.

And while her titles have changed throughout the years, Kerzel has remained committed to her guiding principle: to do what is right for the students, her department and the Mississippi University for Women.

After 26 years of service at The W, Kerzel earned emerita faculty status as part of the commencement ceremony on Friday, May 5.

“I am very honored to be granted emeritus status,” said Kerzel, who started at The W in August 1997 and is currently a professor of mathematics in the Department of Sciences and Mathematics. “The W has provided me with many opportunities to grow professionally in teaching and leadership. I was fortunate to have a number of strong leaders early in my career at The W who I looked to as role models.”

Kerzel has been a similar example to countless others at The W as she has moved from assistant to associate professor to professor in 2005 to interim head and then head of what was then called the Division of Science and Mathematics. Kerzel served as interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from July 2006-June 2007. She also chaired the Department of Sciences and Mathematics from July 2005 to June 2011.

Kerzel, a recipient of the Kossen Faculty Excellence Award, said she has felt a great amount of satisfaction when students share positive comments about her teaching, whether through course evaluations, in emails or even when they drop her course. 

“But the most satisfying comments are when graduates get in touch and share how they felt very well prepared for the next phase of their life, such as teaching, graduate school or professional school,” Kerzel said. “I am proud that we are preparing our students well for their futures.”

Dr. Bonnie Oppenheimer said Kerzel’s training in Advising Corps helped her become a resource for anyone in the Division of Science and Mathematics. She also credits Kerzel for stepping into leadership positions during times of change and upheaval.

“Dr. Kerzel took a leadership role as our department chair during the period of time we both changed buildings from Martin to Parkinson, and changed our name to the Department of Sciences and Mathematics,” Oppenheimer said. “Her management of the move was masterful, and we have her to thank that we managed to teach the fall semester that academic year in Martin and then the spring semester in Parkinson with nary a glitch.”

Oppenheimer, a professor of mathematics and the chair of the Department of Sciences and Mathematics, said it has been an extraordinary blessing to have mentors like Kerzel and Dr. Dionne Fortenberry in her department. She said Kerzel’s attention to detail was evident even when she handed in her letter of resignation. Oppenheimer said Kerzel also handed her a description of how the class schedule for the fall of 2023 would have to change to cover her teaching load with a visiting assistant professor.

“Dr. Kerzel leads the mathematicians in the department,” Oppenheimer said. “She is responsible for our program assessments, scheduling the mathematics classes and awarding our departmental scholarships meant for the mathematics majors. Her teaching skills have always been exemplary, and her students appreciate the time she spends on careful explanations, both in class and in office hours.”

Kerzel hasn’t had a lot of time to reflect on her years of service, but she said one memory that stands out is helping to clear the campus after a tornado hit the campus in November 2022.

“I came to campus from my apartment in East Columbus, winding through neighborhoods trying to find a clear path to campus,” Kerzel said. “I worked with several other faculty members pulling stuff from offices in Pohl Gym that was ripped wide open the night before. Then we moved to Martin Hall and covered broken windows with cardboard. The W spirit and the community’s support for The W was on display and we were open for classes just one week later.” 

About The W

Located in historic Columbus, Mississippi, The W was founded in 1884 as the first state-supported college for women in the United States. Today, the university is home to 2,227 students in more than 70 majors and concentrations and has educated men for 40 years. The university is nationally recognized for low student debt, diversity and social mobility which empowers students to BE BOLD.

Be Bold. Tower with Blue.