Kelly Dancy: Honors Superstar

Honors senior and English, secondary education major Kelly Dancy is a superstar we can count on to make a difference in the world! She is currently in her 7th semester finishing her Honors thesis, will be student-teaching next semester, and is integral to the Appalachian Social Justice Summit. She has worked with Appalachian Voices, Wilkes Literacy, Kaleidoscope After-school Program at Appalachian, and at an English camp in Las Piñas, El Oro, Ecuador.

Really, though, Kelly is a typical Honors student, excelling in all areas and reaching beyond. She is curious, principled, determined, diligent, hard-working, accomplished, talented, capable, giving, and humble. Her involvement spans across academics, community and global engagement, service, and social justice. This is what we expect from Honors students.

What motivates Honors students towards the exceptional? Looking at Kelly, the answer is innate curiosity and passion supported through a framework of good mentorship. When Kelly was a senior in high school, she was asked to pick an issue she cared about. Inspired by needs in her home community, she chose literacy. It was then that she started volunteering at Wilkes Literacy, near her home in Wilkes County and she continued in that service over breaks even after coming to Appalachian. The summer after her sophomore year, she became the coordinator for their summer reading program. Of that experience, she shares, “There are 20-30 kids ages five-to-16 enrolled each year. Their parents are taking classes to learn English because most of them are recent immigrants. It is kind of like childcare but with educational enrichment. My favorite part is when we spend the last 30 minutes of the day flipping it, with them teaching us their language. They hadn’t had that kind of experience in their education, and when we first tried it, they were so excited. So we started building that into our daily schedule.”

Kelly’s work at Wilkes Literacy has defined and driven her future career path. She is currently working towards the completion of her Honors thesis in her seventh semester of college, so that she can spend her final semester focused on student teaching. She will be working next semester at Watauga High School with Sarah Kanipe’s 11th grade American literature class. As she shared, “I am excited about American literature because it has the potential to be contemporary and diverse. You can stray from the canonical white male authorship. I think that literature is the best way to introduce difficult concepts to high school students, topics that are sometimes hard to navigate as an educator. Even things that are divisive you can introduce through literature and it is more palatable. I especially love when students are taught to live vicariously through characters in a book; it expands their ability to be empathetic.”

Kelly’s Honors thesis, entitled, “Empowering Students to Think Critically and Compassionately by Teaching Social Justice through Literature,” builds on these themes and her passions. For her Honors thesis Kelly’s mentor is Dr. Chris Osmond, Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership; Dr. Greg McClure, Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction is her second reader. Stay tuned for the announcement of her thesis defense; this will be one you want to attend!

Beyond this, Kelly has recently broadened her professional goals. As she explains, “Working at Wilkes Literacy was the biggest thing that informed my decision to do the Masters 4+1 in reading education. With that degree, I will be qualified to be a reading specialist. Most of the time you find reading specialists in elementary or middle schools. But I think that is silly because there are students sometimes who get promoted to high school and still cannot read. With my B.S., I will have a license to teach literature, but I can’t really do that if some of my future students don’t know how to read. Even if I don’t get hired as a reading specialist in a secondary school, I think I will be more effective at teaching literature if I know how to teach reading, too. Also, having a degree in RE can open doors in the future if I want to work for an organization like Wilkes Literacy or if I want to work in a prison system, things like that!”

Kelly started at Appalachian in August of 2014 as an Appalachian Community of Education Scholar (ACES) not living in Honors but rather in the Living Learning Center with others in ACES. Kelly reflects on her Freshmen Honors and ACES experience, “I lived with my [twin] sister freshmen year, so that was both good and bad. I had a tendency to not branch out and I didn’t feel like I had to. Everyone else in ACES had a Freshmen seminar (UCO 1200) that they took together, but I took an HON 1515. I took Dr. Dale’s Metamorphasis in Life: Love and Death seminar, which I loved! Freshmen year I cared more about the requirements than anything else. You know how on reality TV shows people say, ‘I’m not here to make friends?” well that’s how I was [she laughs], but in spite of myself, I still made friends, mostly in ACES because I lived next to them. Though I also made Honors friends, though, since I took multiple Honors classes my freshmen year.” With continued involvement with ACES over her years at Appalachian, Kelly has been afforded professional development trips to Washington D.C. where they toured schools, to Winston-Salem where she shadowed English teachers and did service-learning, and then to Ocracoke to the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

In addition to ACES, Kelly has become fully integrated in the Honors community. She has been a work-study student in the Honors College for the past three years. In that role, she has been the front face, representing the Honors College. Of her experience, Kelly related, “Working in HC has given me a lot more mentors than I would have otherwise. I have a lot more people I can speak with candidly. I got to go to Washington D.C. with Dr. Waldroup’s HON 2515: Museums and Heritage seminar, and that was a great experience!” In addition to the multitude of support services Kelly has provided the entire Honors College over the past three years, she has most recently spear-headed the Honors Wednesday Memo (HWM). This semester, she has developed and served as the inaugural editor of this weekly email newsletter keeping us all informed about Honors-noteworthy events, opportunities, and news. As a gesture of gratitude for her service (and because she deserves it) we are featuring her in this HWM, the final one of the semester and her last at the helm.


The above photo shows Kelly behind the front office desk in the Honors College on her last day of work in the office. She is pictured helping Honors sophomore and political science major Bradley Rentz. Photo by Garrett Alexandrea McDowell, Ph.D. 

We are not the only ones to recognize that Kelly is honorable and exceptional. She is a scholarship recipient eight times over. These include:  Mary and Lavola Carender Scholarship, Academic Excellence Scholarship, Appalachian Community of Education Scholars Scholarship, College of Education Scholarship, Martha Moleta Morgan Scholarship in Teacher Education, Snyder English/Special Education Scholarship, ACES Enrichment Grant. This semester Kelly has been working with and for Appalachian’s Foundation board of directors sharing her story. Her story highlights the very best of Appalachian. It is typical of Honors students to step-up in service to the university; Kelly, you make us proud! 

Beyond Honors and the University, Kelly has served her community and the broader world. From 2016-17 Kelly served as president of Appalachian Educators, a student organization made up of those going into or interested in education. In that role and as a committee member, Kelly has organized the Appalachian Social Justice Summit, which is now in its forth year. As Kelly describes, “We recruit about 15 high school students from as many counties as we can, and drive to get them to Appalachian. They apply their junior year and then come to hear Appalachian Faculty give talks on social justice. Transportation, food, and lodging are provided; they stay overnight in the Living Learning Center with Appalachian students.” Kelly plans to continue to volunteer with this event even as she is student teaching next semester, because she believes in it that much!

Thank you, Kelly. You have brought us inspiration, served us mightily, and helped us grow. We will be watching your path ahead with much anticipation and celebration for all you continue to contribute and accomplish.

Top photo of Kelly Dancy by Shauna Caldwell.

Story by Garrett Alexandrea McDowell, Ph.D. and edited by Kelly Dancy (thank you!)

Published: Dec 13, 2017 11:52am