“You’d think by 2 p.m., I’d be done, but instead, I’m like, ‘What else do you have for me?’ Teaching fills me up,” says Waibel Duncan, who has taught at Bloomsburg University for 15 years.
Waibel Duncan’s joy for teaching, and her emphasis on good character and service-based learning, has not only inspired her students, but has made her their role model — both inside and outside the classroom.
Waibel Duncan was named the first Joan and Fred Miller Distinguished Professor of Good Work, which recognizes her accomplishments and provides funding that can be used for research or to advance a project focusing on good work. Faculty support, along with scholarships and Professional U, is a focus of the It’s Personal campaign. She also was selected in spring 2015 for a Teaching and Learning Enhancement (TALE) Outstanding Teacher award, after being nominated by students.
“When she begins teaching, all eyes turn to her and you’re enraptured. She takes a simple subject and immerses you so thoroughly that you’re not staring at the clock or glancing at your phone, because you might miss something,” says Mary McCauley, who graduated in May 2015 with degrees in psychology and criminal justice. “Aside from her abilities as a teacher, she’s an amazing person. From her unshakable stance on ethics, to her commitment to her students and her family, she’s the type of person everyone wishes to see more of in the world.”
In the classroom and through the university’s Good Work Initiative, a project focused on student excellence, ethics and engagement, Waibel Duncan champions the idea that “a noble end, without a noble means, is not noble.”
“We live in a world where people cut corners to get to the top first. I want my students to know that success without coming by it honestly, without earning it through merit, is not good work,” says Waibel Duncan. “I want my students to be successful in whatever they do but, more than that, I hope they are people of good character.”
Cary Tessein, who graduated in December 2015 with a degree in psychology, calls Waibel Duncan one of the most influential professors she’s ever had.
“The thoughtful way in which Dr. Duncan taught class not only allowed me to learn the incredible field of positive psychology, but it caused me to think about myself as a student and grow as a person,” she says.
Ashley Schoener, also a 2015 psychology graduate, hopes to emulate Waibel Duncan as she furthers her career. “I hope to one day display the degree of class and intellect upon which she carries herself. I will always remember Dr. Duncan as a professor who helped me develop the foundations on which I will build the rest of my academic, professional and personal life,” says Schoener, now enrolled in the University of North Dakota’s master’s program in counseling psychology.
Waibel Duncan’s positive contributions extend beyond the classroom to the greater campus community. In 2011, she founded the university’s Toy Library, which offers hundreds of toys, games and puzzles designed to teach literacy to students of all ages and developmental abilities. The library’s resources are available for volunteer work, service learning, internships, teaching and clinical work.
She was inspired to start the Toy Library after her son was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. “The doctors said my son may not develop functional language but, through play, he’s developed it,” Waibel Duncan says. “I had to unleash the power of play in homes and schools.”
Last spring Waibel Duncan, along with her psychology colleague Jennifer Johnson and a team of undergraduates, completed three community service projects for the literacy initiative, Handmade Literacy for Our Hometown. The National Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi Literacy Award funded the projects.
“I never before felt as though I was making meaningful contributions to my field and the community at large,” says Laurie Ganey ’15, who helped with the projects and is now a graduate assistant in California University of Pennsylvania’s school psychology master’s program. “I hope to never forget the way that Dr. Duncan inspired me to be a better person than I ever thought possible.”
Though her students say Waibel Duncan inspires them, the reverse is also true.
“Some of the most pivotal moments in my career came from working one-on-one with students,” Waibel Duncan says. “In this profession, you have eyes on you at all times, and that motivates me to do outstanding work in the most ethical way possible.” •
Susan Field ’11/’12M is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia.