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‘Education was rooted in my DNA’: Professor Saundra Ardrey celebrates 35th anniversary at WKU

Ian Pitchford
Dr. Saundra Ardrey is a professor at Western Kentucky University. Her focus is political science, with an emphasis on women in politics. Dr. Ardrey is in her 35th year at WKU.

Saundra Ardrey knew her goal was to become a teacher, but the experiences and impacts she’s had during her career were unpredictable.

Ardrey’s parents both worked in education. Her mother was an elementary school special education teacher and her father was a physical education professor at St. Augustine College.

“Education was rooted in my DNA,” Ardrey said. “So for me the decision was not in the profession, but was in what I would teach.”

Ardrey attended college at Winston-Salem State University as an English and political science undergraduate major. She explained that English fell short in peaking her interest, but political science, however, she chose to teach at the college level due to its interactive and real-world perspective.

After earning a PhD in political science from The Ohio State, she worked at Furman University in South Carolina. Ardrey then made the transition to Bowling Green when her husband decided it was time for them to be together in 1988.

“We had been married for like ten years, we had a three year old, and we had never really lived together as a family because he was always working in Kentucky,” Ardrey said. “And he said ‘well, I think it’s time for us to start living together,’ and so I moved, kicking and screaming, from South Carolina to here.”

While interviewing for a position at a local hospital, Ardrey’s husband mentioned his wife had a PhD in political science. Coincidentally, a member of the Board of Regents was present and expressed interest in wanting Ardrey to become a professor at WKU.

“My husband promised I wouldn’t be here very long, that was 30 some years ago,” Ardrey said.

Courtney Shelton, a current WKU sophomore and accounting major, took Ardrey’s PS 374: Women and Politics course.

“I would always leave there in a better mood than when I went in,” Shelton said.

Shelton highlighted the attentiveness and responsiveness of Ardrey, describing her to be someone who often went out of her way to provide opportunities for her students.

“She would have a lot of opportunities for people to get credit and there was always time to talk with her before or after class,” Shelton said. “But the biggest thing is she would send opportunities to you that fit your career. I got an email from her over the summer about an internship, job offer.”

Ardrey believes that having a relationship with students is what makes being a professor worth it.

“The big thing for me is the interaction that I have with students, and when I retire that’s going to be the one thing that I miss most,” Ardrey said. “You know, being able to help shape and have an influence on young lives.”

Ardrey’s experiences as a Black woman are what have shaped who she is and how she teaches students. Her priorities lie in inclusion and making students aware of culture differences while approaching history in an interactive way.

Shelton recommends Ardrey’s courses to anyone who is considering it for that reason.

“I learned a lot of real world information from her that can be applied everywhere,” Shelton said. “Dr. A is such an inspiration, hearing her talk about her own experiences from an educated Black woman’s perspective was so eye-opening.”

Ardrey has been involved in numerous study abroad programs through WKU. She offers domestic locations such as Georgia and Alabama where she assists students in following civil rights history. Her favorite locations, however, are West African countries.

She focuses her global studies on the cultures students interact with, wanting them to recognize an appreciation for the life they live and for other cultures who live differently.

“Every other year we take students to Senegal, Ghana, or Tanzania,” Ardrey said. “I think that’s the one thing I do that is very transformational for students is taking them abroad. Everybody comes back a different person.”

From 2017 to 2019, Ardrey was selected as a Fulbright Scholar, accepting the opportunity to teach at University of Limpopo in South Africa for a year. However, the privilege caused her to have to step down from head of the Political Science Department after over 20 years.

Scott Lasley became the Department of Political Science head after Ardrey stepped down. He complimented her commitment and ability to bring an unique approach to the political science department and appreciates the experiences he’s had that she was responsible for.

“The level of commitment to the engagement and she puts into practice and action is what a lot of us talk about,” Lasley said. “There’s not many that could do it with the same level of impact and energy.”

Ardrey is currently involved in the Jonesville Work Taskforce. Jonesville was an African American community in Bowling Green around 1881. In the 1960s, five of their properties were “interfering” with university plans and were taken from them.

“We are trying to recognize that and see what type of reconciliation we can build with the black community because there is still some animosity about Western coming in and taking their land,” Ardrey said. “I’m proud to be a chair at that committee where we are, again, building bridges to the community and seeing what Western can do to make it right.”

News Reporter Shayla Abney can be reached at [email protected]

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