Called to serve students

Bebber’s love of Student Affairs is contagious

For as far back as she could remember, Glenda Bebber had always wanted to be a detective. “I like figuring out the puzzles,” she says. “You know, how did we get here
from there?”

Bebber majored in criminal justice at Lees-McRae College, but she never did become the next V.I. Warshawski or Columbo. In the summer of 1996, just before her senior year, she did an internship with a police department in her native Stanly County. Bebber – then Glenda Hinson – helped patrol neighborhoods, did clerical work, assisted with investigations and went on ride-alongs, watching and learning as her would-be colleagues gathered evidence and put the puzzle pieces together. She was on track to start her law-enforcement career less than a year later.

That fall, she got a call from her mother, who asked Bebber whether she’d been watching the news. “I’m a college student,” she replied. “I don’t watch the news.”

Bebber learned that a policeman had been shot and killed in sleepy Oakboro, on the porch of a house that Bebber had visited on a ride-along call over the summer. The killing shook her.

“That was a game-changer for me, because you always hear, ‘Bad things happen,’ but this was real,” she says. “I had been to this place before.”

It didn’t take long for Bebber to reconsider life as a cop. She decided to abandon her detective dreams, but that left her with a problem. “I went into panic mode,” she says. “I’m a senior. What am I supposed to do with my life?”

Bebber has been answering that exact question for a succession of college students over the years, and frequently they get the same answer she heard back at Lees-McRae: “You realize you could do Residence Life. You’d be really good at it.”

Bebber was a resident assistant at Lees-McRae at the time, and when her boss said those words to her, Bebber thought, Hmmm. Not a bad option. “This is what you do?” she asked. “You get paid to be here and hang out with me and mentor me?”

So she gave it a go, and a year later she was hired by Wingate University to be the women’s-area director of Residence Life. In two decades at Wingate, Bebber has held a variety of positions: director of residence life, associate registrar, dean of students, dean of academic support programs (her current title). Always, she’s been a mentor to students, and many of her charges have gone on to serve as Glenda Bebbers for college students across the country.

Bebber is a selfless questioner, someone who doesn’t tell you what you need to hear but instead gets you to figure it out yourself, and she’ll devote her personal time to making sure you reach the proper conclusion.

By her count, she’s closely mentored about 70 students during her Bulldog days, with a healthy chunk of those going into education.

These days, they are spreading the Bebber gospel at schools far and wide.

Finding her pulpit

Back in the early 2000s, Darren Pierre served on the Student Government Association at Wingate. He met weekly with Bebber, who was the SGA’s advisor. “She became not only an advisor for Student Government but also an advisor for life,” Pierre says.

He was a finance major who was considering law school. Bebber wasn’t convinced. “Darren was a good kid,” Bebber says. “He always had the potential, but he just didn’t know what direction he wanted to go in.” She continues, “He’s very passionate about things, which to some degree is good for a courtroom. But I thought that was a waste of his talents.”

Pierre says Bebber rarely offered up her own opinion – “She was always one of those people who would ask you questions to get you to your own place of understanding,” he says – but this time, she spoke her mind.

“You seem too nice to be a lawyer,” she told him. (Sorry, lawyers. That’s about as scalding as a “Bebber burn” can get.)

Bebber opened Pierre’s eyes to student affairs, and three degrees later, Dr. Darren Pierre is now a clinical assistant professor of higher education at Loyola University Chicago. There, he is teaching students who are going into the field of student affairs themselves.

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“Every time there’s a cohort of 35, 36 students here at Loyola who go out across the country and the globe to do student-affairs work, you know Glenda Hinson Bebber has a little hand in that, because she was the first person to plant that seed
in me, and now I have the opportunity to plant that seed in others,” he says

Pierre still feels Bebber’s influence to this day. He says her holistic approach to dealing with various organizations on campus – the SGA, Campus Recreation, the Tri Sigma sorority – sets her apart. She is concerned, he says, with students’ past, present and future.

“The end goal was always the same,” he says. “Not only how can I help you meet the goals of the organization, but how does this connect to your greater purpose, whatever that may be?”

He likens Bebber – who completed a second major, in religious studies, at Lees-McRae – to a minister who is heeding a calling.

“I think Glenda was called to be at a place like Wingate,” Pierre says. “I’ve never asked Glenda this specifically, but I experienced her as someone who saw Wingate as not only a job but a pulpit. I think everybody has to find what
their pulpit is. Absolutely higher education is the job she’s supposed to be in.”

When he finished his doctorate at the University of Georgia, Pierre partially dedicated his dissertation to Bebber.

Embodiment of Faith, Knowledge, Service

The list of students who worked for Bebber in some capacity and went on to a career in higher education is pretty long. Here’s a sample: Heather Miller, Patrick Biggerstaff and Sam Petoskey have all worked their way up to key administrative positions at Wingate. Cody Greene works in residence life at William Peace University. Neal Holly works in higher-education policy at the Education Commission of the States in Denver, Colorado. Justin Pohl is assistant dean of students at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Denna White is director of admissions at Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College. Cody Flowers is a resident coordinator at Florida Atlantic University. Sarah Benes works in student financial planning at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte. Rob Gay works in the Office of Civic Engagement at Davidson College. And Zach Broadaway, Madison Dazey and Rebecca Shaw are all graduate assistants at universities (Broadaway at Wingate, Dazey at the University of South Florida, Shaw at the University of Rochester).

There are others, plus several who work in primary and secondary education.

Bebber influences her charges in a variety of ways. For some, it’s her day-to-day interaction with them that rubs off the most. For others, it’s the way she helps them through a rough patch.

Through it all, the common thread is her willingness to listen and to work alongside students to get the job done.

“She’s not afraid to do the mediocre work,” says Shaw, who worked for Bebber for four years during Orientation. “On Orientation days, she’s the one out there putting signs in the ground, stomping them into the ground. She’s the one helping us sort papers.”

“She doesn’t let a title get in the way,” says Michael Serefine Royal, a 2001 graduate (also a 2016 WU Doctor of Education grad) who is now chief operations officer for the Mooresville Graded School District. “She wants to do what’s best for the group.”

Pierre says that Bebber embodies Wingate’s motto of “Faith, Knowledge, Service.”

“I think it is a higher purpose for her, the work she does with college students,” he says. “I was like, ‘Wow, you must have learned great things at Appalachian,’ because her competency is so strong. And then the spirit that she does all of that with
is service. I would call Glenda on the weekend, or we would be there late in the evenings, and sometimes to the detriment of Glenda, she was always giving of herself.”

An angel playing detective

After graduating from Lees-McRae in 1997, Bebber enrolled in a master’s program at Appalachian State University. A year in, she started scouting around for internships. She knew she wanted to return to the Charlotte area, so she contacted universities large and small, including Wingate.

“When I called Wingate, Rhett answered the phone, and he said, ‘Come on down. I’ll be happy to talk to you,’” Bebber says.

As she was finishing up her visit to the Wingate campus, Brown asked her if she’d be interested in an opening at the University: women’s-area director for Residence Life. Bebber was flattered but dismissive, saying, “Oh, thanks. I appreciate it. But I’ve got another year of grad school. If I can be of help, here’s my number.”

Brown was dogged in his pursuit of Bebber, and she finally relented, working grad school into her full-time schedule at Wingate. She thought she’d last a couple of years as a Bulldog and then be off. “I did expect Wingate to be a steppingstone,” she says. “Two or three years and we were going to go do something bigger and better. I don’t know what I could do bigger and better. That was just kind of the trajectory. Get your feet wet right out of grad school and then make your way in the world.”

She’s thought of leaving a time or two, but always a student would come plop themselves down in a chair in her office in search of advice. And Bebber would freely give it and then feel satisfied with her job. “Yep, this is what I was supposed to do,” she’d tell herself.

Bebber remains relatively calm under duress, perhaps a carryover from her days studying the logical ways detectives go about their business. “You’ve got to figure out the next best step,” she says. “Make sure nobody’s hurt. I used to joke that my definition of an emergency is someone is not breathing or they’re bleeding profusely. Past that, there are really no emergencies.

“Make sure people are safe and then figure out what the next step is.”

In fact, she’s had to employ detective tactics for years. “You’d be amazed at the number of puzzle pieces you need to put together here,” Bebber says. “Whether it’s, ‘Who stole my clothes out of the laundry?’ to ‘Hey, we’ve got these pills here. We don’t know what they are.’ Or somebody’s trying to graduate and you’re trying to figure out a degree audit of them of what they need to take, so there’s puzzle pieces to put together there.”

Seeing Bebber deal with crisis after crisis with an air of unflappability helped Shaw decided to go into higher education. Like most people who end up with careers in higher ed, Shaw didn’t realize it could be a career path until she was a college student. She came to Wingate thinking she wanted to be a dentist but says she quickly changed her major to “undecided.”

Working with Bebber during Orientation helped her find her own calling. Shaw now supervises 14 resident assistants, and she often thinks “What would Glenda do?” when she’s faced with a problem.

“Glenda is too good for us,” she says with a laugh. “She lives out the motto of faith, service, all those different things. I think with students the biggest thing that I found was her consistency. She cares, and it’s not a temporary caring. If there’s something going on in your life and you’re one of her student workers, or if you’re just someone who’s coming in to seek help from Glenda on a day-to-day basis, she’s consistent. She follows through. If you have an issue that goes on, she’s going to check on you a couple of days later or a month later. And it’s a genuine check-in.

“What an angel,” she says. “We don’t deserve Glenda Bebber. I’m going to put that out there.”