USCB professor best the state has to offer

Babet Villena-Alvarez has distinguished herself and the University of South Carolina Beaufort since joining the faculty in 1994.

Now she has distinguished the community by winning the 2010 S.C. Governor's Professor of the Year Award. Only two are given each year among the state's 37 public and private institutions of higher education, one for two-year schools and one for four-year schools.

Villena-Alvarez now joins Ron Harshbarger, retired USCB professor of mathematics, who won the award in 2000 when USCB was a two-year school. As a professor with 35 years of experience at Penn State University and elsewhere, and co-author of 20 math textbooks, Harshbarger illustrated the power of USCB to call on the talent living in Beaufort County to help it advance.

Villena-Alvarez represents something else. She is a talented young scholar who chose USCB over larger schools because she wanted to make a difference and be a leader in a school that would grow, rather than disappear as a new kid on a big faculty.

Her record over the past 16 years reflects high energy, and also a changing university and community.

Villena-Alvarez, hired as an assistant professor of French and Spanish after completing most of her education in Paris, quickly established study-abroad programs. She won a grant to train professors to incorporate international perspectives in their teaching.

As the complexion of the community changed, she helped USCB meet the challenge. Villena-Alvarez created a Spanish certificate program to address a serious community need. Service professionals in government offices, hospitals and schools needed Spanish-speakers as the Latino population grew quickly.

When USCB later became a four-year institution, she developed a dual-track Spanish degree program both for those learning the language and those who speak it but want to study Hispanic literature and cultural history.

Beyond that, Villena-Alvarez is cited for her attention to students and their habits, quickly learning their names with each new class, and making connections that help both teacher and student succeed.

Today, she chairs the USCB department of humanities and fine arts.

Her contributions will be cited by the Governor's Office and the Commission on Higher Education at a presentation and luncheon in Columbia next week. She will join an elite handful of professors to be so honored since the legislature established the award in 1988.

Statewide recognition is great. But so is this reminder of the potential a university adds to the community.