category: Faculty Emeriti - In Honor Of

Helen Tichenor

Emerita of International Programs

Helen Tichenor

Helen Tichenor was born June 18, 1934, in Long Island, N.Y., to Swiss immigrants who had come to America separately. Her father was from Lucerne, Switzerland, and her mother from Zurich. They met in Chicago, Ill., when both joined a group for Swiss natives. Her parents became U.S. citizens and despite knowing German, French and Italian, they were determined that Tichenor and her brother learn the English language and speak it well.

But there was music in the house, and it was sung in their native languages. “My father belonged to a Swiss choral group in New York and they would rehearse every Friday night,” Tichenor recalled. “In the morning, when he would shave, I would be in the bathroom with him, and he would teach me all the songs in French, German, Italian and the Swiss dialect.”

The early exposure fueled Tichenor’s desire to study more. At Hempstead High School in New York, she took three years of German and four years of Latin. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree from Connecticut College in 1956. While teaching high school in Long Island, she received a German Fulbright grant through Deutsch Amerika Austauschdienst (German Academic Exchange Service) to study for a year in Germany.

“My roommate was Scottish, and she thought it would be fun to learn Russian,” Tichenor said. “We learned the Russian words by translating them from German to English. When I returned to New York, the Russian Sputnik had gone up and every high school added a Russian class. They asked me to teach Russian to the top A-plus students. I drove to NYU to finish studying Russian and stayed one sentence ahead of the students the whole time.”

Tichenor earned her master’s degree from Middlebury College (Vermont) in 1957 and her doctorate from the University of Akron (Ohio) in 1975. She began her college teaching career at Middlebury, and in 1961 was hired as an associate assistant professor at Kent State University (Ohio) where she taught courses in German language, literature, culture and foreign-language methodology. In 1981 she was appointed as the acting chairman of the Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures and was also assistant to the president.

From 1982 to 1984, she served as assistant dean for academic affairs at Kent State, supervising the programs and reviewing, analyzing and allocating a total campus budget of $4 million. In 1984, she was named associate/assistant vice president for academic affairs at Clarion University (Pennsylvania). She held various leadership roles at Clarion until 1997, including associate vice president for academic affairs and director of international programs.

Her husband, Charles, was hired by Gardner-Webb in 1997 as a marketing professor in the Godbold School of Business. When he got to Gardner-Webb and realized the University didn’t have an international study program, he gave Helen’s resume to Dr. Gil Blackburn, vice president for academic affairs.

Blackburn asked her to come in 1998 and develop the GWU Office of International Programs. Tichenor also resurrected the German program. She negotiated Memorandums of Understanding (MOUS) with foreign universities and increased the number of exchange sites from none to 14. Additionally, she organized numerous short- and long-term trips abroad.

She was driven to help as many students as possible take advantage of opportunities to study abroad. While learning about other cultures, students start to examine their own values. “They realize that these people know how to live, taking the time to sit outside, drink their coffee and communicate with each other,” Tichenor described. “I enjoy arranging an international experience for the students and then talking to them when they come back. For so many, it will have been a life-changing experience. That is so satisfying when you can share it with them.”

Through the support of GWU President Dr. Frank Bonner, Tichenor coordinated the Bonner Project. The program began as a one-month trip overseas for a group of students to study with a faculty member. That program evolved, and in 2018, the University offered three separate trips to Berlin, Florence and Paris over spring break, allowing 30 students to participate. “It was my distinct pleasure to get that off the ground and make that work,” Tichenor asserted.

Another accomplishment that she is proud of is the therapy dog program, Paws Awhile, established in 2013. She got the idea after reading an article about a Kent State program that used therapy dogs to calm nursing students before their exams. She did more research and found another one for law students. When her dog, Toby, became a certified therapy dog, she and Toby’s trainer sent an email asking other therapy dog handlers to come to Gardner-Webb. The response was positive and continued to grow.

After Tichenor retired in 2018, she planned to travel and spend more time with her two daughters. “I left Gardner-Webb with a lump in my throat,” she confessed. “The people here are unbelievable and that’s what it really is all about. There is this guidepost here, this grounding at this University, that makes it the pleasant place it is to work. There is no hesitation to care and jump in to help somebody even if you don’t know them.” 

Sources:

Personal interview by Jackie Bridges (2018) and GWU files

Updated July 2022              

In 2015, Helen Tichenor donated a professional model Getzen trumpet to the University’s Trumpet Studio.

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