Read Reflections from Friends and Colleagues
Though I left Starkville in June of 2016, I certainly have not forgotten Wendy Herd. Indeed, I remember her as an energetic scholar, dynamic teacher, and generous colleague, who worked tirelessly for the welfare of the department, the University,
and her students. I join the Department of English and the Starkville community as well as Wendy’s family in mourning her loss.
As Wendy’s department head, I last reviewed her scholarship in early 2016. As usual, her portfolio that year revealed that Wendy kept her work before important audiences and laid the foundations for other achievements. Most notably, she published
a twenty-page article on “Cross-modal Priming Differences between Native and Nonnative Spanish Speakers” in Studies in Hispanic and Lusophone Linguistics, a piece she included in her portfolio for me to read. Two other co-authored essays of Wendy’s reached
print in conference proceedings in 2015, and she published an invited book review for Interlanguage. Impressively, she had an additional article under review at that time, as well as five others in the data-gathering and analysis stages. Naturally, I praised
her record highly and encouraged her to continue her presence at the Acoustical Society of America, where she could reinforce her already established reputation for excellence in research.
Wendy’s portfolio also included detailed reflections on her versatile teaching. These reflections conveyed her excitement over her growing enrollments in courses with discrete but overlapping goals: to prepare students to teach English as a second or foreign
language and to understand, as reflected in research, how language works in the world. Having completed the training in the Maroon Institute for Writing Excellence, Wendy explained how writing-to-learn strategies would enrich her teaching of Introduction
to the Study of Language; she also explained that in her Introduction to Linguistics she already employed such techniques, such as small-group work and responding to students’ drafts, as she illustrated in her portfolio. I commended, too, her emphasis on
student research in all her courses. Indeed, her research pedagogy—including literature reviews, pilot projects, IRB training, multi-drafting, peer-response groups, one-on-one conferences, and poster presentations—had generated dramatic results. For instance,
three of her students in 2015 presented their posters at the Undergraduate Research Forum, with Hayley Monroe winning first-place in Humanities, and Ashley McQuirk, one of her students in Second Language Acquisition, presenting her research at the AMTESOL Conference. Further, Wendy explained how she had revised her TESOL Practicum, requiring students to live with native families and to arrive fully aware of variations in idiom, strategies that will enhance their summer program and their careers as teachers.
Not surprisingly, having noticed their growth, Wendy’s students praised her erudition, her passion for her field, and her devotion to their growth as researchers and teachers. Their praise also generated high global ratings for her teaching: 4.5 in Introduction to the Study of Language, 4.8/5 in Introduction to Linguistics, and 4.7/5 in Second Language Acquisition. Her excellence in teaching also manifested itself in six graduate students seeking her out to direct or serve as reader for their thesis and dissertation projects, as did Whitney Knight, whose MA thesis on “The Southern Vowel Shift in the Speech of Southern Women from Mississippi” led to her position teaching English and ESL in DeSoto County and to her successful applications to doctoral programs. Under Wendy’s guidance, Whitney made her first professional presentation at a linguistics conference, as did Robin Walden and Savana Alexander.
Once again in 2015, Wendy’s professional service reflected her dedication to students and her commitment to the mission of the University. In addition to advising six English majors, she took over as TESOL Director in the spring 0F 2015, a time-consuming job that included advising students seeking the TESOL Certificate, admission to graduate school, or positions as teachers. She also wrote numerous letters of recommendation supporting such students and their aspirations. Within the department, Wendy continued her collaboration with Dr. Ginger Pizer on the Linguistics Committee, one that had done important work, not only promoting TESOL and the Certificate program but also in assessing linguistics programs, recruiting students for the Linguistics Minor, and promoting study abroad. She also presented her research on voicing at the 2015 Fall Symposium and served on search committees for visiting and tenure-track professors, work that led to the hiring of Dr. Megan Smith. Beyond the department, Wendy completed training in assessment, judged presentations at the Undergraduate Research Symposium, and served on the Holland Senate and its Charter and Bylaws Subcommittee.
Amazingly, Wendy did all this impressive work while fighting the first on-set of the cancer that recently took her life. And she never lost her radiant smile, even when her head became (temporarily) as bald as mine. Indeed, over the years I knew
her, Wendy shared her warm smile not only within the department and on campus but also in her home, where she often hosted faculty events. I have been truly blessed to have known such a wonderful colleague.
Department Head, 2004-2016
Dr. Wendy Herd’s influential teaching and research, tireless commitment to her high ideals, and bright spirit were inspiring and unifying—she made the English Department better than it had been before. Everyone knew from the first how lucky we were that she decided to accept a position in our department, and she was a force for good throughout her time with us. I learned from her, laughed with her, and admired her. I’m grateful that she and her family have been part of this community, which is also better because of them.
Professor Kelly Marsh
Wendy Herd––a brave, beautiful soul––an inspiration to me and, I think, to many others.
Professor Matt Little
Wendy's impact on her colleagues and her students is profound. I will miss her incredible positivity whenever I saw her in her Lee Hall office. She had the rare ability to invite people into her complex research and teaching because at the core of each endeavor was a clear sense of humanity--how what she did and asked her students to do mattered beyond the classroom or lab. It was her intelligence and congenial spirit that created this impression for sure, but it was also the smile with which she always greeted me at the threshold of her office door--a smile that said to me, "come in and let's talk and laugh." I took Wendy up on this invitation often, but now I realize not often enough. I will miss that those conversations at that office threshold.
Professor Tommy Anderson
A few years ago, when the rec soccer league in Starkville was desperate for coaches, I agreed to help coach my son’s team, despite knowing nothing about soccer (and making sure the league knew this, too)—as long as they promised to make me the assistant coach to some more knowledgeable and experienced head coach. They promptly made me head coach with no assistant. Wendy’s son was on the same team, and after I whined long enough to her, she agreed to co-coach with me. Together, we made a great coaching team even though our combined knowledge of soccer was almost zilch. Also, we didn’t really win any games, so it’s arguable that we weren’t actually a great coaching team. But as the saying goes, if you have fun, you won. And we did have fun, and so did the kids. By then, Wendy was already dealing with side-effects from her cancer treatment, and never once did this seem to slow her down. Quite the opposite. She was, then and always, up for whatever was needed, simultaneously energetic and laid-back, and uncompromisingly kind.
I should also mention that Wendy was my office next-door-neighbor. I miss my neighbor, my colleague, my co-coach, my friend.
Professor Michael Kardos
How does one say that a person, by her presence, was an affirmation of all our profession should be? Wendy Herd was, I understand, an excellent teacher and an accomplished researcher. From my personal knowledge I can say she carried a firmly optimistic attitude, one that suggested to her students and her colleagues that her work, their work, all our work was worthwhile, that there was a purpose in scholarship and in the various endeavors of our department. I miss her, for she reminded me that our profession does good and valuable things.
Marty Price, Instructor
When I nominated Wendy for the Oldham Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award in 2019, I got to read many letters from students about her impact on their lives. Some wrote about being inspired by the discipline of linguistics, but others simply observed the way that she got them excited about student research in general. One story was consistent across all of these letters of support: that Wendy was a constant source of support and mentoring at all stages of their academic life, from the very first courses they took at MSU through graduate school and beyond.
More personally, I will never forget Wendy’s tenacious spirit. I joined the department in 2016, so I only knew her after her cancer diagnosis. But I am in awe of her matter-of-fact toughness, the way that when she stopped by my office she would talk about a new treatment for a moment, and then immediately go on to talk about a new research project, a plan for the linguistics lab, or the day-to-day work of the curriculum committee. I’ve never known anyone who took her health concerns so much in stride; she lived her life thinking instead about her family, students, and colleagues.
Professor Dan Punday
Like most college students, I made plenty of mistakes during my time at MSU, but taking every opportunity to be a student, an intern, or a thesis advisee of Dr. Wendy Herd was not one of them. From 2013-2015, Dr. Herd’s office and the Linguistics Lab with its Sound Attenuated Booth, even as the location changed from Lee Hall to Howell and back again, were an academic home to me during my time at State.
I took every course I could with Dr. Herd, beginning with the TESOL courses and up to the more advanced phonetics course she offered during my time as a Master’s student in English/Linguistics. What was amazing to me as I got increasingly into the specifics of phonetics is how she never stopped being able to relate the content to personal stories and thus to her students. I grew to know her family through her stories and am so sad that she is missing from them now.
Dr. Herd never shied away from showing students more, and further. She let us use tools of the profession early in our understanding of the subject. If other teachers were building scaffolding up to higher knowledge, Dr. Herd was giving us grappling hooks, letting us explore the top of the field with gentle nudging, making it so much more exciting to go back to the ground floor and build our way up. Learning was exciting, every day.
When I applied to Ph.D. programs in Linguistics, it was because I wanted to be like Dr. Herd. And when I decided I could better help the people I wanted to help by getting a job in public schools, she understood that too, because she had done both (at the same time!). She always wanted what was best for all her students and took the time to listen to find out what that was. Just this summer, I was promoted to the position I wanted during my Ph.D. search five years ago -- supporting EL teachers in my district. I wish I could tell her about it. I can only hope I inspire half as much passion for learning in the teachers I serve as Dr. Herd did in me.
I am so lucky to have learned with her, and my heart aches that students at MSU won’t hear Dr. Herd explain the difference between a palatal and alveolar sound again. Thank you, Dr. Herd, for your patience, your passion, and your giving of yourself. I use what you taught me every day.
Whitney Knight Rorie
EL Instructional Specialist
DeSoto County Secondary Schools
The last time I saw Dr. Wendy Herd in person was in February, 2020. It was my son’s ninth birthday party, and she was accompanying her son, Jacob. Our boys have known each other forever; they went to preschool together, and they were in the same Cub Scout troop. In addition to Jacob, Wendy was mom to Breanna, who was a middle-schooler when the Herds moved to Starkville. I appreciated that, whatever I was trying to figure out as a mom, Wendy had been there before; she always had a useful perspective or direct experience that helped me. When you are part of a community like ours, professional women with no extended family nearby, that kind of mom-friendship is invaluable.
Wendy and her family lived down the street from us, less than 200 yards away, across a busy street. Our families went trick-or-treating together each year. She and Zac helped me out when I was solo-parenting on a Cub Scout camp-out. After birthday parties, we’d send cake home for Breanna, who, we knew, loved fondant icing. I didn’t think about these little details much at the time, but they add up to a friendship. One day, a couple of summers ago, I texted her: would Jacob like to come ride bikes on our quiet street? A little while later, Wendy drove her minivan into my driveway and unloaded the bike. I kicked myself for failing to realize she couldn’t walk that distance. I had forgotten she was sick. We followed the boys to the dead end and chatted while they climbed the hill, zoomed down, then did it again and again.
It was easy to forget that Wendy was sick. She never seemed to slow down, until she did. She never asked to extend her tenure clock, even when she was going through treatments. I don’t say all this to make her out as a hero. I think she was a person who was sometimes frail, then increasingly so, and did not want to stop doing the things that made her feel strong.
Among the many things she kept doing, Wendy ran the department’s curriculum committee during a particularly busy time. She had taken over that committee from me, and she was better at it than I had been. But sometimes she needed assistance, and she would turn up at my office door to talk over a sticky situation or even to vent her frustrations. It meant a lot to me that she would do that, because she always seemed unflappable. I was and am flattered that she trusted me with situations that challenged her.
I respected Wendy so much as a colleague, and I miss her calm presence in meetings. Even so, I’m deeply grateful that the last time I saw her was not at work, but at my home, at a kid’s party, where she wasn’t a colleague but a fellow mom and a friend.
Professor Bonnie Carr O’Neill