It Happens All the Time

“Their mentoring helped me to grow and become stronger in my faith while attending UM, but most importantly after I graduated and as I continue to move forward with life.” – Alexia Washington ’17 & ’19

If a natural or man-made disaster strikes the gulf coast of Alabama, the person in charge of the military response is University of Mobile alumnus Brian Naugher ’92.

The reason he has this tremendous responsibility is due in large part to Dr. Jane Byrd, professor of management in the School of Business.

“If it were not for the grace of God and that He put a burden on Dr. Byrd to mentor me as a freshman in 1987, I would not have had the success that I have,” Naugher said. 

His 30-year career in the Alabama National Guard has taken him on multiple deployments in support of operations in Afghanistan and Kuwait to fight the Global War on Terrorism (Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraq Freedom), and he has held numerous command and staff positions at all levels. He also serves as a member of the Marshall County School Board and Marshall County Child Advocacy Center. Many of his military and leadership principles were derived from Dr. Byrd’s classroom and life lessons. 

“I was an average student when I started attending Mobile College and did not understand how to study, prepare term papers and properly prepare for and take a college-level exam. After the first paper and exam, Dr. Byrd recognized this and I had one of what was to become many of her ‘talks.’ She taught me the skills I needed to be a successful student. If it were not for her, I would not have graduated from college and would not have had the opportunities in life that I have,” said Naugher, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Management from UM, followed by a master’s degree from the United States Army War College. 

“There is no mistaking that Dr. Byrd truly cared about her students and would always go above and beyond to help a student if they were willing to put forth the effort, as many others do at UM. She truly embodies the ethos of the University of Mobile,” he added. 

UM President Lonnie Burnett ’79 said stories like Naugher’s are common. “It’s not that ‘my major changed my life,’ it’s that ‘a faculty member or this person at UM changed my life.’ It happens all the time,” Burnett said.

Authentic Community

It’s common for students to say they knew UM was the right choice as soon as they stepped foot on campus. It just felt right. They belonged.

That’s not as odd as it may seem.

“I think it’s not just the fact that there’s an atmosphere or climate of care and concern, but that it’s genuine and authentic and plays out in day-to-day interactions. There’s a consistency in who the faculty, staff and administrators are and how they live that out in working with and relating to our students,” said Dr. Buddy Landry, chair and associate professor of marriage and family counseling in the School of Allied Health, College of Health Professions. 

“We have a community,” said Dr. Cassidy Cooper, associate professor of sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences. “We exist within the larger dominant culture, but we attempt to employ and instill slightly different values in ourselves and our students, like service to and for others, cooperation over competition, etc. Part of how we do this is through small classes, which allow the faculty to connect with students and influence them in more personal ways.”

For example, weekly chapel allows the community to come together to worship, “but it also gives us the opportunity to share the same experience and discuss questions of faith, doubt, love and scripture in and outside of the classroom and between disciplines,” Cooper said.

The need for authentic relationships is grounded in who we are and how we were created, according to Landry.

“Theologically speaking, I’m a big believer that God created us for relationship; with Him, first and foremost, and then with one another. God created us as social creatures,” Landry said. “We learn in relationship. We develop, we grow, we become – in relationship.”

Landry said there is research in the counseling field that indicates a person’s progress is linked more to a positive therapeutic relationship with the counselor than the particular approach to

therapy the counselor uses. This has applications in non-clinical fields as well, particularly in an environment such as the University of Mobile where relationships are a vital part of the learning experience in helping students become the men and women that God created and intended them to be.

But it’s not only students who benefit – faculty and staff are also in the process of becoming the people God intended them to be.

“As Scripture tells us, ‘as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.’ The relationships that faculty and staff have with our students – the questions they ask and the things they teach us – help us to grow, too,” Landry said.

Coaching for Life

“When I first started looking for colleges to attend after high school, UM was on my list, but was not one of my top picks,” said Alexia Washington ’17 & ’19. She tried out for the volleyball program “and immediately, I fell in love with the girls who were on the team at the time and just the overall atmosphere that was present at UM.

“I figured that I would have the ‘basic’ player-coach relationship” with coaching duo Jon and Amber Campbell. (Jon is head volleyball coach and Amber is assistant coach.) It turned out to be so much more than just that,” Washington said.

“As coaches, of course they care about your performance in the classroom and on the court, but most importantly, they also care about your spiritual well-being. This had a tremendous impact not only on me, but on so many others as well.

Their mentoring helped me to grow and become stronger in my faith while attending UM, but most importantly after I graduated and as I continue to move forward with life.”

She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting and Master of Business Administration and works at the accounting firm Crow Wilkinson Constantine Singleton & Morrow while studying for her CPA exam.

Washington is among many current and past volleyball student athletes who view the Campbells as “Coach Mom and Coach Dad.” Melody Fillingim ’12 and husband Byron ’16 get together with the Campbells for meals and advice that ranges from coaching to organizing their children’s church program. Sherry McWilliams ’17 said the Campbells helped her build a 6A volleyball program to have strong team values and a high level of respect and integrity, just as they instilled in her at UM. Current junior Megan Hart said the Campbells encourage the entire team in their walk with Christ “which creates a wonderful program to be part of.”

Amber Campbell said she and Jon are committed to mentoring, providing encouragement and guidance, correction when needed, and doing all they can to prepare their students for whatever the next day brings.

“Our goal is that they know they are loved by us but, more importantly, they are loved with an unconditional love by God the Father. Scripture calls it discipleship – being disciples who make disciples. That’s who Jon and I strive to be,”

Campbell said.

Mama Bear

They called her “Mama Bear.” Jenelle McElroy ’00 & ’08 was so much more than their professor in the School of Nursing. When McElroy died suddenly July 28, just a few weeks before she was set to return to UM as associate professor of nursing and simulation coordinator, alumni shared on Facebook how she impacted their lives.

“Mrs. Jenelle McElroy was more than a nursing instructor and educator. She was a mentor, friend, encourager, a light in any room and, most importantly, a believer in Jesus,” wrote Jordan Johnson ’17. “I am incredibly thankful beyond words for the many laughs, tears, wisdom, late nights, life advice and nursing education she bestowed upon me over the years. I really would not have become the nurse I am today without her loving, kind, compassionate nature always pushing you toward excellence when you thought you could go no further.”

Amanda Leach ’15 said her “nursing school mama” was a cheerleader, advisor/mentor and friend.

“Her love and passion for nursing and caring deeply were a light to so many through the journey of nursing school. She pushed us to excellence so that she could count on us to care for her family one day. She prayed me through nursing school.

She did so much for so many, and I’m so

blessed to have known her. I know she’s dancing with Jesus right now, but I wish I could hug her one last time and tell her what a difference she made in my life,” Leach wrote.

Seeing Potential

Danny Chancey ’79, now director of transfer recruitment, was teaching education courses as an adjunct instructor when Ben Kiser ’13 was a student.

“I was in a weird funk in my life, introverted, had few friends, and needed to come out of my shell,” Kiser recalled.

Chancey said “Ben was not reaching potential, and I kept him after class to challenge him to reach

his potential. For Ben, that equaled caring and concern, and we’ve grown from there.”

Although Kiser was the age of Chancey’s sons, they shared a lot of common ground.

“His family has a poultry farm and I was raising chickens at the time; he loves fishing and my son was an avid fisherman; he was going into education to make a difference and I always hoped my being in education did as well; he was a youth minister and I had been a youth minister,” Chancey said.

Today, Kiser is youth minister at Daphne United Methodist Church and part owner of Clear Capital Partners, a merger and acquisition firm that flips daycare centers.

Though there is over 30 years between them, the relationship forged during a pivotal time in Kiser’s life transcends age.

“I would consider him my best friend in life,” Kiser said. “He saw a lot of potential in me, potential that even I didn’t see. A mentor helps you see the hope inside yourself. He did that.”

Tell Your Story

Did someone at the University of Mobile see potential in you that made a difference in your life? How have you used that experience to impact others? Share your story at and you may be featured in upcoming blogs, social

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About the Author

Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean uses her passion for storytelling and "playing with words" to share the stories of people, place and purpose that make the University of Mobile unique. As associate vice president for university communications, she manages media relations, edits the TorchLight alumni magazine, and oversees university communications. A former award-winning journalist, she is a two-time recipient of the Baptist Communicators Association grand prize for feature writing. Kathy and her husband, Chuck, live with three extremely loud miniature schnauzers.