NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Dr. Donnya Elle Stephens was the first black faculty member and tenured professor in the Department of Secondary Education and Educational Leadership at Stephen F. Austin State University. Now, a painting of Stephens is the first in the department's newly created Leadership Legacy Hallway.
Stephens holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Prairie View A&M University and a Master of Education degree from SFA. She is a Distinguished Alumna of Texas A&M University-Commerce, where she earned a doctoral degree. She joined the SFA faculty in 1975 and remained with the university as a professor in the Department of Secondary Education until her retirement in 2002, when she was named Professor Emeritus.
An author of scholarly articles published in professional education journals, Stephens is the recipient of awards including an RJR Nabisco Fellowship Award from the Joint Council on Economic Education, Woman of the Year in 1991 from the American Association of University Women, the 1993 SFA Alumni Association Distinguished Professor Award and SFA Regents Professor in 1995.
Dr. Ken Austin, associate professor in the Department of Secondary Education and Educational Leadership, painted the portrait of Stephens for the Leadership Legacy Hallway on the fourth floor of the McKibben Education Building. Austin holds a Master of Fine Arts in studio art and a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.
Austin has completed portraits of other individuals whom he admires but said he is especially interested in painting individuals whose social relationships have had an impact on creative thinking and, subsequently, on the empowerment of others. Austin said these ideologies are clearly supported and promoted by Stephens.
"It is absolutely my honor and privilege to be a part of an event that would honor her and her past contributions for our department, the college and the university," Austin said. "This portrait, I hope, will be a reminder that the past always informs the present, and that Dr. Stephens' past provided a beneficial and wonderful modification to our department."
After her retirement from full-time employment, Stephens continued to serve SFA's Department of Secondary Education and Educational Leadership through part-time teaching and, beginning in 2004, in positions with the U.S. Department of Education grant-funded project East Texas Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. Dr. Betty Alford, chair of the department, said Stephens provided exemplary service to the department in these multiple roles for two GEAR UP grants.
"Projects she coordinated with GEAR UP partner schools included outstanding mentoring programs with the goal of strengthening a college-going culture in East Texas schools, exciting day-long programs for students visiting SFA, and vital community service projects in cooperation with GEAR UP community partner organizations," Alford said. "Although she is no longer working with the department, Dr. Stephens' influence continues to be felt every day."
In 2011, the university received its third grant from the U.S. Department of Education to the fund the GEAR UP program.