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Town and Gown – Continued Progress

Dr. David Shoenthal

I measure my time in Farmville by how old my first daughter is. In August of 2004, I started at Longwood University. Just out of graduate school, my contract began eight days after she was born.

I’d wanted to teach math at the college level since I was in college myself, and I was looking forward to teaching full time. The faculty members in the department were supportive even before my family arrived, recognizing (as I had not yet done) many of the stressful situations that could arise with all of the changes. Friendships that are still with me were also born in those first weeks with people from across campus.

My wife Caroline and I slowly adjusted to life away from our families and readjusted to living in a small town. We are both originally from small Pennsylvania towns (my hometown doesn’t even have a stoplight), so while the transition to a different state took time, we knew we wanted to be somewhere close-knit. Farmville is a place like that, and knows it, and wants it that way.

When I eventually became chair of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, I was asked by both visiting faculty members and prospective students why I thought that Longwood was a special place. I responded that I admired how supportive the atmosphere had been — how faculty cared about their students and about their teaching. I learned by example how colleagues can remain collegial even in disagreement when they share a common goal and express it clearly.

Sharing and expressing a common goal is one way that the bonds of family and community survive.

Farmville is a town with a storied history, but some of those stories are marked by intolerance. I believe that the struggle to overcome that intolerance and to build fellowship must be shared by each person. What I appreciate about the community of Farmville is that it has made and continues to make progress, while keeping what makes it special close to heart. I’ve witnessed that progress from my work with other community members on the Prince Edward Public School Endowment, when teachers use mini-grant funds to bring their ideas to life. I’ve experienced fellowship in places as varied as my church and my favorite restaurant.

In my current role as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, I remain focused on what defines a community. At Longwood, that’s the ability of our faculty and staff to transform students into citizen leaders. We share that goal, and that goal is helped immeasurably by where we are. After 16 years, Farmville has changed, and it also hasn’t changed. It is a town defined by its sense of community, taking steps toward a close-knit, common good.

DR. DAVID SHOENTHAL is a professor of mathematics and serves as the associate provost and associate vice president for Academic Affairs at Longwood University. His email address is shoenthaldw@longwood.edu.