International Business Expert, Student Service Advocate Lands Distinguished Professor Award
A brief encounter with the spouse of a dean more than a decade ago initiated a series of events that ultimately brought Dr. Sara B. Kimmel to Mississippi College.
During the ensuing years, her remarkable ability to instill in her students a greater understanding of international business and her valuable contributions to the school’s student service organization has secured for her the highest honor a faculty member at MC can achieve.
Kimmel, associate professor in the MC School of Business, received the Distinguished Professor of the Year Award during the Central Ceremony May 5.
Dr. Marcelo Eduardo, dean of MC Business, praised her for the relationships she has nurtured within the school.
“For over 10 years, Sara Kimmel has made a significant impact on our students,” Eduardo said. “She has done this both in the classroom as a demanding but always caring teacher, and outside the classroom through her advocacy and leadership of our student service organization.
“As has been the characteristic of all Distinguished Professor Award winners, in the teaching of her area of expertise, Sara excels in providing all our business students with a fundamental understanding of the global dimensions of business. And in her work as the faculty coordinator for the School of Business Service Club, she provides them with an opportunity to live out their faith.”
Kimmel described the honor as a “career pinnacle” award for those who have spent years teaching at a university.
“There’s a sense of appreciation and humility you get any time you are honored for something you love and get to do every day,” Kimmel said. “I am humbled to be in the presence of the people I get to teach with, because they are amazing. On this campus, there are some incredibly outstanding classroom teachers – professors who travel significantly, write books, and are engaged in masterful research that’s going to change the world.
“To receive an honor like this, you can’t help but thank God, because He’s where our passion and our motivation comes from.”
Kimmel arrived to accept the Distinguished Professor of the Year honor a bit tardy. After an impromptu shower pushed the outdoor ceremony into Nelson Hall, School of Business faculty opted to sit in the Swor Auditorium balcony in deference to family and friends of the newly minted MC graduates in attendance.
When her name was called, Kimmel wasn’t immediately sure of the quickest route to the stage. The meandering path she took to the front of the auditorium resembled the journey she had originally made to Mississippi College.
After receiving her Bachelor of Science from Belhaven University and her Master of Business Administration from Millsaps College, Kimmel served as a cash flow and economic analyst for the Mississippi Treasury Department when she felt the call to teach. She was finishing up her Ph.D. in international development at the University of Southern Mississippi when, during a break in a Spanish course, she met a “kindred spirit” – Kitty Eduardo.
Kitty mentioned that MC might need an adjunct faculty member to teach international business and passed Kimmel’s curriculum vitae along to her husband. Marcelo spoke with Kimmel several times, but before anything definite could be ironed out, Belhaven offered her a full-time job.
During the seven years she spent as an associate professor of business and coordinator of international studies, Kimmel learned the advantages – and the vagaries – of teaching at a small university.
“You get a lot of opportunities you wouldn’t necessarily have as a faculty member at a larger institution,” she said. “At the same time, there are a lot of needs to be filled by fewer people. I got a lot of good experience as a teacher and as the head of a new program in a new major.
“Everyone I came into contact with gave me guidance, and I was able to soak up a lot from that experience.”
She excelled at her alma mater, earning the Higher Education Appreciation Day, Working for Academic Excellence faculty award from the Mississippi Legislature. She kept in touch with the Eduardos and even worked on a research project with Marcelo. One day, he called to tell her of an opportunity at MC’s new satellite campus in Flowood.
In partnership with the City of Flowood and the Flowood Chamber of Commerce, the Flowood Center offered accelerated degree program classes in business administration, accounting, marketing, public relations, and sociology to residents of Rankin County. As an assistant professor of business and director of the center, Kimmel would teach international business.
“Something Dr. Eduardo said to me stuck out – it expressed both the Christian aspect of MC and the culture of MC, and it was the thing I needed to hear at that moment,” she recalled. “I had asked if he was looking for someone who could guide the center for a few years. He said, ‘We want you to come to MC because we want you to retire from MC.’
“That said to me, ‘We value you as an individual, as a person, and we want you to be part of a family at MC.’ That’s the thing that sealed the deal for me. I’ve told him a couple of times since, ‘As dean, I know you’re trying to do future planning for your professors. Count on me until I’m 70. You’re going to have to run me off.’”
Kimmel directed the Flowood Center for four years, taught undergraduate courses, and received the Mississippi World Trade Center’s Award for Academic Excellence. She served as vice president of the Flowood Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors before coming to the Clinton campus. She was promoted to associate professor of business in 2017, was named the MC School of Business Outstanding Teacher of the Year, and chaired the school’s Curriculum Committee for the last three years.
She describes her employment at MC as “ideal.”
“I get to teach the international business classes, and I get to see every undergraduate student who goes through the School of Business because it’s a core class,” she said. “That’s an institutional blessing I could not have created on my own.”
Her teaching philosophy is straightforward but time-tested and applies to everyone in her classes.
“The students come to the University to develop the skills and understanding that will help them in the next phase of their lives,” she said. “The goal of their families in sending them to college is for them to find a good job. Many graduate students already have a job – some are parents and may already be in the careers they end up in.
“I try to treat them all with mutual respect and the understanding that we all must be held accountable for the work we are required to do. It doesn’t benefit them to graduate from college if they don’t have the skillset necessary to be good employees. I try to see how we can turn what I present on the syllabus each semester into something the students can use in their portfolios. My pedagogical approach is to ensure we aren’t doing anything in class that doesn’t tie directly into the objectives of the class.”
She brings plenty of real-world examples into her classroom: last spring, the impact on the ruble of the Russia-Ukraine conflict provided plenty of conversation among her students. Despite her best efforts, not every student finds the material in her class engaging. She offers a sympathetic ear to even those students.
“At some point in time, almost every person I know has said about a class, ‘What does this have to do with anything?’” she said. “If any of my students ask that question about my class, I ask them to turn the question around a little and ask, ‘What does this have to do with everything?’ Once they do that, it changes their perspective on the world.
“To me, it’s a fundamental thing I was taught by my grandparents. This is God’s world. Everything going on in it right now is connected to you and what will be going on with you in the future. You can learn from everything, so try to figure out how this class is connected to everything.”
As a sponsor of the school’s Service Club, Kimmel has taken the lead on initiatives that help share the love of Jesus with those who find themselves in need. MC Business students spearheaded the campus Rise Against Hunger effort, which packages meals for distribution to sites around the world.
Ever the educator, Kimmel sees the event as an opportunity to help students broaden their awareness of international business.
“Not only are we serving this great purpose, but this has all the elements of a supply chain project,” she said. “That’s one of the fascinating things about it. Students get to see we have a mission to provide food in areas that are impoverished, they have to raise money for it, and they participate in packaging the supplies.”
In spring 2020, the campus-wide effort packaged more than 10,000 meals, which were sent to residents of Haiti. This spring, Kimmel’s group seeks to double the University’s donation by packaging more than 20,000 meals.
Another initiative stemming from her work with the Service Club is Buy the Farm, an effort to provide seeds, farm implements, and livestock for families in agrarian areas to become sustainable. Last fall, the campaign at MC raised almost $2,500 – enough to support four farms. This fall, an event to benefit Buy the Farm is planned to take place shortly after the University’s Rise Against Hunger activity.
Kimmel is involved in other mission activities as well. As incoming secretary of the Salt and Light Ministry Foundation’s Executive Committee, she serves in developmental missions to Honduras. She chairs the Benevolence Committee at Covenant Presbyterian Church, where she is a deacon. This month, she is participating in a development mission with the Kikuyu people in Kenya.
What she most enjoys is blending her two passions: education and travel. She has led Study Abroad trips to Spain with Dr. J. Mignon Kucia, MC assistant professor of communication, and to Guam with Dr. Billy Morehead, professor of accountancy in MC Business.
The trips provide another opportunity for her to interact with her students.
“As a professor, I generally have my students for one semester, and I may not see them again until graduation,” she said. “I may not get to see where they go or what happens to them. I’m just here for three or four pages in their book of life.
“The most fun thing is to see them on the day they graduate, knowing what they went through to get there, and particularly, what their families went through to get them to that point. The next day, when they turn that page and begin writing on it for the very first time, you know you’ve done the work to try to help. There’s no better feeling.”
Every Commencement moving forward, a shiny medal on her regalia will represent her premier faculty accolade and the impact she has had on so many MC graduates’ lives.
“It’s such a complete honor to me to be recognized in this way,” she said, “and I may need to attribute it all to Kitty Eduardo.”