Witherspoon, who in 2015-2016 served as president of AC’s Faculty Senate, originally frequented the College to learn how to speak English.
It was in 1997 when Witherspoon (nee Shehady) immigrated from Israel and enrolled in AC’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program. The future mathematician’s love affair with the College has fittingly grown exponentially ever since.
“I hardly spoke any English back then. Not very many people could understand me,” Witherspoon said. “Fortunately, Amarillo College has an excellent ESL program.
“For me, Amarillo College will always have a very special place in my heart.”
Command of the English language served as a stepping stone to additional studies at AC, Texas Tech University and West Texas A&M University, where she eventually earned a pair of bachelor’s degrees – in mathematics and biochemistry.
Then up popped a teaching opportunity at a familiar old haunt, the Washington Street Campus of Amarillo College. Witherspoon was swift to apply.
“Teaching was never something that I wanted to do as a career,” Witherspoon said. “It was by chance that I became a teacher, but when I started teaching it was just the most fulfilling thing I ever did in my life. I cannot imagine myself doing anything else.”
Witherspoon’s hands-on brand of instruction has touched countless lives since her return to AC’s academic landscape. She began teaching developmental math at AC’s Access Learning Center in 2009, and in 2014 she was named supervisor of the Math Outreach Center (MOC).
Though she additionally serves as supervisor of AC’s Math Testing Center, Witherspoon still makes time to personally tutor many of the students who visit the MOC in person or via remote technology. She also oversees the large contingent of student peer tutors who staff the MOC, which is a drop-in, no-charge individualized tutoring lab that serves students at all levels of math.
“Sometimes the word ‘math’ scares people,” Witherspoon says. “They think they cannot do it but they can. It’s not skills that they lack, it’s confidence. To make them believe that they can do it, that’s the key.
“It is a great feeling when you know you helped somebody succeed, and all my student tutors feel that way, too. The success of the Math Outreach Center is due to the commitment of our student workers. They believe in what they are doing and I’ve never been disappointed with any of them.”
The MOC has received both state and national accolades. In 2009, it garnered a prestigious Star Award from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the coveted John Champaign Award from the National Association of Developmental Education. Test scores of students who utilize the MOC typically improve, often as much as two letter grades.
“The students we help may not fall in love with mathematics or change their major to mathematics,” Witherspoon said, “but at least they see the purpose of why they need to be successful at it. When they succeed, it’s what makes this the job so incredibly fulfilling – the best job ever.”
Witherspoon, whose perspective is informed by her experiences in Faculty Senate, says the collective faculty mindset reflects a belief that teaching at AC is more than just a job; they know that students often need encouragement and assistance beyond the classroom.
“Coming here every day is not just a job for me. I’m not just here to go into a classroom, teach students, and go home,” Witherspoon said. “Helping students be successful academically is the easy part. I know how to do that.
“What I love about Amarillo College is that our faculty is not just a group of instructors who sit here and help students with academics – we help them with more than that because sometimes their struggles are economical or something else outside the classroom. We are fortunate to have a Culture of Caring and many resources designed to help them succeed.
“Higher education is essential,” she says. “You’re going to make a few mistakes – in school and in life – but you get up and you fix them. Failure should not define you; it’s why we use a pencil in mathematics. You make a few mistakes and you fix them and you move on.”
More about Reem (Shehady) Witherspoon:
- She grew up in a small town near Nazareth, Israel, with 10 sisters and 5 brothers.
- She moved here from Israel to help care for the children of a sister already living in Amarillo who was scheduled to have surgery; however, the surgery was canceled.
- She is married to Collin Witherspoon, AC’s executive director of institutional research; they have a teenage daughter named Mia.
- She at one time considered pursuing a degree in law.
- She received the Heart for Kids Award from the Amarillo Independent School District in 2009.