Five longtime Coker professors to retire

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Five Coker faculty members have announced that they will retire at the end of the 2015-16 academic year in May. Altogether, these five individuals have invested more than 85 years of their lives to teaching and mentoring countless Coker students.

“Faculty are the heart of what we do here,” said Coker College President Robert Wyatt. “These five professors have had an immeasurable impact on the Coker experience. We cannot thank them enough for their dedication throughout the years, and we wish them all the best in their next chapter.”

Banks, Bartel, Maxwell and Puffer will hold an open roundtable discussion at 3:00 p.m. on April 6th during the college’s annual Celebration of Academics. The discussion is free and open to the public and will be held in the Davidson Hall Auditorium.

Jill Banks, Professor of Psychology (29 years)

Dr. Banks has been a member of the Coker College faculty since 1987. She is regarded around campus as one of the College’s most engaging faculty members, regularly making use of creativity and innovative pedagogy to ensure a positive and effective learning environment for her students. During her tenure at Coker, she has been awarded the Coker College Master Professor Award three times: 1993-94, 1997-98 and 2014-15. She has also served as coordinator of the psychology program and has been the founder and sponsor of Psi Chi, the international psychology honor society, since its inception at Coker.

“Dr. Banks has been one of Coker’s most engaging faculty members with a stellar reputation for listening, caring and motivating,” said Coker College Provost Tracy Parkinson. “In other words, while she is an outstanding classroom teacher, she enthusiastically embraces a much broader role as an educator on our campus.”

Banks was also the recipient of the 2014 South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (SCICU) Excellence in Teaching Award. This annual award, which is given to one faculty member at each member college and university, was created to honor faculty who demonstrate the highest standards of teaching that encourage students to strive for excellence in their studies and intellectual pursuits.

Banks holds a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of Mississippi, an M.A. in psychology from Middle Tennessee State University and a B.A. in sociology and psychology from the University of Tennessee. In addition to her position with Coker College, she has served as a visiting professor at Webster University and Clemson University. She also serves as a vocational disability examiner, a consultant with mental health associations and a licensed counselor supervisor.

Alexa Bartel, Associate Professor of Library Science and Director of the Library (11 years)

Professor Bartel has been the director of Coker’s library and a member of the faculty since 2007. She also served as the Evening Reference Librarian from 2002-2004. During her time at Coker, she has continually worked to expand students’ access to information and research opportunities. She oversaw the 2008 move into the new facility, The Charles W. & Joan S. Coker Library-Information Technology Center. She also facilitated the move to a new integrated library system, PAILS (Palmetto Academic Independent Library System), made up of seven South Carolina private colleges.

During her tenure as director, the library increased its eBook holdings to over 450,000 volumes, added a streaming music library and new subscription databases to its collections. Bartel also enrolled Coker in PASCAL Delivers, a rapid book-delivery service that enables students, faculty and staff to request and receive books from academic libraries across South Carolina. In 2012, Bartel established The Library Prize for Undergraduate Research to encourage the use of library resources, enhance the development of library research techniques and honor the best Coker College undergraduate student research projects.

“I appreciate Professor Bartel’s dedication to the library, to our students and to Coker College,” said Will Carswell, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty. “Her wealth of experience and passion have resulted in the continued success and growth of the library. Professor Bartel is a wonderful and committed colleague who will be greatly missed at the College.”

Bartel earned both her B.S. and her M.L.S. from Indiana University. She was active in the South Carolina Library Association, serving as secretary of the College & University Section. She also served as treasurer of the statewide college and university libraries consortium, PASCAL, for four years and served on the Board of Directors for six years.

Ken Maginnis, Associate Professor of Art (17 years)

Professor Maginnis has been a member of the Coker faculty since 1999. Early on in his career at Coker, Maginnis led Coker’s graphic design program to a new level of excellence by introducing significant improvements and upgrades. He was also responsible for expanding the program by adding new courses to the web design curriculum.

Maginnis is known among his students for being dedicated and passionate about design, traits that he brought into his classroom and his teaching style. Always invested in his students’ individual artistic process and progression, he could often be found meeting with his students in the art building and talking through their latest projects. He always encouraged his students to study abroad and often helped facilitate the process.

“Ken has frequently worked in close contact with students in our graphic design concentration,” said Jim Boden, professor of art and chair of the faculty senate. “Through this mentoring process he has had a major impact in their conceptualization and production of vision. Many of his students have gone on to be actively employed in graphic design jobs.”

Maginnis earned his M.F.A. in graphic design from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and his B.F.A. from the Philadelphia College of Art. In addition to his teaching, he has helped to promote the college and art department activities to the surrounding community. He has also continued his own work as a graphic designer throughout his tenure as a professor. During his sabbatical, Maginnis completed a large book design project. The book, titled “The Championship,” is an account of the University of South Carolina’s 1969 football championship.

Darlene McLeod Maxwell, Professor of Education (12 years)

Dr. Maxwell has been teaching at Coker as a full-time faculty member since 2004, after having previously served in an adjunct faculty position. Altogether, she has more than 40 years of teaching experience spanning preschool through sixth grade in the United States and Germany. These classroom teaching experiences have been broad in scope and design and include private and public schools, to university laboratory schools, Department of Defense Schools in Germany, and Montessori schools.

In higher education, Maxwell has taught at the graduate and undergraduate levels in Arizona, Maryland, Georgia and South Carolina in both private and public colleges and universities. She continues to publish research in the area of children's play, including a chapter in the recent book, "Connecting Children to Nature." She is responsible for hosting an annual community-wide “Play Day” for approximately 600 preschoolers, their parents and teachers, community agencies, and Coker College faculty, staff and students.

“Dr. Maxwell’s influence can be seen in so many areas of the Wiggins School of Education,” said Susan Henderson, associate professor of education and dean of the Wiggins School of Education. “Her wisdom and expertise will be missed, but her legacy will continue through the Coker story she has written with countless students, graduates, teachers and colleagues over the years.”

Maxwell earned her Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Arizona in 1996, her M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education from Boston University in 1989 and her B.S. in Elementary Education from Presbyterian College in 1973. She is also a certified Montessori Primary/Elementary Classroom Director and teacher educator. She is a board member of the International Association for the Child's Right to Play/USA, a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Montessori Educational Programs International, the South Carolina Association for Early Childhood Teacher Educators, and the US Play Coalition.

Richard Puffer, Associate Professor of Communication (16 years)

Professor Puffer joined the full-time faculty at Coker College in 2000, though his involvement with Coker goes back much further. He arrived in Hartsville as the sports reporter for the Hartsville Messenger in 1973 and immediately began covering Coker sports as part of the beat. Shortly after obtaining his masters in Mass Communication from the University of South Carolina, he began teaching speech and other communication classes as an adjunct in Coker’s evening program.

Puffer continued teaching as he moved into corporate communication, working as a public relations representative and then the director of corporate communication at Sonoco Products Company. Throughout his tenure as a professor at Coker, he has combined his professional experience with his master’s work to develop and teach a wide range of communication classes, from public speaking to journalism marketing communication to crisis and leadership communication. Puffer is a two-time recipient of the Coker College Master Professor Award (2003-04 and 2010-11).

“His approach to teaching epitomizes student-centered learning, and he cultivates the best within each individual in all of his classes,” said David McCracken, professor of English and chair of Coker’s Department of Communication, Language, Literature and Religion.

Beyond the classroom, Puffer is known for his efforts in community building and working with others in Hartsville to make it a great community in which to live. He serves the City of Hartsville as the executive director of The Byerly Foundation in Hartsville, and was named the Hartsville Citizen of the Year in 2009. One of his major goals has always been to demonstrate to students how experiences in the classroom can be applied to the real world. In addition to teaching, Puffer worked with communication students on their required internships. It was not at all unusual to find his students gathered for class around a Byerly Foundation Board table planning strategy and tactics for how the Foundation might better engage the Hartsville community.




Coker College is a student-focused, private liberal arts college located in Hartsville, South Carolina. Coker combines round table, discussion-based learning with hands-on experiences to encourage active participation in and out of the classroom. A supportive, close-knit community prepares Coker students with the confidence and practical life skills they need to reach their personal best, in college and beyond.

Founded in 1908, Coker is a bachelor’s and master’s degree-granting institution and competes in 24 NCAA Division II sports. Coker is ranked among the "Best Colleges" in the South by U.S. News & World Report as well as The Princeton Review, and by Washington Monthly as one of the Southeast's "Best Bang for the Buck" colleges.