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WATSON COLLEGE OF EDUCATION

Watson College News

Watson College Bids Farewell to Valued Faculty and Staff

Monday, May 02, 2022

At a meeting on May 16, the Watson College bid a fond farewell to highly valued faculty and staff members including Bill Sterrett, Sue Kezios, Jeanne Swafford, Janna Robertson, Wilson Okello, Allen Lynn, Colleen Opalka, Candace Blanke and Emily Sobul.

“In a college community, we are all part of a shared story for a period of time,” said Watson College Dean Van Dempsey. “You have all been an incredibly important part of the story of the Watson College: what we aspire to do, the opportunities we find and the challenges we face as we move forward to be at our best. We thank you for all that you have done for the College, and wish you all the best as you move on to retirement or new opportunities.”


Dr. Bill Sterrett has served as associate dean for WCE’s Office of WCE’s Office of Engagement, Professional Learning, and Scholarship (formerly Teacher Education and Outreach) since June 2019. As associate dean he oversees the WCE Professional Development System, the Office of Professional Experiences, the Betty Holden Stike Education Lab, the Curriculum Materials Center, Isaac Bear Early College and D.C. Virgo. Dr. Sterrett also provides support for faculty grant writing and research, and serves as coordinator of WCE’s Master’s in School Administration (MSA) and add-on licensure programs. He joined the UNCW faculty in 2010 after serving as a teacher, assistant principal and principal in Charlottesville, Virginia.  

Dr. Sterrett will begin a new role as Department Chair and Professor of Educational Leadership at Baylor University on July 1. The Watson College held a farewell celebration in his honor in May.  


Dr. Sue Kezios has served as director of UNCW’s Youth Programs for 16 years. During her tenure she greatly expanded MarineQuest programs, introduced Engineering Expectations, and oversaw Summer Ventures and AmeriCorps Coastal Resiliency projects. Dr. Kezios was also principal investigator on several NOAA Marine Debris Prevention and Burroughs-Wellcome Fund grants that funded innovative and highly effective programs in environmental and STEM education including Traveling Through Trash (UNCW’s famous inflatable whale), Turtle Trash Collectors (sea turtles) and I-40 E.A.S.T., a STEM enrichment program serving rural middle and high school students.

In 2016, the North Carolina Science, Mathematics and Technology Education Center named Kezios the Outstanding Informal Educator in Science, Mathematics and Technology Education.

Dr. Kezios grew up in rural Maryland surrounded by history, music and the Chesapeake Bay. She earned her Ph.D. in biology from Princeton University. After spending the first half of her career conducting research on cell differentiation, Dr. K became concerned about the state of science education in America. This led to collaboration with the National Institutes of Health to create KinderScience, a hands-on science education program for young children. In 1999 Dr. K obtained her North Carolina teaching certification and began working at UNCW. In 2006 she was named Director of Youth Programs.

Dr. Kezios retired from UNCW on May 1. On April 25, UNCW MarineQuest and the Watson College of Education held a celebration to honor her many contributions to the College, the community and the teaching profession.


Dr. Jeanne Swafford’s career in education has spanned 48 years, most recently serving as an associate professor of language and literacy at the Watson College.

Dr. Swafford began her career as a kindergarten teacher. She taught students in grades K-8 in rural Tennessee and Ohio and was an associate professor at Texas Tech University and Mississippi State University before joining the faculty at UNCW in 2007. Here, she taught children’s literature in the undergraduate elementary education program and most of the courses in the M.Ed. program in Language and Literacy Education.

She received a Ph.D. in Reading Education from the University of Georgia, an Ed.S. in Curriculum and Instruction, an M.Ed. in Special Education, and a B.S. in Early Childhood and Elementary Education from Middle Tennessee University. Her research interests revolve around children’s and young adult literature, emphasizing literature that represents diversity and supporting K-12 teachers as they navigate the world of disciplinary literacies. Dr. Swafford has been active in the work of several professional organizations and is serving a 3-year term on the Orbis Pictus Nonfiction Book Award Committee, sponsored by the National Council of the Teachers of English.

Dr. Swafford will retire from the university in June. On May 3, faculty, staff and current and former students gathered in WCE’s Betty Holden Stike Education Laboratory to celebrate her long and distinguished career. WCE’s Language and Literacy program has also donated books to the Ed Lab in her honor.


Dr. Janna Siegel Robertson is a professor of secondary education at the Watson College. Over the course of a 30-year career in education, she has focused her work in the areas of dropout prevention, at-risk students, instructional technology, teacher preparation, arts education, special education, gifted education and diverse populations. Dr. Robertson has been an educational consultant and strong advocate for public education at the local, state, national and international levels.

In 2016, she received UNCW’s Distinguished Scholarly Engagement and Public Service Award (Senior Scholar) for her passion, commitment and service to the Wilmington community and the region. Dr. Robertson was recognized for her work as co-coordinator of WCE’s Dropout Prevention Coalition, an organization she co-founded in 2011 to bring together a broad coalition of representatives to energize and support efforts to help students stay in and succeed in school; her work as a researcher on the Safer School Task Force, the New Hanover Interagency Agreement on disciplinary action and other initiatives to break the school-to-prison pipeline; and a community-wide effort that she led to beautify a section of downtown Wilmington through the creation of a 240-foot mural at The DREAMS Center for Arts Education.

More recently, she was instrumental in the 2021 launch of WCE’s MAT in Art Education program and creation of Wilmington’s “Black Lives Do Matter: End Racism Now” art installation at Jervay Memorial Park. She has also partnered with UNCW’s Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, writing the curriculum for “JUST US,” a program that uses art to help students develop important social and resiliency skills.

Dr. Robertson is leaving UNCW in June to focus full-time on community engagement projects. She also hopes to travel the world!


Dr. Wilson Okello joined UNCW in 2019 as an assistant professor of higher education. His teaching, research and service explore Africana/Black, literary, feminist and performance studies to press upon education and simultaneously enrich communities. During his tenure, Dr. Okello has been actively engaged in scholarship at the local, state and national levels. He has served as faculty-in-residence at D.C. Virgo, helped to launch several WCE diversity initiatives and is a sought-after keynote speaker.

In January, Dr. Okello was named an Emerging Scholar by the American College Personnel Association (ACPA), a leading international professional association for the study and practice of student affairs and higher education. He is co-editor of a forthcoming New Directions for Student Services volume on trauma-informed practice in higher education and student affairs, and author of the forthcoming text, Loving Black Flesh: Self-Defining Praxis in the Wake of Anti-Blackness. He received the Coalition on Men and Masculinities Outstanding Research Award (American College Personnel Association), was appointed as a faculty affiliate with Project MALES at the University of Texas at Austin, was named a William T. Grant Foundation Writing Fellow and is a Diversity Scholar Network featured scholar at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Okello will join the College of Education faculty at The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) as an Assistant Professor with a dual role as a Research Associate in the Center for the Study of Higher Education.


Dr. C. Allen Lynn is an associate professor in WCE’s English as a Second Language program. He joined the faculty at UNCW in 2012, after earning his Ph.D. in Language and Literacy education from The University of Georgia. For four years, Dr. Lynn supported the Educating Language Minority Students (ELMS) Project. The ELMS project, funded by a grant through the Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition, provided tuition reimbursement for individuals enrolled in WCE’s ESL add-on licensure programs, and enabled WCE faculty to provide professional development opportunities and ESL training for hundreds of teachers. More recently, he served as project coordinator for WCE’s undergraduate and graduate-level ESL programs.

Dr. Lynn began his career as an electrical power production technician for the United States Air Force. He also served two years with the Peace Corps as a hillside farming volunteer in Honduras before entering the field of education.

Dr. Lynn recently began his new role as an English Language Regional Officer (RELO) for the federal State Department. “The State Department employs about 25 RELOs around the world to further English language education globally,” said WCE Professor Eleni Pappamihiel. “We congratulate Allen on earning this highly competitive position and wish him well.”


Colleen Opalka has served as executive assistant to the Dean of the Watson College since January 2020, beginning just a few weeks before the onset of the pandemic. Colleen’s extraordinary ability to remain calm, focused and organized have helped the College manage through a very challenging transition, and she quickly became a highly valued member of “the Watson family.”

Prior to joining Watson, Colleen served as the executive assistant to the Dean of UNCW’s College of Health and Human Services, and as the executive assistant to the Vice-Chancellor for Business Affairs. In addition to her professional appointments, she has served on the UNCW Staff Senate, and was the first UNCW employee to receive the Janet B. Royster Memorial Staff Scholarship awarded by the UNC Staff Assembly.

Colleen is relocating to Michigan with her family in June.


Candace Blanke was a valued staff member at the Watson College for more than 20 years prior to her retirement in March. Since 2010, she served as the administrative associate and University program associate for the Professional Development System (PDS) school-university partnership in WCE’s Office of Engagement, Professional Learning, and Scholarship. In 2016 She was recognized for exemplary service to the university at UNCW’s Staff Awards celebration. In her nomination, PDS director Somer Lewis cited Blanke’s devotion to the advancement of WCE’s school-university partnership and selfless commitment to collaboration within Watson, across campus and among partnership stakeholders. “I am humbled and in awe of Candace’s dedication,” Lewis wrote.


Emily Sobul was an elementary school teacher with Lenoir County Public Schools for nine years before joining the Watson staff in 2018 as the Education Technology Specialist in WCE’s Educational Technology Unit. During her tenure at Watson, she provided support for faculty, staff and students, most notably easing the transition to edTPA, a performance-based assessment teacher candidates complete during their student teaching.

Emily began her new role as a Senior Training Specialist for PPD in March.