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Frances Bessellieu ’82, ’99M and Sueanne McKinney ’82

July 1, 2016

A passion for teaching and a desire to help future educators are two things Frances Bessellieu ’82, ’99M and Sueanne McKinney ’82 have in common. The lifelong educators spent much of their careers helping at-risk or special needs children and preparing teachers.

They were honored by the Watson College of Education for their efforts to make a difference in the lives of young people and the advancement of teacher education. Bessellieu, a former teacher and consultant with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and McKinney, an associate professor of elementary education at Old Dominion University, were recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.

Bessellieu, who died in November 2015, was recognized posthumously. Her sister, Anna McCauley, accepted the award on behalf of Bessellieu’s family.

“Frances would have been so proud of this recognition as she was always proud to say she graduated from the UNCW Watson College of Education,” McCauley said.

Teaching was not Bessellieu’s first career choice. At the age of 19, she was a commercial fishing captain, running boats from the Outer Banks to Gloucester, MA. She later became an educator, teaching children with severe behavior disorders for eight years before returning to school to earn a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction.

She went on to become the lead direct instruction teacher for New Hanover County, a member of a team with Reading First in Washington, D.C., the founder of her own educational consulting firm, and a consultant with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, helping to improve education on reservations in Montana.

“There was nothing she couldn’t do if she wanted it bad enough,” said McCauley. “Her greatest joy was working in the classroom with teachers because she was able to interact with children. Frances was the hardest working, most dedicated person I have ever met. She had a greater love of teaching and for the children that could be imagined.”

Sueanne McKinney knew at an early age that teaching would be her calling. She was an elementary and middle school teacher in the Norfolk Public Schools before joining Old Dominion University faculty in 1998. 

“I was personally impacted by the many needs of the students,” McKinney said. “Meeting success in learning is the only way that these students can escape poverty. I pray that I have had a positive impact on my students.”

An important lesson McKinney learned during her time at UNCW was to always put children first, she said, and it’s “an expression I’ve practiced in my classroom each year.”

Today, McKinney focuses on the educating future teachers and on research. “It is quite rewarding inspiring future teachers,” she said. “My research allows me to look at quality programs for preparing teachers for the urban classroom.”

McKinney is collaborating with Gloria Campbell-Whately, an associate professor in the College of Education at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, on a resource guide for parents and teachers of urban middle school students titled, Are you Hungry for a Wizard in the Twilight? The book is uses popular titles such as “The Hunger Games” and the “Twilight” series to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) ideals.

Like McKinney, Bessellieu also had a desire to inspire and help teachers. She established the Nicholas Jonas Fields Scholarship in Special Education at UNCW to help future special education teachers.

“That gave her much joy to know that she was helping a new group of teachers to fulfill their dream of teaching special education,” McCauley said. “She knew when they left UNCW they would be prepared to provide the finest education for the children they taught and mentored.”

McKinney touted Watson College of Education’s exceptional teacher education programs and urged the next generation of teachers to take advantage of field experiences.

“I was well-prepared for the classroom and working with diverse populations,” she said. “The number and quality of my field experiences gave me a realistic picture of the demands of teaching.”

--Venita Jenkins