Distinguished Springfield Professors of Humanics

Inspired, Challenged by Year as Professor of Humanics

When Regina Kaufman was named the Distinguished Springfield Professor of Humanics last April, it took her some time to make peace with the tribute because being under a spotlight doesn’t sit right with her.

“I had to grow into the idea that this role was mine to fulfill and then grow into the role itself,” she says. She did this cleverly, by making her work about others and shining the beam on them.

Kaufman spent hundreds of hours in the past 12 months, talking with and gathering information from roughly 60 faculty members who oversee about 9,000 hours of student time in community service learning projects—an area dear to Kaufman’s heart—in all five of Springfield College’s schools.

Then she organized a service learning symposium called In Celebration of Engaged Education, which was held on campus on April 1. One of the high points of the day was the opportunity for her colleagues to tell their stories through poster presentations displayed in the second floor atrium of the Flynn Campus Union. Faculty members relished the rare highlight of their community-engaged work and enjoyed networking with others who share their commitment to service learning.

“It really has been a delight,” Kaufman says. “Connecting with my colleagues around this work has been inspiring. It’s challenged me in a nice way to think about my commitment to the development of the institution with respect to its mission.”

Growing up in rural Hurley, N.Y., on her parents’ dairy farm, Kaufman learned about hard work, and through her education, she learned, too, about community service.

In junior high school, she volunteered in community projects through which young people with movement issues could go bowling or ride a horse, for instance.

Already an athlete then, Kaufman was accustomed to thinking about her body and the ways in which it worked and moved. “It was most interesting to me to think about the experiences that the kids I was helping had with respect to some of the limitations that they faced in the ways their bodies worked,” she says. “I got really intrigued in terms of how to help kids with those kinds of struggles to engage in activities that felt good to them.”

This interest led Kaufman to earn a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy in 1984 from Russell Sage College in Troy, N.Y., and a master’s degree in neurologic physical therapy in 1995 from the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston. After joining the faculty of Springfield College in the Department of Physical Therapy, Kaufman also earned a doctoral degree in educational policy and research from the University of Massachusetts.  

During the course of her 32-year career as a physical therapist she has been committed to helping solve problems faced by people living with neurologic conditions. Along with Kim Nowakowski in the Department of Physical Therapy, Kaufman co-founded what is now known as the Post-Stroke Group Exercise Program through a pilot offering in 2004 that has grown and evolved.

Through it, students offer free physical therapy services to 12 participants each semester who are living with the long-term neurological effects of a stroke. Their work in helping patients strengthen, stretch, balance, and walk is a part of their curriculum and draws on the skills they practice in lab class.

“Our participants have a very deep understanding of how important their presence is here in terms of fostering student development and learning,” Kaufman says. “It keeps us current in our clinical practice. It’s deeply satisfying. It’s loads of fun.”

In introducing Kaufman as the Humanics professor last year, Jean Wyld, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said, “If you have ever had the privilege of visiting with this group, you will see in the eyes of each patient a true appreciation for the impact of the Humanics philosophy on their lives.”

It was through her demonstration of excellence in teaching, scholarship, and service that Kaufman was named a Humanics professor, and in her service to this role, she delved deeply into the meaning behind the College’s mission to “educate students in spirit, mind, and body for leadership in service to others.”

Kaufman chose to focus on community service learning projects that are initiated on campus but touch lives across the Valley—and across the country—after consulting with colleagues, past Humanics professors, and others on campus. They told her: Pick your own passion for the focus of your work.

“That was really good advice,” Kaufman says. “What I knew most about was the work we do here in this department. What I suspected is that there were faculty like us all across the campus who held similar values and went about doing similar kinds of work, but I didn’t know who those people were and what work was being done.”

As she drank a lot of coffee and sat on the other side of many desks, Kaufman learned about faculty members such as Leslie Beale, professor of health studies, whose students provide classroom support at the Zanetti School; Sally Hage in the Department of Psychology, whose students provide wellness and career preparation services for many human service organizations; and Ruth West, assistant professor of art, whose students offer website design to nonprofits like the YMCA and area churches.

And the list went on, and on, and on, Kaufman learned.

“The breadth and depth of what faculty are doing was stunning to me,” she says. And what excites her now is what could come next, the possibilities.

It was through her demonstration of excellence in teaching, scholarship, and service that Kaufman was named a Humanics professor, and in her service to this role, she delved deeply into the meaning behind the College’s mission.

“Community engaged education is, to my mind, the perfect fit for Springfield College. There is no better way to prepare students for leadership and service than through service,” she says. “The community informs the classroom, and the classroom informs the community.”

Kaufman believes that Springfield College needs to continue to foster community engaged learning by developing an infrastructure and resource set that is different than what’s required for classroom-based learning. The College, for instance, is developing a new center for teaching and learning that could support faculty engaging with the community through their students and their coursework. A new community service center also is in the works. 

“The academic enterprise needs to be a significant player in what happens in that center,” she says. “These things are really the challenges and the opportunities that I think we have as an institution.”

As she considered a transition back to her normal work activities on campus, Kaufman says, “There’s a joke among Humanics professors that we become the ‘extinguished professors of Humanics.’ I’ll be no different from my predecessors with respect to feeling some relief that the work of the role is behind me.”

The inspiration Kaufman derived from the role is what she will carry forward.

Samuel A. E. Headley Honored as New Humanics Professor

Samuel A. E. Headley, PhD, professor of exercise science and sport studies, has been named the 2016-17 Distinguished Springfield Professor of Humanics.

In announcing his selection in April 2016, Jean Wyld, PhD, provost and vice president for academic affairs, called Headley “someone everyone on campus thinks of when you use the word ‘professor.’”

“If you remember your Merriam Webster, a ‘professor is a teacher of the highest rank at a college or university…one who professes, avows, and declares,’ which means, of course, someone who walks the talk, who enjoys the life of the mind, and who role models for students the highest academic standards in both their life and their work,” Wyld said. “This year’s Humanics professor has been ‘professing’ at Springfield College for over 20 years.”

In responding to his selection, Headley said the announcement caught him by surprise. He plans to focus on two projects during his year as Humanics professor.

“The first will involve an effort to quantify the level of sedentary behavior across the entire campus community with an aim to seek cost-effective ways to reduce this behavior,” he said. “The other will be an effort to encourage both faculty and graduate students to pursue external funding for their research ideas.”

Research funding is an area Headley knows well. He is one of the College’s most successful grant recipients. During the past 10 years, he has been awarded some $676,000 in grants, including four grants from the National Institutes of Health.

“In true Humanics fashion, he has used his research work to help others, and by using subjects from the Springfield area, he has also enriched our community,” Wyld said.

Headley currently has an additional $627,000 of grants submitted and pending.