Saying "Goodbye" to Retiring EHS Friend and Colleague Won't be Easy

James M. Loy, Miami University

Most people may never know what they mean to their organization. But after decades of serving as such an integral part of Miami University’s College of Education, Health and Society (EHS), Phyllis Mendenhall may soon understand just how much she’ll be missed.

“Phyllis has been one of the foundational mainstays of the department,” says James Shiveley, EHS Charles and Frances Condit Endowed Professor of teacher education. “We are going to have a hole that is going to take years to fill, if ever. She is incredibly dedicated to advising our students. She has a sense of humor. She’s simultaneously patient and forthright. We just don’t know what we’re not going to have.”

Phyllis MendenhallAfter 32 years of service, the coordinator of advising for the department of teacher education, Mendenhall will retire this spring. It will be a transition that marks the completion of a long and successful career helping students find and follow their own aspirations.

Most of her responsibilities have involved advising students considering 22 different undergraduate majors and 13 graduate programs. Throughout her career, she has served as a point of contact for students hoping to become teachers, as well as current Miami students looking for a fresh start.

For these Miami students, especially those who might suddenly dream of a different kind of future, her guidance has been genuinely life-changing.

“Almost every August I get phone calls from kids who are business majors, or engineering majors, and they spent the summer as a camp counselor,” Mendenhall says. “And they call me and say, ‘I have got to do that. I had the best experience helping middle school kids, or high school kids.’ I love seeing someone get an experience and it changes their whole outlook.”

These kinds of stories represent the impact Mendenhall has had on generations of Miami students, which, for her, is a responsibility that means more than just impartially passing out course lists and class info. For her, the job has also been about getting to know the students, who they are, and who they hope to become.

“I had a guy today who is in one of our majors, but he doesn’t know if he wants to be a teacher,” says Mendenhall. “So we just talked about life, the universe, and everything. And he said how much he appreciated just being able to talk about stuff. I really enjoy that.”

Creating those personal connections, helping students explore new opportunities, and the admiration from those who have valued her help along the way – that’s all part of what Mendenhall says she’ll miss most.

But not as much, perhaps, as the rest of EHS will miss her.

“It’s not just advising students,” Shiveley says. “It’s advising faculty members. As long as she was there, I always felt like I had a safety net under me. And I’m going to feel like, for the first time in my career, that I am going to be doing this alone. I’m happy for her. But I’m going to miss her. I going miss her as a colleague, and I am going to miss her most of all as a friend.