Clinical Professor Cindy Welch Retires After 15 Years at SIS
Once upon a time, there was a woman who was many things. She was a mentor, a teacher, a librarian, a storyteller, and much more, to many people. Wherever she went, she spread her knowledge, humor, wisdom, and kindness, and she will be remembered by the hundreds of students who have experienced her tutelage over the past fifteen years at the School of Information Sciences. This woman of many talents and graces is Clinical Professor Cindy Welch, and she is retiring this December from her position at SIS.
Welch has many accomplishments under her belt while she has been at SIS, including elevating the School Library Program to 11th in the entire country. She brought the Best of the Best program to UT, which meant hauling around about 150 books to regional library districts to speak to library employees about collections, censorship, and what the libraries should have on their shelves. She also advised hundreds of students who went through the Master of Information Sciences (MSIS) program at SIS, and the impact she made in that role was undeniable.
For alum Inga Haugen (’14), Welch was instrumental both in both Haugen’s time as a student and as they entered their career as a librarian and educator. Haugen’s introductory class in the MSIS program was taught by Welch, and remained one of their favorites, along with Welch’s greatly beloved INSC 576-Storytelling as a Communications and Learning Tool in Diverse Settings class.
“I both learned the curriculum she was teaching, but I also learned about how I wanted to teach. Her enthusiasm, engagement, empathy, mastery of the subject at hand, willingness to say, ‘I’m not sure, let me get back to you.’, her control of the classroom, and every interaction she had with students made me think that was the way to do it, and I wanted to know how to do it myself. I am beyond thankful for her example, which, ten years out from the experience of being her student in her classroom, still stands out to me as a beacon,” Haugen said.
An Educator at Heart
Education has always driven Welch’s career, as she’s held many roles in higher education besides that of teacher. She worked as an admissions officer and then admissions director for a small private college in Eastern Kentucky, and also at one point as a registrar at a community college. She earned a master’s in higher education in counseling, but eventually turned her sights towards librarianship due to a twist of luck and the suggestion of a friend.
“This is such a cliché, but all of my life, I’ve loved books. When I was growing up, we moved every two years and wherever we moved, there was a library and that was my safe place,” Welch said.
She graduated with yet another master’s, this time for librarianship, from the University of Kentucky and set off to start her second career. She had anticipated entering academic librarianship, but the job market in librarianship was scant, so she took a position at a North Carolina public library working with teens—a decision that would influence every part of her career thereafter.
“Because of my experience working in admissions and registrar, I like teens and tweens and kids,” she said. “That was my first library job and I kind of never looked back.”
The next big twist in her career happened when she was working at a public library in Chicago when her friend, Linda Walker, suggested Welch take Walker’s position upon her retirement. That job was as deputy director for the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), which is part of the American Library Association. Welch took her friend’s suggestion, applied, and was hired not only as deputy director of YALSA, but also of the American Association of School Librarians. She later moved into the role of executive deputy director of YALSA, before deciding it was time for yet another big step: earning a doctoral degree so she could educate at the collegiate level.
Welch earned her PhD from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana and began searching for faculty positions where she could teach school librarianship and library youth services. As a graduate of the University of Kentucky, Welch admits she had a difficult time swallowing the idea of working at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, but she was quickly won over by the people who worked at SIS.
“I came down here for my job interview and I had just finished defending my dissertation. They had champagne to celebrate my success,” she said. “I ended up really liking the people, so I came to work for Tennessee in 2008, and it’s been quite a journey.”
Teaching at SIS
Teaching became a great love for Welch and she relished every class and became known for being the kind of teacher who took extra time to advise and mentor students. Alumnus Andy Tate (’16) said Welch was the teacher who made him feel comfortable and welcome in the MSIS program. As active-duty military, Tate said Welch’s style of teaching really resonated with him.
“I come from the background of being used to hard coaching and teaching and it just makes me do better, and she was that person. She was hard, but she was fair, and that was great about her,” he said.
Like Haugen, Tate’s favorite Welch class was the storytelling course. Not only was it fun, but it informed how he communicates in his current job as a public information officer for the United States Army.
“We told numerous stories in the class and I remember when she would tell her stories and she would paint the perfect picture. I remember she would read or tell a story and it was so vivid, you could see it,” he said. “I took that class to heart because part of my job is that I have to have accuracy, brevity and clarity, and that class helped me get to the point and cut out the fluff. That class went a long way in pairing with my job.”
The storytelling started at that first library job in North Carolina, when she was doing school visits. There was a pivotal moment when she was telling a story to a seventh-grade class that “had a reputation for behavioral issues” yet they were engaged and excited by her storytelling. So, she continued to grow that skill, and was able to let it flourish when she was earning her PhD and working with a professor Welch called a master storyteller, Betsy Hearne.
“I took her storytelling class and that cemented things for me. When I got a chance to do it here—it was already in place with a different instructor—I jumped on it,” she said. “The challenge for me was teaching storytelling from face-to-face to online, but that class is incredibly special. I think the students learn more about themselves than they even do about storytelling, and that doesn’t have anything to do with me, it’s just the power of story.”
As for Welch’s story, she may be retiring but it’s definitely not “The End” yet. She hopes to continue as a lecture for SIS and to find other outlets for her love of books, education, and storytelling.
Clinical Professor Cindy Welch Retires After 15 Years at SIS written by Hillary Tune and originally published on the College of Communication & Information site.