Dr. Nathaniel Terrell's abilities as a professor and department chair in the Department of Sociology have been well known since he began teaching at Emporia State University in 1998. What Dr. Terrell does outside the classroom has now become just as well known.
Especially since he was named by the January 2013 edition of the Kansas City business magazine, Ingram's, as one of the "50 Kansans You Should Know."
When he was interviewed for a teaching position at Emporia State in 1994, he recalls that some friends at Iowa State University, where he earned his Ph.D., mentioned that a lack of black faculty at the school could be an issue.
"As an African-American male, I thought they were joking," Dr. Terrell recalled to Ingram's.
So, though he was not the first, he definitely was a groundbreaker in what had become an obvious low point in the number of African-Americans in teaching and administration for Emporia State.
There is no doubt that Dr. Terrell was the right choice for the challenge. Emporia State students responded to his teaching style and the learning he gave them, ranking him high, with comments like:
"Loved him," and "funny and helpful instructor; takes work to pass his class but he is willing to help; treats students like adults," or "He's a very fun professor! Just relax and enjoy learning because he enjoys teaching!"
And the school, as well as the community, state, and nation also found an outstanding helper. He has been asked to participate in an uncountable number of events, programs, and organizations, and typically his answer is an enthusiastic “yes.”
He believes these activities are an extension of his teaching and research. Dr. Terrell has a servant’s heart.
“I believe I was asked to join all the activities outside the classroom I have participated in,” he says. “Serving on university committees is always fun and interesting because I get to interact with other colleagues at Emporia State. From the Ethnic and Gender Studies Advisory Committee to the Bonner and Bonner Diversity Series Committee, discussing some programing and visiting with speakers for Bonner and Bonner is not just rewarding but also informative.
“Working with Alpha Kappa Delta International Sociology Honor Society, Career Services Committee, and Hornet Nights all bring me into contract with students interested in leadership which is very encouraging.”
Dr. Terrell has worked with the Kansas African American Affairs Commission (KAAAC), the Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) Task Force Committee, in the Fifth Judicial District and nationally. He said it has also been rewarding to work with the American Society of Criminology’s Minority Fellowship committee and Division on People of Color and Crime.
“I get to work with many of the big name criminologists, as well as helping criminology students navigate their way in the field. So, my service activities bring me into contact with individuals where I can develop rewarding relationships.”
The honor bestowed by Ingram’s, he says, “was really just saying ‘thank you’ for being involved in Kansas.”
“Being a servant has being a blessing,” he adds. “For instance — after spending two years on the streets of Des Moines, Iowa interviewing homeless people and having completed my dissertation on homelessness — being on the Emporia Rescue Mission Advisory Board in Emporia has brought me into contact with a good group of men. When I get to have lunch with the guys at the Mission once a month, it reminds me to always remain teachable.”
Dr. Terrell has learned a lot in the field of sociology, much of it from first-hand experience.
Born in Oklahoma City, he moved a lot, attending elementary schools in Wichita, Kan., Langston, Okla., Guthrie, Okla., and Oklahoma City.
“I was in the fourth grade in Oklahoma City,” Dr. Terrell recalls, “when at least once a month a cab driver would have his door open due to either the driver being beaten up and robbed or the driver leaving the cab to chase the riders who did not pay the fair.”
By fifth grade, Dr. Terrell was living in the Oklahoma City projects called Hamilton Courts.
“I don’t recall a police officer in the community who did not have a hand on his gun when outside the patrol car,” he says. “I recall one incident where two white guys were being chased through the complex, and thinking I could see about 50 people in the chase, and hoping that they made it out.”
It was while living in Wichita as a young boy that Dr. Terrell’s dad passed away. Shockingly, the hospital would not allow him to visit his father and it is not difficult to imagine the soulful, hurtful impression that left, compounded by the memory of the time as a youngster he broke his arm and the doctor never reset it correctly.
“I have a real problem with any hospital going by policy and not letting a 10-year-old boy and his 5-year-old sister in the room for a final visit with their dying family.”
By the seventh grade, Dr. Terrell thought he was in heaven when he finally got a bedroom of his own for the first time in his life. No more sleeping in the kitchen, on the couch, in his sister’s closet, or with cousins. He could readily tell it was not heaven, though because funding cuts eliminated the government food program and it was back to what he calls an “Indian round steak (bologna) sandwich on hamburger bun wrap with a banana.”
Ninth grade had Dr. Terrell attending three different schools in two states. He finished school at Wichita East High School, graduating as a junior, and then enrolled at the University of Oklahoma to play football as a wide receiver.
The legendary Barry Switzer was head coach and Dr. Terrell played with many players that later played in the NFL. His playing career was cut short, however, because of an injury and ensuing insurance issues because he was a walk-on at the time. He eventually transferred to the University of Central Oklahoma where he earned a master’s degree.
And now here he is at Emporia State University, a school with a unique family atmosphere he has played a large part in developing.
“We are like family,” says Dr. Terrell. “I tell prospective students, ‘come to Emporia State and we will treat you like family.’ We will call you by your first name, encourage you to reach your potential and go on to do great things, and discipline you when that’s needed — tough love. My expectation for honor students is to join the honor society (Alpha Kappa Delta) and present at professional conferences. In the last three years, I have had two students present in Las Vegas, one in San Diego, and four in New Orleans.
“Then my students are ready for graduate school or to start a new career.”
And there is a good bet all Dr. Terrell’s students can learn from his example and know a great deal about servanthood. Perhaps they even have benefited directly from the generosity of scholarship contributions made by his family.
Since 2001, the Terrell family has contributed scholarship money to majors in sociology and crime and delinquency studies. Dr. Terrell will retire from Emporia State during the 2015 spring semester.