The inaugural Gus and Gertrude Ridgel Innovation and Service Award is special in its own right. The couple, who the award is named after, are cornerstones of Kentucky State University (KSU) and inspired countless faculty, staff, and students during their tenures on campus.
But for Dr. Cynthia L. Shelton, Associate Professor, Interim Chair, Whitney Young Honors at KSU, and the inaugural recipient of the award, it means even more.
“It’s very meaningful because Drs. Gus and Gert Ridgel were my role models when I was here as a student,” Shelton said. “They both cared about their students and cared about this institution.”
Shelton said Dr. Gertrude Ridgel was an inspiration to her.
“I had to look around for role models, especially after my mom passed, and she was one for me,” Shelton said.
The Ridgels have also served as role models to Shelton and her husband, Dr. Roosevelt O. Shelton, Distinguished Professor of Music and Chair of the Fine Arts Division at KSU.
“As I’ve matured, they were models to Roosevelt and I as a married couple on this campus,” Dr. Cynthia Shelton said. “Knowing how to stay in their lanes yet supporting each other. As my husband and I have matured on this campus, we’ve just tried to emulate what they have for this community.”
Dr. Cynthia Shelton, who also oversees study abroad at KSU, remembers Dr. Gertrude Ridgel’s innovation in that area.
“(Dr. Gertrude Ridgel) was doing study abroad before it was a thing. Before it was even labeled study abroad,” Shelton said. “She was encouraging students to travel and study internationally.”
Shelton, who took on a leadership role within the honors program and study abroad this academic year, believes in the transformative power of traveling to another country.
“You can see the students changing while in-country, but once they get back to campus, their lives are just transformed. They become student leaders,” she said.
One of her former students is a perfect example. The student had been previously suspended from the University and came back, but he still wasn’t performing to his full potential.
“Then I began promoting a study abroad trip. It got his attention. He said, ‘Can I go?’ Sure. I gave him the criteria, and he had to pull his GPA up. He did, and he went on two KSU study abroad trips with me. He came back just a different person; pledged a fraternity, ran for elective office and applied to law school,” Shelton said.
Examples like that are part of what drives Shelton to expose KSU students to global learning.
“There’s emerging research that indicates that it’s exceptionally important and relevant for first-generation students. I’d like to contribute to that research, and we’re a perfect laboratory to do that,” she said. “I think it will be very important to add to the body of global education literature and research. To do that is one of my personal goals.”
Shelton’s passion for global education interweaves with her leadership role in the Honors program well.
A Maymester trip to New York is planned for Honors students.
“I taught the Human Rights seminar last semester, and we added the U.N., the structure of the U.N., the purpose and the future of the U.N., and in May we’ll go to a U.N. briefing,” Shelton said. “Dr. (Donavan) Ramon has taught some of the classics of the Harlem Renaissance, so we’ll visit Harlem. That’s how we plan to proceed to tie in these co-curricular / extracurricular activities to the in-class content.”
Shelton credited many for her success this academic year: Dr. Roosevelt O. Shelton, Dr. Aaron Thompson, Dr. Candice Jackson and the WYC faculty and staff.
“I’ve seen the faculty that we’ve been able to acquire here in honors; I’ve seen them just take off,” Shelton said. “Some have decided to pursue terminal degrees while others are working hard to publish. I think the environment that we’ve created is conducive to student and faculty growth.
She also believes the visibility of the Honors Suite in Hathaway Hall has led to attracting more students.
“We get inquiries all the time,” she said. “I think the allocation of this space has just been great for the program. We have good ideas and good intentions as we move forward.”