Education journey comes full circle for graduate, professor

PLAINVIEW – The Torch and Mantle ceremony at Wayland Baptist University is special to graduates as they are able to bestow their legacy on undergraduates and formally thank their campus mentors at the same time.

For senior Alanna Dixon of Plainview, this year’s ceremony was extra special because it represented a full circle of her educational journey. Her mentor, Dr. Suzanne Nesmith, assistant professor of education, was not only her college professor, but she was also her teacher as a pre-k student at First Presbyterian Kindergarten in Plainview.

“Teaching pre-k was my first job out of college and I was in my fourth year at First Presbyterian,” recalls Nesmith. “My own daughter, Amy, was in the other class of four-year-olds.

Noting that Dixon’s personality and demeanor now are not much different from her days in pre-k, Nesmith said she has felt it a special honor to be the one who both started Alanna on her education and is helping her complete it. And since Dixon plans to be an elementary school teacher herself, the relationship is even more ironic.

“It’s neat to see the same child I taught to write her name I’m now teaching her how to teach others to write their name,” Nesmith commented. “To see the young woman she has become and to be her mentor was very special.”

After that year as Dixon’s teacher, Nesmith continued her teaching career at Ash Sixth Grade and then to Highland before joining the Wayland faculty in 2003. Alanna attended La Mesa Elementary but had classes with Nesmith’s daughter in junior high and high school, so her former teacher was able to follow her accomplishments.

When Dixon first came to Wayland four years ago on the PEP scholarship, she intended to major in science and transfer after her first year. But she fell in love with the school and with WBU baseball player Cash Fortune and opted to stay. The pair will marry June 28, just a few months after graduation.

As a junior, Dixon changed her major to education and enrolled in one of her first classes with Nesmith. As she graduates, she’s had five classes with Nesmith, who teaches many of the elementary education methods courses. Both have enjoyed the reunion, though Nesmith admits it dates her a bit.

“It makes me feel really old,” she laughs. “I have had a student (at WBU) who was one of my sixth graders, and one third grader, but Alanna was the first four-year-old I taught.”
Now as she prepares to assume a classroom of her own, Dixon has caught much of the excitement about teaching that her mentor imparted. As a student teacher at College Hill Elementary, she benefited from Nesmith’s encouragement and help in preparing for the work world. So when it came time to choose her mentor for the Torch and Mantle ceremony at Wayland, Alanna said the choice was easy.

“I’m real comfortable with her, and that helps in the learning process,” she said, noting that she is hoping to teach second grade or below. “When they learn something, their smiles get so big and it’s exciting.”

The daughter of Don and Marcia Dixon of Plainview, Alanna earned her Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies in elementary education, graduating cum laude.