Annual Faculty Excellence Award for Adjunct Faculty Goes to Beverly Dearstine-Russell
Beverly Dearstine-Russell of Clements believes in the value of grit and persistence when pursuing goals. She believes that those qualities combined with an array of teachable skills are what it takes for students to succeed.
And Dearstine-Russell is all about student success.
Known as ‘Ms. Bev’ by her students, Dearstine-Russell is the Lead Student Success Coordinator at the College of Southern Maryland’s (CSM) Leonardtown Campus. In addition, she serves as adjunct faculty at the college, facilitating more than 30 sections of courses over the past 10 years, including College Success Skills (STU1010) and Study Skills Lab (STU1030) and, most recently, a new course First Year Seminar (FYS1010).
When students walk in her door, “I’m excited,” she said. “By the end of the semester I know each one of my students on a personal level …They respond to that. ‘You’re really interested in me’ [they see] … Yes! Yes, I am.”
In recognition of her commitment to students and her impact on the CSM college community, Dearstine-Russell was awarded the 2017 Annual Faculty Excellence Award Honoring Adjunct Faculty at CSM’s Winter Commencement on Jan. 18.
“I was shocked and definitely humbled,” Dearstine-Russell said.
CSM student Lauren Edwards of Patuxent River, one of Dearstine-Russell’s students in First Year Seminar, said she agreed with the award going to ‘Ms. Bev.’
“Not only is she an excellent teacher, but she makes her class exciting and applicable to the real world,” Edwards said. “She connects with her students in a way that is unique and inspiring. She creates a learning environment that reaches far outside the classroom, and she is willing to go above and beyond to ensure those that she teaches are successful in their future endeavors. She has given me many resources to take with me during my college career and has made it clear that there is always an open door if I, or any other students, need a helping hand.”
Another CSM student recently sent Dearstine-Russell an email after Dearstine-Russell congratulated him on successfully completing a challenging English course. “Thank you so, so, so much, Ms. Bev. You have no idea you were everything that kept me together during that time,” the student wrote. “If it wasn’t for you, I would have just honestly stopped going. But I am so, so thankful for you.”
Dearstine-Russell treasures messages like this. “This is why I do what I do,” she said. “Sometimes they need to just know someone believes in them. I love this work … Encouraging them through the semester and acknowledging their success.”
Other CSM faculty members offered their own reasons why Dearstine-Russell deserved the college’s Faculty Excellence Award.
“Beverly Russell is one of the most professional, friendly and determined people that I have had the distinct pleasure of being able to work with,” said Professor Dr. Chretien Guidry. “I have worked with Mrs. Russell in successful events at Leonardtown Campus that she has organized and coordinated such as the Kick-off to College and Try College for a Day events. Each event has increased student enrollments and interest at the college … Mrs. Russell is both an asset and treasure for CSM and I certainly am proud to stand with her on any endeavor that she chooses to accomplish.”
Associate Professor Barbara Link also commented on Dearstine-Russell’s contribution to CSM and the community. “Beverly Russell is simply the heart and soul of CSM, Leonardtown campus,” said Barbara Link. “All faculty and staff members know they can turn to Bev … for help with students who need that extra ‘something’ to help them succeed. … Bev makes a difference wherever she goes. She certainly makes a difference at CSM because she always goes beyond expectations to effect positive change.”
Dearstine-Russell’s own story helps explain the particularly strong connection she feels for her students. She is a St. Mary’s County native with a network of county roots — born in St. Mary’s Hospital and raised here with family connections that include the Tippetts, Burroughs and Higgs. The daughter of a single mother, Dearstine-Russell is the oldest of three siblings, a situation that, she said, strengthened her instinct to nurture others and help when she could.
She attended Victory Baptist Christian School, St. John’s Catholic School, Leonardtown Middle School and graduated from Leonardtown High School. Her “economic reality” at that time made CSM her only opportunity to attend college. She seized the opportunity.
She started as a CSM student in 1989, majoring in general studies and social sciences. “My initial intent was to go into social work,” she said. “CSM is such a fantastic place to start when you really aren’t sure.” While taking classes, she also worked as a student assistant, beginning to build her understanding of the college and its organization.
After CSM, she continued her education at University of Maryland University College, earning a bachelor’s degree in social sciences. She later earned a master’s degree from Walden University, in adult education with a concentration in developmental studies, and continues to pursue advanced studies over the summer.
Her work life, however, remained centered at the college. Over the years, she has worked as an office assistant, distance learning specialist, administrative assistant to the executive assistant to the dean, student services support manager and enrollment advisor before her current positions at CSM.
“CSM has just grown so much since I started,” she said.
Her background is key to Dearstine-Russell’s ability to connect to and understand the students attending CSM. She understands Southern Maryland culture. And that institutional knowledge that Dearstine-Russell has been steadily building on over the last quarter of a century helps her help others navigate their education there.
During her many years at CSM, Dearstine-Russell’s enthusiasm for her work has only grown. She sees that her experience is valuable to her work. She lives seven minutes from the campus where she works. She grew up in the county and has multiple connections to the students there. She has the opportunity to help people every day.
“I would not trade this for anything,” she said.
Dearstine-Russell is married to Donnie Russell and they have two sons.
To view a video of Dearstine-Russell receiving her award, visit
https://youtu.be/XceU3fj-diA. For information on CSM’s Faculty Excellence Awards and previous awardees, visit http://www.csmd.edu/about/faculty-excellence-awards/.