Cathy Sepko Doesn’t Slow Down for Anything
If you’ve been around North Greenville University for a while, then you’ve likely seen Catherine “Cathy” Sepko out on the front porch of White Hall, sitting in a rocking chair and sharing stories with anyone who will listen about her childhood in West Virginia or her more than three decades of teaching experience.
You wouldn’t guess it by looking at her — with her laid-back manner, warm grin, and the glint in her eye when she’s reached the climax of her story — but during her two decades at NGU, she’s worked harder than most anyone you know.
Sepko originally joined the North Greenville family in 1996 as a full-time professor to teach freshman-level English courses. At the time, she was one of only three English professors on campus. North Greenville didn’t even offer upper-level English courses yet.
Her team asked her to begin creating curriculum for these types of courses, since Sepko had studied curriculum and instruction in her doctoral work. She eventually planned and taught World Literature I and II, Southern Literature, Appalachian Literature, Southern Novel, and then later Creative Nonfiction Writing, Life and Memoir Writing, and American Folklore.
“We began to just dream that we could have an English major,” says Sepko.
In 1998, Sepko became division chair for humanities at North Greenville, which was still a college back then. Sepko oversaw the English, mass communication, history, development, and modern language programs.
In addition to her English courses, she began to take on communication courses. She also served as vice chair of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) committee to improve the freshman seminars at North Greenville, writing the curriculum for what would eventually become First-Year Experience.
“I look back and think, ‘I musta lost my mind,’” she laughs. “But, oh, I really liked my students.”
In spite of her busy schedule, Sepko still found time to cheer for her students at university sporting events. So in 1999, NGU’s administration asked her to become the official faculty athletic representative.
But Sepko had a few terms: she would take on this new responsibility if they could divide the college into different departments, with individual chairs for each department. Administration agreed to the change.
After that, Sepko could finally redirect her focus back to the English program. She and the other English professors dreamed up both the English degree and, subsequently, the English language arts secondary education degree.
Another goal she’d kept in mind was to create an honor society for English majors. So she set out to establish a chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, then also added societies for the mass communication and history programs, too.
At one point, Sepko inherited NGU’s Honors Program. She took on sophomore-level seminars on topics ranging from Southern life to family, and, along with Lisa VanRiper, spent 10 years working to revise the entire program.
Over the years, Sepko also served as representative, faculty chair, and vice-chair to the school’s Executive Council. As part of that position, she served as faculty representative and secretary on the committee that did the research and then made the recommendation to change North Greenville from a college to a university.
It would seem her list of responsibilities never ended.
“Once I came to North Greenville, things were definitely not perfect,” Sepko says. “I once compared it to the man that had the spinning plate, you know. You see in a circus. And he starts one plate spinning on a stick and then he starts another one, and he’s running back and forth to keep all the plates spinning.”
Somehow, Sepko had consistently found a way to keep all her plates spinning, managing both her ever-growing list of responsibilities and the numerous faculty who reported to her, now that she was dean of the College of Humanities.
“When I started, I had seven faculty in humanities. By the time I had been doing this about 16 years, our faculty had grown six times [that] amount,” she remembers.
But her biggest challenge on the job lay ahead of her. In 2010, Sepko was diagnosed with myelofibrosis, a cancer that affects the body’s production of blood cells.
While most might have slowed down after learning this kind of news, Sepko decided to continue serving NGU for as long as she felt able, fighting through the daily fatigue of the cancer. In 2013, Sepko even suffered a stroke during one of her English classes. But she managed to finish her lesson and dismiss the students before telling anyone to take her to the hospital.
"Hearing seven years ago that I would have to battle against an incurable disease was not easy to comprehend at the time, but perhaps it has taught me why so often the Bible reminds us to be strong and courageous and to fear not,” Sepko says.
She has certainly remained strong and courageous despite the many challenges and changes she’s faced during her time at NGU. This past spring semester, she celebrated 20 years at the university, where she continues to serve full-time as an English professor. And, no doubt, to sit at White Hall and tell her stories.
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