Plymouth, N.H.– A former student of a Plymouth State alumna has honored her teacher and mentor by creating an Environmental Studies Endowed Professorship. Janice C. Griffith, Professor of Law at Suffolk University in Boston, Mass., established the Helen Abbott ’39 Professorship in Environmental Studies to honor Mrs. Abbott for her influential role in her life, her considerable contribution toward public education and her creativity and commitment in educating youth about the environmental and ecological issues that make her home state of New Hampshire a remarkable place to live.
“Helen Abbott was a very dynamic teacher,” said Griffith. “She instilled a love of learning in her students — learning was fun. There wasn’t any subject that didn’t interest her.She was very passionate about what she did, passionate about learning and about her students.”Helen (Grace) Abbott ’39 was an exceptional teacher in the state of New Hampshire for more than fifty years. From a one-room school house in the 1940s through the technological advancements of the 1990s, Mrs. Abbott was an eyewitness and participant in the maturation of public education in the state and in the nation. More personally, as a beloved teacher and revered role model, she sparked a love of learning and instilled self-confidence in hundreds of students. Griffith first met Helen Abbott as a fourth grader in Union, N.H., where she had recently moved from Eugene, Oregon following the separation of her parents. Abbott, whose own parents divorced when she was very young, took note of the tomboyish Griffith, and they began a lifelong friendship.
“She understood me, and she understood what I was going through as a child of a divorce, which was something most people just didn’t talk about,” Griffith said. “She believed in me and gave me confidence in myself, which is something that has helped me all of my life. It was like a turnaround – she certainly got me on a path where I was trying to achieve as much as I could because I wanted please her, as well as my mother. She became like a second parent to me.”
The purpose of The Helen Abbott ’39 Professorship in Environmental Studies is to honor Helen Abbott and to provide financial support and public recognition for exemplary Plymouth State University faculty of any department who are integrating elements of environmental studies into their coursework or research. Awards from this fund will be used to further enhance the recipient’s development of courses, research projects, or other environmentally focused scholarly or interdisciplinary academic work. Griffith said creating the endowed professorship is a fitting tribute to a person who was so dedicated to education.
“She meant so much to my life,” Griffith noted. “I think it’s wonderful to give a gift in somebody’s memory when that person had made such a big impact on your life. Mrs. Abbott set a good example in that ‘one should give back.’ If one has been blessed with certain things, one has an obligation to give back to the community.”
“Mrs. Abbott loved nature; she was a naturalist, she knew of the wildflowers, she had notebooks of all of the trees in this area, so we would learn all of the different kinds of trees and that was one of her great influences on me – I teach environmental law. I see this gift memorializing what she meant to me, and also as a gift to Plymouth State University in the fact that it will help faculty by providing funding for research and enhanced classroom teaching, because environmental studies are very important to me.”
PSU President Sara Jayne Steen said that Janice Griffith has been an extraordinary educator — a law professor, dean, and academic vice president — and national leader, whether in developing the plan to restore municipal solvency to New York City or holding significant positions within the American Bar Association. With this professorship, Griffith allows PSU to recognize and support the extraordinary faculty and academic excellence at Plymouth State.
“Janice credits part of her outstanding career, which includes work in environmental and land use law, to the influence of a wonderful teacher,” said Steen. “With this generous gift, she assures that Helen Abbott’s story will be honored and that Plymouth State can recognize extraordinary teachers who are continuing that Plymouth State legacy. We are very grateful to Janice.”
The announcement of the Abbott professorship was made at a campus ceremony on February 24, with members of Griffith’s family and Helen Abbott’s family in attendance. Professor Brian Eisenhauer and graduate student Andrew Veilleux presented their research on Squam Lake as an example of faculty-student partnership on behalf of the region’s environment.
The Helen Abbott ’39 Professorship in Environmental Studies is Plymouth State University’s third endowed professorship, following Wallace R. and Meredith Bristow Stevens’ creation of the Stevens-Bristow Professorship for Educators and Ed and Marilyn Wixson’s creation of the Wixson Professorship of Mathematics.
For more information about this release, contact Bruce Lyndes, PSU News Services Mgr., or call (603) 535-2775.