Hays Recognized by State for Dedication to Teaching and Learning
(Note: This article contains file photos of Dr. Kim Hays working with students before the global pandemic.)
Cody Beavers was facing a major personal crisis, close to giving up on his bachelor’s degree to address his other responsibilities when Dr. Kim Hays stepped in to help him persevere.
“Dr. Hays saw me through a personal and professional transformation I never imagined for myself and offered me support through the darkest days I’ve ever experienced,” said Cody Beavers, a 2019 biology graduate of Dalton State. “Without the mentorship I received from her I would not be the person I have become, and I certainly would not have finished my degree.”
Hays, an associate professor of biology at Dalton State, is known across campus for being tough but fair and for making personal connections with her students that extend beyond the classroom. She is involved in expanding research opportunities for students, serving on committees that directly impact student experience, serving student athletes both at the college and in the Southern States Athletic Conference and has received numerous Foundation Excellence Awards on campus for her dedication.
And now, Hays is being recognized again for her continued dedication and service to Dalton State. This time at the state level.
Hays is among the winners of the recently announced Regents’ Excellence in Teaching and Learning Felton Jenkins Jr. Hall of Fame Faculty Award. She is the second faculty member to receive this recognition. Dr. Marina Smitherman, chair of the Department of Life Sciences and professor of biology, received it last year.
“It is such a privilege to teach students at Dalton State College, and I am humbled the USG chose to recognize me for this work,” Hays said. “My college experience was transformative both intellectually and socially, and I am proud to play a small part in that experience for our students. Beyond the exams and lectures and labs, my job allows me guide students as they develop into professionals and lifelong learners. I hope I can provide for them a fraction of the support that was provided to me.”
“Dr. Hays serves as an excellent role model for other professors at Dalton State and in the University System of Georgia (USG) on the best practices in blending teaching, service and scholarship as a faculty member and deserves the honor of being selected for the Felton Jenkins Jr. Faculty Hall of Fame,” said Dr. Bruno Hicks, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “Dr. Hays integrates alternative instructional practices in her teaching to ensure her students receive high-quality instruction, even during disrupted semesters. She spends much of her summer engaged in faculty webinars with the USG Office of Faculty Development and other groups to ensure her teaching keeps up with her students' current needs.”
Hays focuses on four objectives: help students define success, help students find purpose and a sense of belonging, push students academically and give students the space to make mistakes.
“I have the opportunity to teach every type of student imaginable. I found that despite the differences in their backgrounds and future goals, these students share some commonalities–they want to be successful, find sense of belonging, find an environment that will push them academically, and be in a space where they can be wrong,” Hays said. “These commonalities and my own experience aided me in developing my purpose and philosophy of teaching: be the teacher you needed, but remember every student is not you. This philosophy reminds me to meet my students where they are and try and bring the kindness, empathy, toughness, understanding and rigor that my best professors provided.”
Beavers experienced Hays’ philosophy first hand. He worked as a teaching assistant, participated in undergraduate research and was mentored academically and professionally by Hays. He later landed an internship at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. But by then, his financial situation was strained.
He was living on a reduced income to focus on school and had a few unforeseen homeowner expenses that resulted in him falling behind on his bills. Due to that stress, he had stopped responding to emails or keeping up with deadlines with Hays and his other professors.
“Dr. Hays sent me a firmly worded email expressing concern and warning me that this type of lack of communication would not lead to success,” Beavers said. “After I read her email, it dawned on me this person really believed I could complete my bachelor’s and graduate degrees. After thinking about all the hours Dr. Hays had spent reviewing assignments, writing letters and pushing me to succeed in my goals, I knew I could pull through this situation.”
Hays went a step further to connect Beavers with resources to help him succeed, such as the Birdfeeder, a food pantry for students, and the counseling center.
“This is the single greatest thing anyone has ever done for me,” Beavers said. “Dr. Hays recognized I was in a dark place, and she made sure I got the help I needed. Dr. Hays saw me at my weakest moment and used it as an opportunity to build me up. She transformed and possibly saved my life when I desperately needed it.”
Hays is known for sharing her own story about being a first-generation student from a small town.
“She made us feel welcome, and we knew we weren’t alone in this scary college world,” said biology major Britney Perry. “I have taken four classes with her, and every time she was consistent, well organized, inspiring and fair. I am a non-traditional student who returned to college later in life. She went out of her way to show me I can be just as successful as my younger peers. When COVID hit, she never skipped a beat as we moved flawlessly into an online format. She repeatedly reached out and checked on us because our health and safety were her number one priority.”
Hays makes herself available to students, and even shifted the terminology from office hours to student hours to help students feel more welcome visiting.
“Dr. Hays doesn’t stop working when class is done and the semester or academic year is finished,” Perry said. “She sends links to us on volunteer work, future graduate programs and where to look for careers regardless of your path. She is a wealth of knowledge and she never stops working for her students and colleagues.”
In addition to her dedication inside the classroom, Hays serves as the eligibility chair of the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) and is Dalton State’s faculty athletics representative. She received the SSAC Charles Morris Administrator of the Year award in 2020.
Hays has won Dalton State’s Dean’s Award for Excellence in Faculty Advising, the Truett Lomax Unsung Hero Award and the Dalton State Foundation’s Faculty Excellence awards for service and teaching.
Hays has her doctorate in zoology from Oklahoma State University and has been with Dalton State since fall 2012.