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Dr. Erin McHenry-Sorber

Erin McHenry-Sorber was named the 2019 recipient of the Mary Catherine Buswell Award for her commitment to women through research and service at West Virginia University.

The award, which recognizes recipients for excellence in their field as it relates to the advancement of WVU women, community and civic activities that serve and advance women, and significant pioneering activities that improve the status of women, is sponsored by the WVU Council for Women’s Concerns and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

An assistant professor in WVU’s College of Education and Human Services, McHenry-Sorber holds a Bachelor of Science in education from Bucknell University, a Master of Education from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Philosophy from the Pennsylvania State University.

In 2016, McHenry-Sorber launched an innovative special topics course on Women and Gender Issues in Higher Education. The course utilized feminist and gender theories to explore historical and contemporary women’s and gendered issues in higher education, considering experiences from students, faculty and leaders alike —sexual assault, discrimination, leadership challenges, among others—through a lens of intersectionality encompassing gender, sexuality and race. This course has inspired students to choose research and dissertation topics focused on gender inequality, volunteer with units such as the WV National Center for Excellence in Women’s Health, and serve on the WVU Council for Women’s Concerns.

It was this course that inspired McHenry-Sorber’s ongoing research on West Virginia women’s first-year experiences in higher education as they transition from rural communities to a university. In collaboration with a doctoral student, McHenry-Sorber has an article under review by the journal Review of Higher Education, which interrogates the ways in which West Virginia women understand and construct place and gender across their home communities and the university.

Beyond a classroom emphasis on diversity and gender equity, McHenry-Sorber works on WVU’s ADVANCE team to increase diversity across campus. Partnering with a student mentee, she developed an implicit bias course for faculty and administrators. She then adapted and facilitated this course for four institutions, including WVU, and it is now offered at several universities across the country.

“Beyond teaching, Dr. McHenry-Sorber is widely regarded as a national leader in the field of education – especially rural education which is so vitally important to Appalachia,” said Chad Proudfoot, 4-H Organizational Specialist, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and doctoral candidate in higher education administration. “She has served in countless roles as an author, lecturer, editor and researcher in this area. In addition, even as a graduate student she was seen as an expert in this field, as is evidenced by her impressive scholarships, fellowships, and awards.”

McHenry-Sorber’s research centers on the internal and external structures and contexts that influence rural schools, the communities in which they are situated, and the relationships that develop as a result. She has authored papers in the Peabody Journal of Education, the International Journal of Inclusive Education, the Journal of Rural Social Sciences and Leadership and Policy in Schools. Her recent publications investigate the gendered risks and opportunities in Marcellus Shale gas boomtowns and the experiences of rural school leaders in a Marcellus Shale community, a timely issue continuing to impact women in Appalachia.

“Dr. McHenry-Sorber’s example through the mentored research experience has inspired me to refine my own epistemology to encompass feminist perspectives and identify new ways to advocate for women in my own professional and academic work,” said Katlin Swisher, interim director of marketing and communications, WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, and doctoral candidate in higher education administration.

As the recipient of the Mary Catherine Buswell Award, McHenry-Sorber will receive a $1,000 award to be used for travel, supplies, salary supplement or any other use commensurate with WVU policies, and she will be formally recognized during the WVU Weekend of Honors.