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University of Northern Colorado's Anita Fleming-Rife recognized for achievements

By Kelsey Hammon
On March 25, 2013

  • Anita Fleming-Rife

As a true educator at UNC, Anita Fleming-Rife has worked hard to transform the lives of those around her.

She has recently been honored with the 2013 Distinguished Educator Award by The Education Center. Fleming-Rife, whether by serving as a public information officer for the United Nations or a journalist for a newspaper in Little Rock, Ark., has had a hand in improving the lives of countless individuals. Her contributions can also be seen through education, as she has been a professor at Penn State and the University of Northern Colorado and she's helped establish an East African Community Center.

Today, she is Special Assistant to the President of Diversity and Equity at UNC. It would seem that there's very little Fleming-Rife hasn't done in the name of education and civic stewardship. Fleming-Rife's former students and colleagues would agree, but Fleming-Rife herself is humbled and hopes these achievements are only the beginning.

Fleming-Rife's interest in journalism started with her desire to advocate for social justice, and her interest in the subject was piqued by watching "60 Minutes" and observing journalist Dan Rather.

"I thought those were the kinds of stories I wanted to tell," Fleming-Rife said.

Looking back, Fleming-Rife can reflect on how her goal to advocate for positive change helped her transform her students into excellent journalists.

Ask any of her former students and they won't hesitate to describe Fleming-Rife as a true gift of an educator. Her compassion, experience and determination have been a real inspiration that helped students realize their own contributions to the world. Gayle Hamlett, a graduate of UNC in 1965, co-nominated Fleming-Rife with former student Amy Nickelson for the Distinguished Educator Award.  

Nickelson now has 13 years of experience working for a newspaper, and now writes for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, a job using journalistic skills she said that can be traced to Fleming-Rife's teachings. Nickelson remembers meeting Fleming-Rife the first day of a news editorial class and how she had put herself together with a gold broach adorning her jacket.

"I was expecting to be a formidable challenge for this woman," Nickelson said. "I didn't know she would be the one to challenge me."

Nickelson nominated Fleming-Rife to commemorate her for the educational challenge she posed to students.

"She is a unique individual whose spirit is rejuvenated by her ability to reach out, connect with and impact others," Nickelson said.

Fleming-Rife said she felt honored by the letters of nomination that flooded in to support her.

"You just think you're doing your job," she said. "Sometimes you don't stop to say: did I make a difference?"

The letters of her nomination proved that she had in fact made quite a difference.

"Students told stories about how I made a difference in their lives. That's what I'm here to do. It's fulfilling to transform the lives of students," Fleming-Rife said.

Fleming-Rife's positive transformation didn't impact only her students but also those she calls colleagues. Fleming-Rife met Sherrlyn Howard Byrd, a mother of three with a desire to finish her degree but also a lack of faith that completing her education was fathomable under the circumstances. Fleming-Rife convinced her otherwise.

"I will never forget how she diligently worked with me for more than a year and encouraged me to move from mediocrity to perfection," Howard Byrd said.

Fleming-Rife still wears a gold broach on her jacket and still works hard to transform the lives of others. Her personal hero is Mary Greenwood, a previous winner of the award. At a reception for UNC alumni, Greenwood opened the ceremony with an improvised song. This is a woman

Fleming-Rife feels honored to share the hypothetical educators hall of fame with.

"Question what you see and think critically" is a personal motto Fleming-Rife upholds to her students, especially when faced with the status quo.

Her challenges call for more than just a personal best but rather for an examination of the world with all its bias and assumptions. As Fleming-Rife has discovered, good journalism can find the truth.

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