Long-time faculty member honored for excellence in teaching
By Audrey Webb
Steven Furney, university distinguished professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance, has an office tucked in a corner on the first floor of the Jowers Center. The walls of his workspace there are covered with frames displaying some of the highlights of his life. Pictures of family – he’s a father to three and grandfather to five – share space with his numerous awards and his multiple diplomas, one of which he says he got unintentionally.
Furney was just 31 when he “accidentally” earned his master’s of public health and epidemiology (MPH) from the University of Texas. It was his fourth degree; in addition to his bachelor’s, he had already earned a master’s in health education from the University of Houston and a Ph.D. in school health education from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
“I meant to just take some classes, just to increase my success and my knowledge in the area of public health,” Furney says of his time at UT. “But then I took 18 hours, 21 hours, and then my goodness, I thought, I’m close to finishing. If you can have an accidental degree, I think I got one!” he laughs.
His enthusiasm for education and his continual drive for self-improvement are clear indicators of why Furney recently had to make room on his office walls for one more accolade – an award that clearly was no accident at all. On May 1, Furney was named a Piper Professor – the 19th such distinction bestowed upon a Texas State professor.
The annual Piper Professor Program, established in 1958, recognizes 10 professors from across Texas for their dedication and outstanding achievements. Each college or university is permitted only one nominee for the award.
Furney, a Texas State faculty member since 1980, credits some of his own professors for providing strong role models for his teaching style. “They related to the students,” he remembers. “They were very approachable, had answers for whatever your concerns were, they had open doors. They were more than willing to make themselves available to students. I’ve tried to do the same things for my students.”
His dedication to his students spills over into more than just their academic and professional pursuits. Furney guides them to make positive choices that will affect them throughout their lives. He encourages them to apply their health education lessons to themselves, to internalize what they learn in the classroom and to develop into well-rounded graduates.
“I want them to get actively involved in themselves,” Furney says. “What can they do to become healthier? What can they do to make their lives more positive, more meaningful for them personally? That’s the cool thing about my field. Health is you – I’m talking about you. You personally! I can show [my students] how we can make you a happier, healthier person, that we can deal with all aspects of your physical, mental, emotional and social health.”
Furney lives by example through his deep involvement in numerous professional associations and university activities. He has served as president of both the regional and state chapters of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPRED); he currently chairs six dissertation committees; he helped develop the College of Education Ph.D. program – “There was no Ph.D. program anywhere in this university when I came here in 1980,” he notes, then adds with a laugh, “We didn’t even have computers in 1980. We didn’t even have voicemail!” – and he also makes time to play racquetball with faculty and staff from various departments. His positive attitude and strong investment in Texas State life keep him excited about his work, even after more than three decades.
“This is a great environment,” he says. “I can’t think of another place I would rather be than Texas State.”