Since reading the seafaring adventure story Treasure Island, Dr. Maher knew she wanted to be an English teacher. Written by Scottish writer Louis Stevenson, this novel captured Dr. Maher’s attention as a young girl, spurring a profound love of literature. According to Dr. Maher, it was “the first time [she] had ever imagined [herself] into a story,” and something clicked. From then on, reading and writing became Dr. Maher’s passions along with drawing and painting. The one caveat to Dr. Maher’s teaching career was her strong dislike of the education classes she had to take. However, because Dr. Maher was committed to controlling her path, she dropped education and majored in English. After completing her undergraduate degree, Dr. Maher chose to attend the University of South Carolina for graduate school. She studied nineteenth century British and American literature and graduated with a M.A. in 1979. From there, Dr. Maher enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For her dissertation, Dr. Maher analyzed Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and “its permutations through two centuries.” This comprehensive analysis “allowed her to examine a powerful cultural myth in a cross-generational, trans-Atlantic way.” Additionally, Dr. Maher’s minor in Children’s Literature influenced her project as she “was able to weave in analysis of Victorian and Edwardian boys’ books and popular culture, of ideological constructs of boyhood and masculinity, and of acculturation and Empire” (“Dean” 1). It is, perhaps, not very surprising that Dr. Maher chose Robinson Crusoe for her dissertation since that other maritime quest, Treasure Island, had so piqued her interest and imagination.
Once she finished her Ph.D., Dr. Maher spent time with her two young children, delaying her professorial career for a time. The family moved to Omaha, Nebraska when her husband accepted a position with the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). Although Dr. Maher completed a three-semester stint as a visiting assistant professor of English at UNO, she did not become a full-time professor until a few years later once she and her husband returned from Norway after he completed teaching there for a period. When administrators offered Dr. Maher a tenure track position that focused on women’s literature, Dr. Maher began what would be a storied and influential professorship at UNO, rising well above the moniker initially placed on her, “The Women in Literature” Professor. Her more than twenty years educating thousands of students as well as leading the Department of English as Chair have undoubtedly left a lasting legacy at UNO. (UNO English Department)
Some of the first classes Dr. Maher taught included Women’s Literature, Short Story, Introduction to British Literature, and First Year English 115 and 116. Shortly after her appointment in the English department, Dr. Maher applied to and was approved as a faculty member within the Women’s Studies Program. Dr. Maher then taught introductory Women’s Studies courses, such as Introduction to Women’s Studies in Literature. Although she was trained as a British Victorianist, Dr. Maher became fascinated with the history and culture of the Plains, particularly its literature and, most notably, women writers from the western United States and Canada (Johanningsmeier n.p; “Dean” 1). Her interest in the Plains transferred to her teaching, and Dr. Maher then developed courses that concentrated on literary voices such as Jane Austen and Willa Cather. Dr. Maher contends that creating courses focusing on the literature and writers she loved was one of her greatest joys as an instructor because she was able to put her “heart and soul” into her work. Some of the classes Dr. Maher implemented included Women Writers of the West, Writing a Woman’s Life, and a Jane Austen Seminar. She also taught Great Plains Literature, 20th Century Western American Fiction, Victorian Literature, American Drama, and American Environmental Literature. Dr. Maher gravitated toward Willa Cather, continuing the tradition started by her predecessors of teaching about this famous Nebraska writer. According to her colleague, Dr. Charles Johanningsmeier, “Dr. Maher regularly offered well-subscribed graduate seminars on Cather, wrote about Cather, and made numerous presentations throughout the state and region on Cather’s work” (E-mail). Most notable was Dr. Maher’s presentation at the 11th International Cather Seminar in Paris, France. By this time, Dr. Maher was a fully tenured professor, a rarity for a woman at the time, and ready for a new challenge in her professorial career.
In 2005, Dr. Maher served as Chair of the Department of English. Within a very short time, Dr. Maher’s enthusiasm and progressive leadership created a collaborative atmosphere that her colleague, Dr. Bob Darcy, asserts “did not exist before” (E-mail). One of her first directives as Chair was to organize a department retreat—the first ever—to tackle “questions relating to curriculum, mentoring at all levels, and the department’s new strategic plan” (Darcy). According to Dr. Darcy, “This retreat revealed early to members of the department Sue’s leadership style and the characteristics of the departmental culture she hoped to create: inclusiveness, equity, innovation, vision, and developmental self-reflection” (E-mail). Although she only taught one class per semester, Dr. Maher’s responsibilities as Chair were not only numerous but vital to the success of the English department. Faculty members describe