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 Dr. Maher as “a fierce advocate” and “deeply supportive of virtually every forward-thinking initiative” brought by department members (Darcy). Dr. Maher reflects on the importance of the Chair guiding the department, supporting other administration staff, creating initiatives, and acting as a liaison between other faculty members. In collaboration with the department, Dr. Maher helped revise the English department’s strategic plan, began a major overhaul of the undergraduate curriculum, restructured and updated the British Literature curriculum, and garnered support to regenerate the dual-enrollment programs with local high schools. Dr. Maher believes the relationship between the English department and area high schools is vital as it draws more students to UNO for post-secondary study. There is “no aspect of the department today that does not have Sue’s imprint on it,” argues colleague Dr. Darcy (E-mail).
Dr. Maher argues that one of the most important aspects of her responsibilities as Chair was to hire new people who would have a lasting impact on the department. Dr. Maher was responsible for hiring four tenure-track faculty, one special faculty development hire, and one full-time non-tenure track faculty member. Dr. Maher says that seeing instructors like Dr. David Peterson, Dr. Kristen Girtin, Dr. Ramon Guerra, and Dr. Tammie M. Kennedy transition from assistant professor to fully tenured professor is immensely rewarding. Again, colleagues praise Dr. Maher’s commitment to hiring highly-qualified individuals to become members of the department who also brought it much needed diversity. Dr. Darcy allows that Dr. Maher’s hiring practices “have gone a long way toward establishing a positive reputation about our department among the newest generation of the academy” (E-mail). Moreover, Dr. Maher was not only responsible for evaluating all the professors in her department but was also in charge of meeting with deans and other chairs to discuss issues that affected the university at large. This collaboration allowed Dr. Maher to envision a broader picture of the university that extended beyond the English department. She was able to understand “issues that affected everyone across the UNO campus… [which] forced me to see the community here from a much larger perspective than I normally would” (Darcy E-Mail).
This broadening perspective impelled Dr. Maher’s interdisciplinary participation in notable organizations on UNO’s campus as well as those that reached into the community. Dr. Maher established an Honoring Fund through the University of Nebraska (NU) Foundation that provides students with the funds needed to travel to national conferences. Because she perceived a need for students to gain experience presenting at national conferences, Dr. Maher personally contributed to this fund so that students would benefit. As Dr. Darcy attests, “This admirable philanthropy on Sue’s part has further established the culture of giving that the English Department faculty are known for, and it further cements our understanding of ourselves as committed to sharing and pooling resources and fighting for improvements for the weakest members of our group” (E-mail).
Dr. Maher also assisted in developing the Karen and Bruce Baker Lectureship. Dr. Maher has also worked collaboratively with the UNO’s Service Learning Academy (SLA) and the American Democracy Project (ADP). The SLA “is an experiential, collaborative pedagogical method incorporating projects that promote academic learning. These projects are directly linked to academic curriculum while meeting the service needs of the community and providing collaborative experience between students and nonprofit or government organizations” (“Service”). Dr. Maher also assisted in developing the Karen and Bruce Baker Lectureship. Dr. Maher has also worked collaboratively with the UNO’s Service Learning Academy (SLA) and the American Democracy Project (ADP). The SLA “is an experiential, collaborative pedagogical method incorporating projects that promote academic learning. These projects are directly linked to academic curriculum while meeting the service needs of the community and providing collaborative experience between students and nonprofit or government organizations” (“Service”). http://www.unomaha.edu/servicelearning/ The ADP “is a multi-campus initiative focused on higher education’s role in preparing the next generation of informed, engaged citizens for our democracy” (“Democracy”). In her work with the ADP, Dr. Maher secured the funding for a writing contest and worked closely with a writer from The New York Times who then visited the UNO campus. The English department continues to actively support the ADP.
Dr. Maher is also actively involved with the Loren Eisely Society (LES) and the Willa Cather Foundation. Dr. Maher serves on the Advisory Board of the LES, which commemorates Nebraska writer, Loren Eisley. (Loren Eiseley website) The LES disseminates curriculum that teachers to use as a means of incorporating Eisley into their instruction. Dr. Maher has also produced numerous scholarships on Eisley. Dr. Maher is currently the President of the Board of Governors of the Willa Cather Foundation. She worked tirelessly to secure Cather’s My Antonia as the selection for the “One Book/One Nebraska” program, which is an affiliation of The Nebraska Center for the Book (NCB). The NCB “supports programs to celebrate and stimulate public interest in books, reading, and the written word” and “brings together the state’s readers, writers, booksellers, librarians, publishers, printers, educators and scholars to build the community of the book. We are the people who know and love books, and who value the richness they bring to our lives” (“Center”). When My Antonia was chosen for the One Book program, it coincided with the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Willa Cather Foundation. (Cather Foundation Board)
Dr. Maher’s exceptional work on behalf of the English department and the University has not gone unnoticed. In 1997, Dr. Maher earned the University Excellence in Teaching award, which came with a $1,500 scholarship. This award was “established in 1969 to recognize superior efforts, dedication and exemplary conduct in the performance of the University’s first task—the education of its students” (“Excellence”). That same year, Dr. Maher won the Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award in Arts and Sciences, which honors distinguished teaching in the classroom. In 2007, students and colleagues nominated Dr. Maher for the Mary Ann Lamanna Award for Excellence in Women’s Studies. This award “recognizes extraordinary service” to the UNO Women’s Studies Program and “can involve teaching, research/creative activity or service” (Kahdahl 1). Dr. Maher was recognized in all three areas. This award was especially humbling for Dr. Maher as