December 09, 2011 by Helen Nowotnik
Drexel professor Sheryl P. Simons was found dead Dec. 2 in her Powelton Village residence by the Drexel Police Department after her students alerted the administration that she missed class.
Simons had been an adjunct professor in the Department of English and Philosophy since 2005. She was teaching three sections of English 101 this term.
Dwight Carter, a sophomore entrepreneurship major, was one of Simons’ students last year.
“I took Professor Simons’ English 101, 102 and 103 courses. She always pushed my fellow classmates and I to achieve great things. Professor Simons was also a great mentor and resource for me,” Carter said.
In addition to teaching, Simons worked in the Baiada Center as a mentor and consultant. She also worked to uncover local history.
“I’ve worked at Drexel for four years, and I think Professor Simons was one of the first faculty members that I met because she was always coming into the archives to find information about local history, Drexel archivist Robert Sieczkiewicz said.” “She was very interested in the Underground Railroad and its presence in this neighborhood.”
Simons had been gathering research to prove that a spot on Lancaster Avenue was a stop on the Underground Railroad. She had applied with the Pennsylvania Historical Commission to put a marker on the spot, but her application was not successful.
According to Sieczkiewicz, it often takes many tries to get a historical marker approved by the commission.
“That’s another big loss because I feel like if she would keep trying, she would have kept researching until she found enough information to make sure that marker got put up,” Sieczkiewicz said.
“She was just a lover of history. She loved research and, I think, spent a lot of time in Quaker meeting houses and churches looking at old records and trying to get information about the Underground Railroad,” he added.
Simons had her students work on projects that were outside of the Freshman Writing Program curriculum. In her fall English 101 classes last year, she had her students research Drexel history.
According to Sieczkiewicz, students would come into Drexel Archives surprised that they were there for an English paper. Students uncovered facts that were new to him about Drexel History. These projects, along with several of her other English class projects, were published on the Drexel Archives Blog.
“She seemed to be very encouraging to students and nurturing. And also very demanding in not letting folks slide by,” Sieczkiewicz said.
Priya Chhetri, a sophomore international business student, had Simons for English 102 and 103 last year.
“I know that she always wanted us to have debates in class. She always encouraged us to go over our opinion and share our ideas and what we thought about recent events,” Chhetri said.
Chhetri recalled when Osama bin Laden was killed and Simons was the only teacher to talk about it.
“We were supposed to read a chapter of the book, but she didn’t want to do that. Instead she just said we should talk about [bin Laden’s death]. Everyone was really open and she didn’t mind at all and she wasn’t being judgmental or anything. She asked everyone’s opinion. Even those who didn’t agree we should celebrate [bin Laden’s death],” Chhetri explained.
Simons’ mother died earlier this year. Chhetri explained that Simons tried not to miss class despite this.
“It was really sad. I couldn’t believe it for a while because she was always really happy,” Chhetri said.
“She was a really great woman, and she really genuinely cared about the recent events that were going on,” she added.
During a debate project, Chhetri chose to talk about her opinion on 9/11.
“I’m not from [the U.S.] so I couldn’t really say some of the stuff, but I did, and of course, my point was really angered, but she genuinely always told me, ‘Priya, you should always, always tell people what you think,’ and I never met anyone like that, especially a teacher,” Chhetri said.
Simons mentored Carter in the Baiada Center.
“I can’t begin to express how much the passing of Sheryl Simons has affected me and some of my colleagues. She was always there for me, and I did my best to make sure I was there when she needed anything from me,” Carter said.
He added, “One specific memory I have is eating pizza with her one afternoon at Savas Brick Oven Pizza. It was over the summer, after I finished all of her courses. She seemed so excited to see me, and we had a really nice conversation. I felt like I could speak to her on a deeper level than I would most teachers, and Professor Simons always offered me words of wisdom whenever we talked.”
In an email message sent at 5:14 p.m. Dec. 2, President John A. Fry notified the Drexel community that psychological and spiritual counselors are available to anyone in need of support through Drexel’s Counseling Center (215-895-1415 or 215-416-3337 outside business hours).
“This is a time for everyone at the University who knew and loved Sheryl to draw together and provide comfort to each other. I know you join me in mourning her and in keeping her family in your thoughts and prayers,” Fry said.