Dr. Ann S. Ferren Invests in Radford University Students

Dr. Ann S. Ferren, friend and supporter of Radford University, believes that giving is easy when you find a cause you care about.

Dr. Ann. S. Ferren

Ferren moved from Washington, D.C. to Radford to serve as the Vice President for Academic Affairs from 1996 to 2001. She greatly enjoyed her time at Radford University and felt it was a special place for students to grow. Ferren’s mother, Dr. Edna Warweg Speidel, moved to Radford with her. Like Ferren, she was an advocate for education and enjoyed attending plays, concerts and other events on Radford’s campus. When Dr. Speidel passed at age 92, she left money to Ferren and her husband Dr. Jonathan Fife. In 2001, they used those funds to establish the Dr. Edna Warweg Speidel Memorial Scholarship in Chemistry.

Speidel earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Iowa in 1934, which was unusual for a woman at the time. She was an advocate for equal pay for female faculty members, and growing up, Ferren would hear her mother talk about how few women were working in science. That is why preference is given to female students when awarding this scholarship ­– because Ferren wants to encourage other women to study chemistry.

“That just seemed like a fitting way to use the money,” said Ferren, “and by that time, I also understood how hard Radford worked to increase scholarship funds.”

Rayshell Torres-Santana ’22 has been the recipient of the Dr. Edna Speidel Memorial Scholarship in Chemistry for the last two years. While balancing being a chemistry major with a forensics science minor, Torres-Santana also serves as a chemistry laboratory assistant and a REALISE peer role model where she encourages other students who are interested in pursuing degrees in science.

“I am very thankful for having been selected for this scholarship for a second year as it will allow me to continue pursuing my passion in chemistry,” said Torres-Santana. “I look forward to seeing what openings come my way this final year at Radford University and what more will come thereafter as I continue to put my skills and knowledge into being a successful Hispanic female chemist.”

In 2011, Ferren established the Dr. Ann S. Ferren MCAT Preparation Scholarship to assist pre-medical students by defraying a portion of their expenses for completing an MCAT preparation course to enhance the competitiveness of their application to medical school. This scholarship was inspired by discussions with Ferren’s son, a faculty member at the University of California San Francisco and a physician, who interviews students for medical school.

“This scholarship is an extension of a family commitment,” said Ferren. “I had always been interested in the work the Waldron College did in terms of providing health services to southwest Virginia. I thought, ‘If Radford students have aspirations to go to medical school, they will have to do well on the MCAT,’ and it’s a very expensive exam.”

Over the next few years, Ferren continued to think about the causes she cared about, particularly related to helping students who aspire to go to graduate school. In 2020, Ferren endowed the Ann S. Ferren Student Research Fund, which allows the Department of Chemistry to provide one chemistry student annually with a stipend for the supplies and materials needed to conduct original research.

“I know that if students want to go to graduate school, having been involved in undergraduate research is really important,” said Ferren. “My sons benefited from support from their universities when they did their senior theses, so I knew that mentoring and even a little bit of money can make a difference. That’s why I started the research fund in the chemistry department.”

Dr. Ann S. Ferren and husband Dr. Jonathan Fife at a Radford University donor reception in 2012

Ferren and Fife also have funds at the institutions where they did their doctoral work and benefitted from support. Their goal is to pay back and invest in what they feel would make the biggest difference in the lives of students. Not only does she believe that investing in higher education impacts the students, but she also believes that it makes a positive impact on their communities and society at large.

“Spending money on education is a long-term investment,” said Ferren. “I have always loved Radford’s approach to development, and I’m happy to be part of it.”

Ferren attended Radcliffe College, which was the women’s college at Harvard University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in economics, then the Harvard Graduate School of Education where she received a master of arts degree in teaching and prepared to become a teacher. Her first job was teaching high school economics. She then started a family and went to the Boston University School of Education where she earned her Ed.D.

After receiving her doctorate, she spent 20 years as a faculty member and administrator at American University in Washington, D.C. She dedicated her time to the honors program, general education and assessment. After two years as the Interim Provost, when it was time to take the next step in her career, she chose Radford University.

Throughout her career, Ferren emphasized the importance of faculty development in creating inclusive learning environments for students. While working as a faculty member at American University, Ferren took on a faculty development project and developed a conference, later named the Ann Ferren Conference in her honor, that is attended by hundreds of students, faculty, and staff each year. The 2022 conference focused on diversity, equity and inclusion; faculty, staff and student wellbeing; and cross-unit/cross-disciplinary collaboration.

In recognition of her contributions to college teaching and learning and institutional reform, and of her contributions to the association, Ferren was named a Distinguished Fellow of American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) in 2016. She has served on the AAC&U Board of Directors, the Editorial Advisory Board of Peer Review and the faculty of several AAC&U Summer Institutes.

Upon reflection, Ferren says that she originally had no aspirations of a career in higher education; however, one of her graduate faculty mentors had bigger plans for her. It was this professor who helped solidify her first position as an adjunct faculty member at American University. This helped her understand the importance of mentorship and relationship building. During her time at Radford, Ferren saw the impact these types of relationships could have on students.

“It’s what Radford’s about. It’s really about opening doors and pushing people through,” said Ferren. “It’s an amazing thing to be able to come to a university that believes in you and really changes the trajectory of your life.”