August 8, 2022

O’Kelley begins term as FMU faculty chair

O’Kelley begins term as FMU faculty chair

With fall classes beginning in just a few weeks, a new chair of the faculty at Francis Marion University has already settled into her new position.


Dr. Sharon O’Kelley, professor of mathematics, began her term as head of the faculty last month after being elected to succeed outgoing chair Professor Glen Gourley.


A native of Walhalla, SC, O’Kelley came to FMU in 2011 and said she looks forward to continuing a strong tradition of cooperation and collaboration between faculty and administration that has been the hallmark of Francis Marion for years.


“We are known for the shared governance system we have at Francis Marion,” O’Kelley said. “The faculty, staff and administration work very well together to keep the university moving forward. My primary goal is to keep that momentum going in the form of open communication and transparency.”


Dr. Fred Carter, president of Francis Marion, said he looks forward to working with O’Kelley in the years ahead.


“Sharon is an extraordinary professor, a wonderful colleague, and is already doing an exceptional job as chair of the faculty,” said Carter. “Her knowledge of this institution and the people who work here is invaluable. I’ve had the pleasure of working with phenomenal faculty chairs over the past two decades and Sharon will continue this tradition.” 


O’Kelley’s  journey to FMU and a career in mathematics began in an unlikely place—with a degree in English. 


As a student, O’Kelley disliked math, and majored in English at Erskine College with the intent of someday becoming a teacher. However, her career took her on a compelling journey before she became a professor of math, and now faculty chair, at Francis Marion.


During her time as an Erskine student, O’Kelley’s academic advisor gave her some advice that would one day take on more meaning.


“I was taking calculus when I complained to my advisor that math was taking up too much of my time that was supposed to be spent studying literature,” O’Kelley said. “My advisor looked at me and said, ‘Sharon, I don’t understand you. Why do you not like math when math is a language? And you are good at language.’ Nineteen-year-old Sharon didn’t want to hear that. But my advisor planted a seed.”


Following her graduation from Erskine, O’Kelley completed four years of service in the US Army. She was commissioned as second lieutenant and served at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington. 


Next came law school at University of Puget Sound School of Law, now known as Seattle University School of Law. O’Kelley went on to practice law for a brief period in the State of Washington before rediscovering her true calling: teaching.


After 12 years teaching middle and high school, O’Kelley took the next step in her career. She spent three and a half years at University of Georgia working towards her Ph. D in Mathematics Education. A connection formed through that program opened the door to a job opportunity at FMU. 


“One of the primary reasons Francis Marion is such a good place to work is the people,” O’Kelley said. “We have a dedicated faculty and staff who are very passionate about their subjects and finding the best ways to deliver the material to students. And then we have an administration that’s very supportive.”