English department remembers late professor

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English professor Brandie R. Siegfried passed away in February after a battle with breast cancer. The English department renamed its Women in Academia panel in her honor, and other campus organizations have honors in the works. (BYU Photo)

The BYU English Department recently renamed its Women in Academia panel in honor of a professor who passed away earlier this year.

English professor Brandie R. Siegfried passed away on Feb. 17 after a battle with breast cancer, and the college remembers her as an advocate for women’s education. The panel, now called the Brandie R. Siegfried Women in Academia Panel, began seven years ago as a means of informing students about the variety of work available in academia.

English professor Jarica Watts described the panel as a question-and-answer event where female students could ask female faculty about their experiences as women in academia. It takes place every winter semester with a different set of four female faculty members each time.

Leslee Thorne-Murphy, an associate dean in the College of Humanities who helped create the panel, said she hopes it helps students understand the possibilities available to them. “We have stellar students, and we want them to make the most of their talents.”

Global Women’s Studies Coordinator Valerie Hegstrom knew Siegfried well and described her as a woman who encouraged her students to make the most of their talents a demanding but supportive mentor.

“She was wild; she was smart,” Hegstrom said. “She was one of the smartest people I knew.”

Hegstrom said she thought if Siegfried could give any advice, she would tell everybody to get as much education as they possibly can and use it to serve people. Siegfried herself had two master’s degrees (one in women’s studies and one in English) and earned her Ph.D. in three years.

Siegfried was one of the world’s leading scholars on women writers and the leading expert on poet Margaret Cavendish, Hegstrom said. At the time of her death, Siegfried was finishing writing a book on the pirate Grace O’Malley.

Hegstrom said Siegfried served as faculty advisor in the ’90s to VOICE, an on-campus women’s group, and as co-chair on the Faculty Advisory Council, where she was instrumental in implementing a parental leave policy for new parents. She even played on the faculty women’s flag football team.

“We are still grieving her death,” Watts said. “It was a tremendous loss for us and the university.”

The renamed panel was the first effort made to honor Siegfried, but Hegstrom knows of three other honors in the works from other campus organizations. Siegfried will posthumously receive an award for outstanding scholarship from the Faculty Women’s Association, and Global Women’s Studies will start a scholarship and lectureship in her name.

Siegfried herself grew up with economic disadvantages but was determined and hard working, according to Hegstrom. “She accomplished a lot when things were stacked against her.”

The scholarship will go to an undergraduate student who likewise demonstrates financial need and has something in his or her studies relating to women, Hegstrom said. Those interested in donating to the scholarship fund can do so on BYU’s donation website.

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