Dr. Helen Naugle was a “vivacious” presence on campus, according to a student writing for the Blueprint in 1977. She was a woman at ease as one of only two women on faculty and among a nearly all male student body when she arrived on campus in 1962.
Naugle enjoyed and cared deeply about Georgia Tech students. When she observed a crucial stumbling block to their success — lack of skill in communications — she set out to address the issue.
By the time of the Blueprint article, she had already made steps toward her idea for a resource center to assist Tech students in communicating effectively in the technical and business worlds. She had co-opted an empty classroom for tutoring students in writing, and taught an advanced speech course dealing with technical material, each class a hypothetical real-life business encounter. By 1979, she directed a Writing Lab offering remedial one-on-one assistance, vocabulary building, interpretation of literature, business and technical writing, resumes, letters of application and acceptance, and even creative writing.
But her dream for a center was not to be in Naugle’s lifetime. She saw two members of her family graduate from Tech — son-in-law Dr. Lynn Deibler (M.S. Physics 1977) and granddaughter, Elizabeth Deibler Gadsby (Ph.D. Chemistry and Biochemistry) — and passed away in 2009. However, the path she had paved for extracurricular learning in communication resounded through the decades.
Rediscovering Naugle’s Legacy
In 2011 the Communication Center opened in Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons. Its seeds at Georgia Tech, planted nearly 40 years prior by Dr. Naugle, were just recently discovered by Center Executive Director Karen Head while researching the origins of writing centers in American universities during the 1970s. Then, came a chance encounter with Naugle’s granddaughter.
“Dr. Gadsby and I were at the same table during a celebration for the College of Science,” explained Head. “She told me that her grandmother had been a professor of English here, and this turned out to be Professor Naugle, whom I’d discovered as an early innovator of writing centers. Her legacy at Georgia Tech was meant to be remembered.”
The encounter led the Naugle family to establish the Helen H. Naugle Endowment Fund and on Friday, August 11 — her birthday — the Helen H. Naugle CommLab was dedicated. Sixteen members of her family representing three generations were present. Naugle’s husband, J.B. Naugle, was unable to attend. Professor Head introduced Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts Dean Jacqueline Royster, School of Literature, Media, and Communication (LMC) Chair Richard Utz, Georgia Tech Provost Rafael Bras, to the audience of students, faculty, staff, and affiliates of the center.
An Innovator of Higher Education Writing Centers
Naugle’s work and vision set the pace for Georgia Tech as an innovator in both extracurricular and curricular learning: Ivan Allen College School of Literature, Media, and Communication and its internationally recognized multimodal communication curricula are the home unit for Professor Head and the newly named Naugle CommLab.
In remarks during the dedication, Provost Rafael Bras credited Naugle as “an innovator long before we were talking about innovation at Georgia Tech...We’re forever grateful for her.”
Elizabeth Gadsby, the Sofusa Head of Product Development and Clinical at Kimberly-Clark, made remarks on behalf of the family.
“I am grateful to see my grandmother’s initial vision for one of the first university writing centers to have expanded and be flourishing today through the continued leadership of Karen Head. I believe my grandmother would be very proud to see this facility and its offerings to support students!”
Naugle’s daughter, Helen Harrold Deibler described her mother’s wider vision for the center.
“The Helen H. Naugle CommLab has not only fulfilled her dream, but has exceeded it. It certainly is an enrichment center for all of the humanities as my mother envisioned. We saw in her the ability to solve problems and to offer constructive comments with a positive attitude. The CommLab’s inclusive, caring atmosphere exemplifies my mother’s personality.”
A scholar of 18th Century English, Naugle began her career at Tech as an instructor in the English department. She earned numerous teaching awards and was a four-time recipient of the Class of 1940 W. Roane Beard Outstanding Teacher Award. She led the Regent’s Exam Committee and delivered the 1978 commencement address at Georgia Tech. Generations of students flourished under her teaching and mentoring.
“She had a warm smile,” remembers her daughter. “She cared for every one of her students and could see potential in each of them. She thought there was a solution to every problem and one should find that solution.”
Mrs. Deibler described some of the varied teaching methods used by her mother to try to teach each individual student. She drew “stick figures or simple drawings to explain a concept because this helped the visual learner. She used familiar things like how to sort the laundry to explain grouping similar ideas. She would laugh and tell us that when she finished telling the class about sorting clothes, one student would ask her to repeat how to wash. She required each of her students to find a buddy in the class because everyone needs a friend and this friend can help when you must miss a class or do not understand an assignment. She read poems in weddings, gave baby gifts to new babies, and was consulted about problems.”
A State of the Art Facility — Services that Support Success
Head notes that writing centers have historically been located in remote or undesirable spaces, spaces that often were — similar to Naugle’s beginnings — co-opted by determined faculty. “Our dean, Dr. Jacqueline Royster, tells the story from early in her career when she opened a center in an old storage closet behind a campus snack bar!”
Head noted that some university writing centers haven’t progressed much beyond closet-type facilities. However, as part of the innovative Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons, the Naugle CommLab boasts a prime location on campus, with state-of-the-art technology and budgetary support from the central administration. Tech students benefit from all the bells and whistles — “everything that writing center directors wish for but rarely have” according to Head: SmartBoards, video-capture and video-conferencing equipment, computer stations, scanners, iPads, and even a 3D printer. The center also serves as Head’s research lab, with one focus being a commitment to offering scholarship about how various technologies work.
Students also benefit from the Center’s ability to provide the very best in tutoring — a sizeable professional staff of postdoctoral fellows who split time between teaching in the LMC Writing and Communication program and tutoring in the center.
Another part of the Naugle CommLab mission is to find ways to encourage students to become part of Tech’s community of learners and scholars.
“Foremost, we want to disabuse students of the idea that our center is a last resort for the struggling. We want them to understand that this is a place where exciting things happen, where even our best students come to hone their projects.”
Work in the Naugle CommLab touches every aspect of life at Georgia Tech, whether helping students prepare research papers or presentations, make documentary films, develop scientific documents for the public, write novels, or master the art of public speaking. Communication is a fundamental component for success, and the Naugle CommLab helps our students master the competencies they will need to be successful in their academic and professional lives.
The Helen H. Naugle CommLab has greatly expanded student communication support, particularly in the business and technical environment emphasized by Naugle more than 40 years ago, but using technologies she couldn’t have imagined.
Her family says that Dr. Naugle believed that “you can do anything you want to do, but added, there is a price. Some of that ‘price’ is Tech’s responsibility and some is the individual student’s. Our hope is the Naugle CommLab will provide a path for success.”
Elizabeth Gadsby said, “My grandmother inspired me to persevere to overcome barriers in a gracious manner. She taught me to follow my dreams and to lead and serve others.” Helen Naugle’s dream to help Georgia Tech students succeed through effective communication lives on at the Naugle CommLab at Georgia Tech.