Verna Case’s sons smile at the memory of their mother’s habit of leaving notes on the refrigerator. Sometimes, the notes were reminders of chores. Other times, they were motivational quotes, intended to inspire those who read them. Jordan Case, the youngest son, remembers one note in particular, sharing Socrates’ self-described greatest accomplishment—that he "taught men how to think."
Verna Case, the Beverly F. Dolan Professor of Biology, will retire at the end of the 2018-19 academic year. Her career has been dedicated to teaching students how to think. It is fitting, then, that her children—Jeff Case '99, his wife, Lisa Green Case '99, and Jordan Case '03—made a significant gift to Davidson College to name the Verna Miller Case Research and Creative Works Symposium, a campus-wide celebration of student research, creative works and community-based learning, now entering its third year.
Last year, more than 600 students participated in the symposium that drew students, faculty, alumni and community members to experience the original work created on campus. From Appalachian music and plays to research on antibiotic resistance on college campuses or the exploration of housing in West Charlotte, the symposium is a day of celebration, learning and fun.
"Last year's symposium was one of the happiest days I can remember experiencing at Davidson," Verna said. "It was a day of recognizing the accomplishments of our talented students and celebrating who we are as a community of scholars and artists."
The Case brothers grew up a stone's throw from the place that would become their alma mater. By honoring their mother's 44-year career on campus, they continue an established family legacy.
"When our mom talks about the past few years of her time at Davidson College, Alenda Lux [the original name of the symposium] is what she talks about," Jeff said. "We wanted to recognize her long career but also make our gift meaningful to her most recent passion."
A large component of the symposium is a showcase of student research, and Verna Case is a role model for this work. With an extensive background in zoology, her current interests include global health. For the last 18 years, she has led a month-long student trip to Mwandi, Zambia, that focuses on health care and the many factors that impact health in resource-limited environments.
Her daughter-in-law joined the group for one of these trips.
"I saw how she really accepts people for who they are and sees the best in them," Lisa said. "Verna is such a wonderful person and truly takes pleasure in everything she does. We feel like the symposium was a natural choice to bear her name because it celebrates her commitment to students, her passion for student research and hands-on learning, and her career-long dedication to making Davidson better."
Verna is celebrated for her love of teaching and has been recognized with myriad awards, including the college's Thomas Jefferson Award in 1998, which acknowledges a faculty member who by "personal influence, teaching, writing and scholarship" promotes the high ideals and accomplishments of Thomas Jefferson. Last spring, she was awarded the Hunter Hamilton Love of Teaching Award, which honors faculty members whose way of life uniquely inspires the full potential of every student.
"When you think of the goal and mission of what Davidson is as a liberal arts college, that's ultimately what we're really trying to teach at Davidson College—not necessarily to be able to give the right answer, but to be able to ask the right questions and investigate those questions and think for ourselves," Jordan said. "I really think Mom adopted that philosophy into her teaching."
"Jeff, Lisa and Jordan's generosity fills me with a great and indescribable joy, because this is not only an honor for me," Verna said, "but a recognition that we should always celebrate the work and creativity of our amazing Davidson students."