Coast Guard Connection Bonds Student and Professor
by Baker Maultsby
Spartanburg Methodist College professor Barry Ward knew Randy Duncan as a hard-working student, a leader and “just such a real friendly guy.”
SMC is a place where classes are small, office doors are open and students and faculty develop meaningful relationships. But following the college’s awards program in late April, Ward found a deeper personal connection to his former student in health and physical education classes.
Duncan was honored with the American Legion Award and is heading into the United States Coast Guard after graduating this Saturday. Ward received the same award 37 years before as a student at SMC, where he landed after serving in the Coast Guard before enrolling.
“I’m biased, but I think the Coast Guard is the ‘elite branch’ of the military,” Ward said, noting that the Coast Guard is tasked with essential functions in both wartime and times of peace.
The American Legion Award honors young people who demonstrate courage, patriotism, scholarship and service.
“It was awesome – I had no idea I was getting the award,” Duncan said, though his credentials are certainly impressive.
A male and a female student receive the award each year. Along with Duncan, sophomore Brittany Halter was honored. Both of these students exemplify what SMC works to instill in its students: leadership, hard work and a commitment to making the world a better place, said Kim Caton, Director of Student Activities and Leadership Development.
“Randy is a student with a heart that longs to serve others,” Caton said. She pointed to a t-shirt fundraiser he coordinated to support South Carolina flood victims in 2015, as well as numerous leadership positions on campus.
“He is always willing to help, willing to serve, willing to make a difference,” said Caton.
Looking toward his service in the Coast Guard, Duncan said he is excited about seeing new places and having opportunities to help people. Among the duties of the Coast Guard is responding to boating accidents at sea and carrying out search and rescue missions.
Each branch of the service has many mouths to feed, and Duncan hopes to have the chance to develop his skills as a chef. Although he was born in Columbia, South Carolina, he spent his early childhood in Connecticut in “a big Italian family” and learned to appreciate authentic recipes – marinara is a favorite – at an early age.
“I love to cook,” said Duncan, who majors in business and hopes to one day open his own restaurant.
Duncan’s family returned to Columbia, South Carolina, when he was nine. Years later, he became interested in SMC when a friend was being recruited by the school to play baseball, and they both decided to attend. Duncan feels that it was a great decision.
“It’s small, and you’re able to meet with your professors and develop a one-to-one relationship,” he said. “They want you to do well. They aren’t just here for a paycheck.”
Ward finished his undergraduate education at USC-Upstate after graduating from SMC. He taught and coached at Landrum High School for several years before completing a master’s degree and returning to SMC as a professor. In addition to teaching health and physical education, he manages intramural programs at the college. He appreciates getting to know students in the classroom and on the field.
“I enjoy the relationships with students,” Ward said. “I love helping them to develop a healthy lifestyle, and I tell them that I want them to live better longer.”
And Ward is pleased to see one of his students following his footsteps into the Coast Guard. He believes Duncan has what it takes.
“I hope it will be a great life adventure for him like it was for me.”