By Jillian Daley
Time is precious. Yet PSU College of Education (COE) Assistant Professor Alexander “Xander” Davies shared his hours unstintingly with students, faculty and staff.
Maybe that’s why Davies impacted so many people, even though he died so young. He passed away at age 35 on October 22 at his home.
“Our thoughts and condolences are with his family as well as his friends, students and colleagues in our community,” COE Dean Marvin Lynn says.
Soon after people learned of Davies’ passing, stirring comments from all of those whom he affected, especially his students, started flowing in to the university. Davies began teaching in the COE’s Curriculum and Instruction Department in fall, 2018.
Ross Faulkenberg, an Edison High School teacher and COE Master of Special Education student, was among those who offered a message about the impact Davies had on his life, speaking directly to the late faculty member.
“Your warmth and positive light will always stick with me,” says Faulkenberg, who took a class with Davies on strategies for working with diverse students this past spring. “You are such a breath of bright, fresh air that inspires and welcomes anyone who crosses your path.”
Davies earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Northern Iowa before obtaining his Ph.D. at the University of Central Florida in 2018. He joined PSU shortly afterward, specializing in English as a Second Language (ESOL) and elementary education.
“He was a promising researcher, teacher and servant leader,” Lynn says. “He was a beloved professor and a well-respected colleague. Although he had been teaching at PSU for only a couple years, his passion for teaching future teachers came through in his work every day.”
Curriculum & Instruction Chair Will Parnell says that Davies would often swing by his office to chat or to confer about serious conversations he’d had in class, including one discussion about the institutional and structural racism some students had experienced in K–12 schools.
“He was focused on family involvement and community engagement in K–12 schools right at the time we met,” Parnell says. “As well, he had a love for working with people who wished to be educators foregrounding equity, dual-language and social justice in classrooms, schools and communities.”
Parnell says Davies relished other languages and cultures, traveling recently to Egypt and Cambodia. Davies wrote his dissertation about an elementary school in its first year of transitioning to a dual language program. Davies used the paper as an opportunity to thank teachers who work in what he called “one of the most difficult professions.”
“As classroom teachers, it is your determination and love for the profession that inspire students who have no hope, give a voice to students who are voiceless or have been silenced, value students who have otherwise been marginalized, and instill a love for learning to students who are considered unintelligent because of their ethnic and linguistic backgrounds,” Davies says in his dissertation. “This dissertation is dedicated to all classroom teachers in both public and private PreK–12 schools who recognize that linguistic and cultural diversities are qualities that are to be embraced rather than assimilated.”
He not only spoke out about the importance of helping teachers succeed with all students, but actively sought to empower educators while he taught at PSU. Brian Flores-Torres — who is obtaining his master’s in the Graduate Teacher Education Program, Secondary — took a second-language acquisition course with Davies this past summer.
“It was delightful to learn from him, work around the clock under his guidance and build a strong classroom community through his caring, understanding demeanor,” Flores-Torres says. “For one week, he dedicated all of his time and energy to address everyone’s needs and concerns in class, and I highly appreciate his tremendous work to include every student in his course.”
Flores-Torres says the students in that class respected Davies so much that they had planned to connect with him again in the future to soak in more of his ideas and knowledge.
Melissa Zhang first got to know Davies at a summer class in 2019 when she was completing her ESOL endorsement. Zhang says that Davies shone as a wonderful listener and teacher. He invested the time and effort to help her master academic citations and offered detailed feedback on assignments to help her grow as an educator.
Zhang says that right now he would want those whom he knew to take good care of themselves.
“That’s the most important thing he would care about when he is in heaven,” Zhang says. “He is in love and peace, no pain or sorrow. We will miss him.”
His colleagues will also miss Davis dearly.
“I never left a conversation with Xander without a smile on my face,” Assistant Professor Heidi Meister says. “I could count on them in a pinch — whether it was to check my APA style, share a syllabus or hang out as a friend in the empty Covid hallways of FAB. I’ll miss you, Xander!”
Parnell says that he will also miss Davies dearly as a colleague and friend, but this gentle-hearted professor who always made time for others won’t be forgotten. His teachings, ideas and tender empathy have made their mark.
“I hope you fly with the grace of the winds beneath you,” Parnell says “You live on and through each of us.”
A service for Davies will be held over Zoom from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, October 29. If you would like to attend and are not a COE student, staff member or faculty member, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for the link. Learn more about this professor’s life through the In Memory of Xander Davies website created by COE Director of Student Services, Marketing and Communication Patrick Kelley.
To share stories on the College of Education, email Jillian Daley at email@example.com.