Former Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, center, smiles Tuesday, Sept. 24, inside the MTSU Student Union Building as she is formally introduced as a Distinguished Visiting Professor in political science. Also pictured are Steve Sandlin, left, deputy to the Rutherford County mayor, and Charlie Baum, MTSU economics professor and state representative. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

MURFREESBORO, TN — A trailblazing former state lawmaker with a passion for education is bringing her vast political experience and academic background to Middle Tennessee State University as a Distinguished Visiting Professor in political science.

Former state Rep. Beth Harwell, the state’s first female speaker of the House of Representatives, was formally introduced in her new academic role Tuesday, Sept. 24, by MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee during a campus news conference attended by local state lawmakers and university leaders.

“While at MTSU, Dr. Harwell will be available to work with our faculty in a variety of ways, from serving as a guest lecturer or panel participant to organizing academic events that will

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, third from left, formally introduced former Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, center, as a Distinguished Visiting Professor in political science Tuesday, Sept. 24, inside the MTSU Student Union Building. Pictured, from left, are state Rep. Charlie Baum, an MTSU economics professor; Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron; McPhee; Harwell; state Reps. Tim Rudd and Mike Sparks; and Steve Sandlin, deputy to the Rutherford County mayor. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

allow her to share her experience and expertise with our students,” said McPhee, who noted the significance of Harwell’s appointment by mentioning a recent visit by a former distinguished visiting professor, former Vice President Al Gore, who returned to campus recently for a public forum.

“She’s exceeded the high standards we have for such an appointment,” McPhee said of Harwell. “She has served as a public servant with honor, integrity, and distinction.”

Harwell, who holds a doctorate in social science education, will be a part of the College of Liberal Arts faculty in the Department of Political Science and International Relations. She will also contribute to other programs such as:

Working with the MTSU chapter of the American Democracy Project and the Free Speech Center on ways to help extend and refine dialogue and discourse in politics;

Mentoring student interns in the university’s longstanding College of Liberal Arts programs who will be travelling to Nashville for the General Assembly’s upcoming session.

Mentoring MTSU’s delegation to the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature, working with and coaching the students who will travel to Nashville for a mock legislative session.

Working closely with the School of Journalism and Strategic Media’s class that focuses on coverage of the state legislature.

“This is certainly a good day for me,” Harwell said. “I want to tell you from the bottom of my heart that I care deeply about education, I care deeply about preparing the next generation to be servants and to lead and to develop public policy for us going forward as a nation and as a state.”

Harwell said she has watched the growth of MTSU over the years to become not only a “leading university in the state” but also more recently being recognized by the Princeton Review as a top college in the U.S.

“You are now a leader in the nation as a top university,” said Harwell, adding that she looks forward to meeting with faculty across campus to determine how best she can assist. “I care, I want to be involved in True Blue, and I’m honored.”

Harwell served as the Republican representative of Tennessee’s 56th District in Metro Nashville Davidson County from 1988 to January of this year and was elected speaker in 2011, serving in that role until she departed the legislature.

McPhee noted Harwell’s numerous legislative accomplishments — including shepherding former Gov. Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Promise initiative — as well as being an engaged legislative partner as MTSU pursued funding for its new Science Building.

Harwell earned her B.A. from David Lipscomb University, a master’s from Peabody College, and her Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in 1982. While earning her doctorate, she worked as a research analyst for the Tennessee Board of Regents until 1983 and later became a trainer at the University of Tennessee Center for Labor Management. She later accepted a tenure-track position as a professor of political science at Belmont University.