To some, she’s known as Wonder Woman Wittwer. To SUU alumni, she is called a mentor and a colleague. But to current SUU students, she is Professor Peggy Wittwer.
Originally from Kanab, Utah, Wittwer has been a T-Bird since 1974. In ‘78 Wittwer graduated with her first bachelor’s degree in business, not knowing that a decade later another career path would call her name: education.
When Wittwer first arrived at Southern Utah University in the ‘70s she came for the social aspect that entices most students to attend college. It wasn’t until after she married and had a family that she decided to come back to school to become an educator in the sciences, which she described as a male-dominated area.
“Back in my day, there weren’t a lot of women in science,” said Wittwer. “So I decided to switch gears and thought, ‘I‘ll teach elementary school and teach them science.’”
The transition of coming back to school in the ’90s as a nontraditional student made Wittwer nervous but helped her value her education more than she did before.
“I think you have an appreciation when you come back after you have been away for a while,” said Wittwer. “You have an appreciation of learning that maybe you don’t have when you are a freshman in college… And when I came back [in the 90’s] I really appreciated the learning part. And I kind of knew what I wanted to be by then so it worked out.”
After receiving her bachelor’s in education, Wittwer taught at South Elementary as a Special Education teacher for a few years, as well as a fourth-grade teacher. In ‘97 Wittwer graduated with a Master’s in Education and worked as an adjunct professor here at SUU.
In 2002 she made the transition from teaching elementary school to a full-time assistant professor.
Wittwer now instructs the future teachers of the world through the Department of Teacher Education during the school year and works as the Director of the Cedar Mountain Science Center during the summer months.
Every summer Wittwer and her team work with 450-plus students at the CMSC science summer camp which is a residential camp for fourth, fifth and sixth graders. The camp includes a two-day, one night experience that is so popular Wittwer has to turn away over 200 kids per year.
This past summer, the theme was SOS or Superheros of Science. This is where Wittwer gained her title as “Wonder Woman Wittwer.” Wittwer loves not only being able to teach her favorite subject, but considers this job, working with the elementary-aged students again as her “kid fix.”
Wittwer continually makes an impact on both her past and present students. During the 2019Thunderbird Awards, a formal event that recognizes students, staff, Wittwer felt honored to be nominated for the Professor of the Year.
She was ecstatic when she received it.
“It is a student nominated award and it just said to me that my students valued what I taught them and valued our relationship,” said Wittwer. “When they graduate they become my peers. They are teachers and I’m a teacher. They were first my students but now they are my colleagues.”
Each semester after students earn their degrees and begin their own teaching careers, Wittwer creates a group message in order to keep up with her new colleagues. Wittwer currently has 15 group messages which equate to 15 semesters worth of students she keeps in contact with.
Miranda Erickson, who graduated from SUU in 2018 with a degree in elementary and Special Education, is a part of one of these many group messages. Erikson is thankful not only for Wittwer as a teacher but more importantly how Wittwer has impacted her classroom to this day.
“There are times when I am teaching now and I think of things she did or said to me and it helps me connect with my students or make it through a particularly hard day,” said Erikson. “Peggy has a way of making you excited about whatever she [is teaching]… She is kind and was a mentor more than a teacher.”
Wittwer does not plan on stopping anytime soon and continues to educate the youth of the CMSC program and future educators. Whether she is working as “Wonder Woman Wittwer” or as a mentor, she is excited to enter the classroom each day.
“I love my job. It’s the best job in the world.”
Story by: Cassidy Harmon
Photo Courtesy of Peggy Wittwer