The Cleveland resident said she never turned down an opportunity for advancement that she later regretted and always includes prayer in her decisions.
The former professor at Western Carolina University has done everything from working with children in special education, lobbying in Washington, D.C., and successfully writing grants, to speaking at major conferences and writing published journals to help teachers with improving instruction in reading comprehension and developing a partner relationship with handicapped students.
“I had worked with a lot of children in special education, particularly the mentally retardation sector,” said Dixon who authored the 1981 book, “Children of Poverty with Handicapping Conditions: How Teachers Can Cope Humanistically.”
“They were children from very poor environments. I thought about each of them as I taught my college classes. I would use so many of the examples of the children I had worked with. I guess that’s what inspired me. I went into their homes and witnessed their condition.
“I wanted teachers to realize that they could do more to help these children from a caring standpoint. I used the word humanistic but it was from a caring standpoint. Because if they don’t have food or shelter and they don’t have clothes, they’re not going to learn.”
Dixon admits to feeling guilty that she is no longer involved with helping such children, saying the problem is “so big that I just had to put it out of my mind.”
Dixon who received a bachelor’s degree in the study of mental retardation from the University of Georgia and taught special education in public schools in Athens, Ga., and Cookeville, went on to become an associate professor and coordinator of graduate and undergraduate programs at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C.
In 1983, she was presented with another opportunity when she, her husband and two children moved to Stillwater, Okla.
Dixon became assistant to the dean at Oklahoma State University in the College of Education and coordinator of special programs while doing post-doctoral studies in higher education administration. Her husband became a professor in the physics department at the same university.
Two years later the vice president of research had a planning grant and offered Dixon an opportunity to learn how to write grants.
“I went in there — and to be honest with you — I didn’t know what research was,” Dixon admits. “I had been a teacher, I had written, but I had never been in the research game. So I learned. I learned very fast. We put a proposal together and low and behold it got funded.”
For the next 18 years, every 3 to 5 years, the state of Oklahoma had to submit a proposal to the National Science Foundation which involved all the major universities in Oklahoma, said Dixon.
“Later, human resource development was added, which was my area anyway,” she said. “I would always write that part of the proposal and plan activities that would influence faculty and students, such as conferences and anything that had human resource development involved in it.”
Dixon, who assisted in writing proposals until 2003, said the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF EPSCoR) is still successful and ongoing.
“There are 26 states involved now and Tennessee is one of those states. Tennessee came into the program several years ago,” she said.
The secret to writing grants, says Dixon, is “knowing what the reviewers are looking for, being involved — I went to a lot of the meetings in Washington — and pulling your resources together.”
“Knowing specifically what you want, laying it out clearly and having the support for the proposal is very important. There has to be a need and it has to be a really good idea. It’s a lot more complicated than that, but essentially that’s what it is.”
After traveling across the country and to Canada making presentations at major conferences, Dixon retired in 2003 and moved from Oklahoma to Cleveland to be with her daughter and her husband, Susan and Mike Shaver, and her two granddaughters, Allison and Caroline.
In the process, Dixon established her own consulting service (N-STEM) for university researchers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics for states that were in the EPSCoR Program.
In 2008, the accomplished businesswoman closed shop and decided to focus her life and energy on her most cherished accomplishments. Dixon said the opportunity to be with family and enjoy her grandchildren in Bradley County is the privilege of a lifetime and is as rewarding as any opportunity she’s ever had.
“I love it here. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I absolutely love spending time with my grandchildren and working in my vegetable garden. I joined Newcomers of Cleveland and look forward to eating out with friends.”
Still, Dixon said, “I miss being in the university setting and I really miss working with college students.”
“If I had to design a job for me today it would be something working with college students in the way of advisement. It keeps you young,” said Dixon, who would not rule out other counseling opportunities. “Students never age. When you’re with them — it’s wonderful.”
When asked what is next for the accomplished author, teacher and former professor, Dixon smiled with a slight glimmer in her eyes and said, “I’m just waiting for my next opportunity.”