How would you describe the “perfect” professor?
Is this person “energetic” or “enthusiastic?” Are they “driven” and “motivated,” with goals and ambition? Maybe they’re a professor who connects with their students, or reaches out to the community, or challenges their classes to work to the best of their ability.
This is how colleagues described Dr. Jeannine Skinner.
Dr. Eric Heggestad, interim chair of the Department of Psychological Science, said it. Skinner’s work as a professor was perfect.
“She’s everything we’d want as a faculty member,” he said.
On the night of Sept. 1, UNC Charlotte lost the perfect professor. Skinner was killed, in what police are saying is a probable domestic violence case. She was 35.
Since then, the UNC Charlotte community has been mourning the tragic loss.
She was an assistant professor of gerontology, the study of old age, and psychology. This would have been her second year at the university.
“It’s rare for a professor to make as big of an impression on a university in one year,” said Anita Blanchard, an associate professor of psychology and organization science.
Skinner was a mentor to many other professors when it came to having “difficult but important” conversations in class, Blanchard said. She encouraged them to have talks about race and social justice, specifically after the Keith Lamont Scott shooting. Her classes were open and inclusive, said Chancellor Philip Dubois in a message to the university. She was always trying to improve in her profession. Heggestad said she would attend classes and workshops to become a better teacher.
Skinner was conducting research on ways to improve the health of senior citizens, specifically minorities and those of low income. She found that many of those seniors didn’t have safe places to walk and developed a program at a local senior center that helped them find a safe place. She would host programs at the center that would call for standing rooms only, due to their popularity.
Skinner had plans to continue research this fall and present her findings at a conference, said one of her students Tram Dang. Dang was originally intimidated by Skinner, who had high expectations for her students.
“After a few encounters with her, I understand that it’s because she knows we are capable of going beyond our limits and we just need a little push,” Dang said. “I truly appreciate her for that.”
Skinner was known as always having a plan or goal. The walls of her office were lined with sticky notes, full of ideas for research she wanted to conduct.
“She had her whole next five years mapped out professionally, how she wanted to accomplish things,” Heggestad said.
Skinner, who researched health factors, was an active person. Blanchard, one of her close friends at the university, said they’d go running or to do yoga together.
Zinobia Bennefield, an assistant professor in the department of sociology, was also close to Skinner. Together, they both started out as new faculty members in 2016. She said her conversations with Skinner were always educational.
“I always felt like I left her knowing something I didn’t know before,” Bennefield said.
Skinner received her doctorate from Howard University in 2010 and studied at the University of Washington School of Medicine. She was an adjunct faculty member at Belmont University and Fisk University before joining the UNC Charlotte family. From 2013 to 2014, Skinner conducted research at Vanderbilt University’s Medical Center. She was originally from St. Petersburg, Florida.
“The university has lost someone that I don’t know can be replaced,” Bennefield said.
UNC Charlotte’s Center for Wellness offers an “Interpersonal Violence Resource Guide” that can connect victims of domestic violence to safe places on and off campus. Find it at wellness.uncc.edu.