In memoriam: Barbara Cowles, associate director of Honors College
Barbara Sutton Cowles, associate director of Virginia Tech’s Honors College and member of the university community from 1990-2008, died on Aug. 17 from complications of polycythemia vera, a type of blood cancer. She was 79.
After moving to Blacksburg in 1990, Cowles accepted a job teaching freshman composition and became associate director of the Honors Program later the same year. As associate director, she helped recruit students to the Honors Program, ran a freshman honors colloquium, developed the honors learning community, and helped improve the success of Virginia Tech in major scholarships, including a Rhodes Scholar and numerous Marshall and Udall Scholars. Cowles won the Golden Key Mid-Atlantic Region Advisor of the Year in 1994 and the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Advising in 2007.
Cowles' expertise and success in identifying and guiding students to major scholarships led her to conduct breakout sessions at national university honors conferences on a consistent basis. Her role at Virginia Tech perfectly matched her outgoing personality, desire to support and help students, and ability to provide counsel and guidance to young minds. Upon her retirement in 2008, Cowles was honored with a large gathering of friends and colleagues and a bronze plaque that hangs in Hillcrest Hall.
Cowles was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in nearby Arlington, Virginia. Following her graduation from high school in the spring of 1960 and a suggestion from her uncle, she obtained her bachelor’s in English at the University of Kentucky. Cowles was selected as the University of Kentucky’s Outstanding Woman of the Year during her senior year and then completed her master’s degree in education two years later.
At the University of Kentucky, she met Joe Richard Cowles who was working on his masters in agriculture. They were married in Lexington, Kentucky, on June 6, 1965, and were happily married for 56 years.
Cowles had a great deal of success in education. Her first teaching job was at Corvallis High School in Oregon from 1965 to 1968. She resumed her education career in the fall of 1980 teaching at Pershing Middle School before moving to Bellaire High School. She primarily taught AP/IB English 3 at Bellaire until the spring of 1990. Her letters of recommendation were so sought after that she had to cap the number of letters she would write each year.
Cowles is survived by her husband, Joe; son Richard and his wife Lynn; son Daniel and his wife Maria; and grandchildren Samantha, Zachary, Benjamin, Megan, Whitney, and Ryan. She is preceded in death by her brother, Robert, and sister, Margaret.