The Daily Gamecock

Admired USC professor killed in Shandon

Jennifer Wilson stabbed early Sunday morning


A globe-trotting, energetic education professor respected by colleagues and loved by students was killed this weekend inside her Shandon home, shocking a tight-knit College of Education she joined six years ago.

Jennifer Lee Wilson, 36, was stabbed multiple times during an altercation inside her Monroe Street home early Sunday morning, according to Columbia police. Police Chief Randy Scott said Hank Hawes, 37, has been charged with the murder.

Scott said Hawes, a former boyfriend of Wilson's, was arrested at a Columbia hospital after he attempted to commit suicide.

Scott said all the facts in the case immediately linked police to Hawes.

Officers found Wilson dead Sunday morning after being called by a concerned neighbor, Scott said. Police had already been to the house once late Saturday night after a neighbor called to report a dispute; a knock on Wilson's door wasn't returned, and there were no signs anyone was home, Scott said.

"She had been talking about various stuff that goes on in her life, and of course everyone has a bad boyfriend now and then, but a lot of us were worried about this guy we kept hearing about, but we didn't think anything of it at the time," said Thomas Hundley, a third-year business and technology education student and a work-study student in the College of Education. "We just kept thinking she would get out of it, and we expected her to. We didn't expect anything like this to ever happen to here. It's something that she didn't deserve."

Wilson's death came just two weeks after she was granted tenure and promoted to associate professor at USC, a feat in academia that follows strong research and teaching. During her six years at USC, she authored dozens of journal articles, won or contributed to more than $1 million in grants and traveled widely.

In 2008, Wilson won a Fulbright scholarship and spent one year as a visiting professor in Oslo, Norway.

"Here was a woman who could spend a year traveling all around Norway on a Fulbright as an American and USC ambassador, teach four classes online and never miss a beat," said Doyle Stevick, an assistant professor in the College of Education. "If any of us had to pick the colleague who would still be going full speed at age 105, there was no question that it would be Jennifer Wilson. I think of the many hundreds of future teachers who over the next three decades who will have had the opportunity to be touched by her passion and commitment stolen away."

Across the college, faculty and students described Wilson as passionate and innovative. Les Sternberg, the college's former dean who hired Wilson, said she was "optimistic with an extraordinary personality." Wilson's Fulbright scholarship and one-year Norway stint widened the college's horizons and deepened its curriculum, Sternberg said.

"You just can't find people like her," Sternberg said. "She was just a beautiful person. When we would interact, there was always a smile on her face. She'd walk in the room and just brighten it."

Tamlyn Horne, another work-study student in the college, said Wilson "saw the good in everyone."

"She would often return from trips to different countries and bring us back little things just to show she was thinking of us," said Horne, a fourth-year sport and entertainment management student. "The news broke my heart, and she will be missed by all."

Wilson also had a nonprofit organization, called A Chance through Literacy, to develop reading skills for struggling children, said Lucy Spence, a professor in the College of Education. Spence said Wilson had traveled throughout China and Norway, where she saw "poverty's effect on girls." And there, like everywhere else, Wilson built relationships.

"So I think that Jennifer really had a heart for people who were vulnerable in our society and wanted to try and repair the situation, particularly of girls," Spence said. "And since Jennifer taught teaching methods for middle school to teachers of middle school level children she particularly cared about literacy and knew how literacy could change the life of a young person."

After returning from Norway, Wilson regularly brought groups of Norwegian teachers to learn about South Carolina and the United States, Stevick said. She did this by working with the U.S. Embassy in Norway, the U.S.–Norway Fulbright Foundation USC and various other entities.

Some of those teachers visited South Carolina one February to escape the frigid conditions there. But as they arrived in Savannah, it started snowing.

"It was surely a great disappointment, when they expected to visit the warm and sunny South, but she would not let that take anything away from a great visit," Stevick said.

On her website, Wilson said she enjoyed reading, traveling, skiing and exploring South Carolina.

She frequently visited Missouri, where her family owns a bed-and-breakfast.
To David Virtue's family, she was "Aunt Jenny." Virtue, an assistant professor in the College of Education, said Wilson was one of his best friends.

"The void in our lives now is now beyond words," Virtue said.

Scott said the community is not in danger, and Columbia police officers always work to ensure USC students are safe.

A memorial service will be held in the near future. More details will be posted when they're available.