Wagiha Taylor Reigns As Wilkes’ Longest Serving Faculty Member
By Andrew Seder
Wagiha Taylor, Ph.D., Wilkes University’s longest serving full-time faculty member, marked her golden anniversary this year and shows no signs of slowing down. She bristles when someone dares mention the dreaded “R Word.”
“I will never retire,” Taylor says. “I could never survive sitting around.”
Her husband, Merlin Gene Taylor, retired years ago after teaching physics at several universities including American University in Cairo, Egypt, Wilkes and Bloomsburg.
“He never asks me to retire,” Taylor says with a smile. “He knows better.”
The Egyptian-born Taylor still loves what she does and her passion for, as she calls it, “molding brains” is as strong as ever, perhaps even stronger.
Abel Femi Adekola, dean of the Sidhu School of Business and Leadership, called Taylor “Wilkes University’s treasure.” He says she has served as a role model for not only students but colleagues, himself included.
While some criticize members of Generation X or Y, Taylor appreciates them and believes that, thanks to social media, globalization and involvement in politics, today’s college student has a “broad mindedness” she admires. When she first started teaching, students had a very local mindset. There was little diversity among students in the classroom or their professors. But, as that has changed and students have become accustomed to interacting with those of different religions, ethnicities, and nationalities, she believes a stronger student has emerged, more ready to tackle the ever-changing world of business and economics.
Taylor, who has taught economics since 1969, jokes that she has taught so many local bankers that her husband tells her she could never rob a bank. “They could all identify me. They all know me.”
While some might get bored teaching at the same University for five decades, Taylor, a mother of three who drives a Porsche and is known for wearing large, opulent, dangling earrings, says she never loses interest in her job. Assuming new roles and new responsibilities has helped. In addition to teaching, she has served as dean of graduate studies, assistant dean of the School of Business and Rconomics, associate dean of the School of Business, Society, and Public Policy and more.
“Change is good for the mind. You can be in the same place but doing completely different things every few years is important,” Taylor says.
One of her former students, Bernard K. Mallan ’71, was a business administration major who credits Taylor and his Wilkes education for his successful career as a commercial insurance salesman, from which he retired in 2010.
“Little did I realize as I sat in her class room so many years ago that her subject material would be so relevant in my business career,” says Mallan, who lives in upstate New York and Jupiter, Fla. The two caught up at Homecoming 2018.
“I was overwhelmed when I saw Dr. Taylor at homecoming. So many years had gone by and yet here I was talking to one of my profs from my college days and she was still part of the faculty. I was blown away,” he says.
Mallan missed out on what Taylor considers her pride and joy, an annual spring break international trip that draws 50 students for a three-credit course called the “International Business Experience.” After trying to start the class in 2000, she was determined to offer students this potentially life-altering experience and found success relaunching it in 2004. While classroom learning is important, the real-world education the students get for those 10 days is invaluable. Students have visited the United Kingdom and various European countries.
“We’re not living in the United States only anymore. It’s an international culture now. International business has changed. The world has changed. And students are eager to see the world. Twenty-five years ago they were not. They were too local-oriented,” Taylor says.
If anyone has a worldly view, it’s Taylor.
As a girl growing up in Cairo, she learned English and thought about being an ambassador to the United States. Her father, Mohamed Saleh Abdel-Gawad, a judge, and her mother, Nasima Abdel-Gawad, a homemaker, encouraged her. As a college student, she enrolled in a program that would bring the best of the best in America to further their education.
“The U.S. government used to give scholarships to prospective bright young students overseas and I won one,” Taylor recalls.
She came to America and earned her master’s in economics at Brown University and a Ph.D. in economics at Clarke University. She met and married her husband and eight years after she first arrived in America, they headed to Egypt to see her parents.
“I went back with a Ph.D. in one hand and a husband in the other,” Taylor says.
Her husband took a teaching job at American University in Cairo but they soon returned to the States, where he took a job at Wilkes. A few months later, she did too. He left but she remained.
She’s served under six – soon to be seven — Wilkes presidents and nine United States presidents have occupied the White House since she came to Wilkes. She likes presidents and politics. She has pins on her desk from the Clinton/Gore campaign and also one from Trump/Pence. She proudly has pictures of herself with former Egyptian presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak.
Her office in the University Center on Main is adorned with posters depicting Paris, Moscow, and Rome. She also has a bookshelf with one shelf filled with mugs, glasses and other mementos from her international travel.
“I have been very lucky,” Taylor says. “I have lived a very good life.”
Of her many accomplishments, one stands out. In addition to being, at one point, the only female full professor at Wilkes, she’s also had the honor of being the only female to carry the university mace at graduation ceremonies. It’s an honor that goes to the University’s longest serving, and highest ranked employee. For 15 years, she has been that person.
“There’s something to be said about experience. There really is,” Taylor says.