WOW, What a Legacy!

Couple’s gift continues the work of Worlds of Words’ director

By:
Katy Smith, Chris Richards photos
Worlds of Words
Worlds of Words Director Kathy Short reads a book with Khloey Steptoe.

In January, Jerry and Kathy Short were vacationing in Hawaii when their cellphones displayed this message:

Emergency Alert: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

“We followed the masses into a hotel cafeteria, which was like a bunker. People really panicked. They were crying and calling their loved ones to say goodbye,” says Jerry Short.

A second message came through 38 minutes later identifying the alert as a false alarm. 

The Shorts decided that day to make some decisions about their charitable giving. Acting on a desire to “do what we can while we’re living,” the couple made a $1 million gift to establish the Founders Endowed Chair in Education for Global Children’s and Adolescent Literature within the University of Arizona College of Education’s Worlds of Words.

 

The Worlds of Words space in the UA’s Education Building

The Founder

Professor Kathy Short joined the College of Education faculty in 1989. She was then, and remains today, a member of several committees for major children’s book awards, such as the Caldecott Medal. Through that work, she was amassing thousands of review copies and saw incredible potential to leverage them.

Kathy Short had noticed that children she worked with in the U.S. were less aware of global cultures than those she interacted with in other countries. She saw books as a powerful way to develop their perspectives and “encourage children to become more open-minded about the diversity that’s in our country and our community and our world.”

“Through literature, you actually see how people think and feel as well as how they live. Once you make those connections, it propels you to make a change. If you see yourself as alone, you feel isolated and helpless,” she says.

Kathy Short began building the collection that’s now known as Worlds of Words. WOW has become the largest collection of global literature for children and young adults in the United States and the second-largest in the world, boasting approximately 40,000 books. WOW serves as a robust curricular and research tool for students and faculty in the College of Education and is an outreach hub for K-12 students and teachers throughout the community and the world.

Educational events are hosted at WOW for families, school groups and teachers. 

Other outreach activities include participation in the Tucson Festival of Books and projects in classrooms and libraries. WOW’s website includes a searchable database of global literature. Three WOW journals are 
published quarterly. 

“Worlds of Words is really built on Kathy Short’s work,” says College of Education Dean Bruce Johnson. “She built this from scratch.” 

The Future

The Shorts’ gift ensures the college will always have a leading scholar dedicated to furthering WOW’s mission to open windows on the world by bringing books and children together.

Kathy Short is the first holder of the chair. She speaks about expanding and enhancing WOW’s programming through the Founders Endowed Chair in Education for Global Children’s and Adolescent Literature with great excitement. 

Her initial plans include working with teachers to develop after-school global culture clubs. 
She’s also discussing potential collaborations with the National Autonomous University of Mexico around building WOW’s Spanish-language collection and starting a community program to promote the joy of reading based on similar programs in Mexico.

Developing curricular strategies for teachers and education students to engage students around global literature will remain a strong focus area.

“This gift allows us to think further into the future,” says Johnson. “We need to be thinking about the next several decades and how we’re going to continue to develop this and sustain it. This is a very big first step in doing that.”