An arc of candles surrounds a closed door to office 231 in Westlake Hall of a Bradley faculty member described as a passionate and down-to-earth character. Here, the Bradley community and the education department mourns the death of Dr. Christina McDaniel.
After a prior bout with carcinosarcoma, the disease returned in August, and she passed away on Sept. 2. Her daughter, Megan McDaniel, remembers the past year with her mother having cancer.
“Obviously, it was very scary,” Megan, freshman chemistry high school education major, said. “I was just starting my senior year of high school when we just found out.”
She was first diagnosed with uterine cancer until doctors found it to be stage IV carcinosarcoma. The doctors estimated that Dr. McDaniel wouldn’t have much longer to live but she was excited to be able to see her youngest, Megan, finish another milestone in her life.
“She, magically, got better and I graduated high school,” Megan said. “She was so excited, she just said, ‘I just want to make it to your graduation.’”
Dr. McDaniel was an assistant professor for the education department and co-director of the Center for STEM Education. She graduated from Mississippi State University with both her bachelor’ degrees and her doctorate after teaching high school biology.
After getting her doctorate, Megan and her mom moved to Illinois after Dr. McDaniel accepted a position at Bradley. Her father (also a teacher) and sister respectively had two years left before retirement and high school graduation in Mississippi.
Megan said that her father retired earlier than expected at 58 so that Dr. McDaniel could pursue her career.
“My parents loved each other so much, they’re an epitome of ‘that’ love story,” Megan said. “They met when they were 18 and got married at 19 and had been together for 33 years.”
Most of Dr. McDaniel’s colleagues met her through her interview process. Cecile Arquette, professor in the Education, Counseling and Leadership Department, knew Dr. McDaniel for over four years.
“Dr. McDaniel was not just a colleague, but she was really, truly my best friend here,” Arquette said. “She became my really good friend as well as a colleague just through the interactions that we had on campus, and also, I just started doing things with her … I helped paint her daughter’s room when they were getting ready.”
In an email interview, Juan Ríos Vega, assistant professor in the education department, described Dr. McDaniel as an honest person who was passionate about teaching and life.
“Dr. McDaniel did care about her profession and students,” Ríos said in the email interview. “She was not only an excellent instructor, but mentor and friend. I met some of the students that she carried under her wings and they always took very highly about her.”
Ríos said McDaniel would include how much students helped her with research studies and community events. A major part of her legacy, Ríos said, is her love for her students and profession.
Her students felt that in her classes. Olivia Peterson, a senior middle school education major, said Dr. McDaniel was one her first professors at Bradley. Her class required lesson plans, which could be stressful, but Dr. McDaniel didn’t lose faith in Peterson’s abilities.
“I feel like I learned so much in her classes than I ever really could have imagined,” Peterson said. “For me she was one of the first professors to tell me, ‘You have the potential to be a really good teacher.’”
For Peterson, the most memorable part of McDaniel’s classes was pushing future teachers to be the biggest advocates for their future students.
McDaniel went above and beyond the classroom, as she was involved in the community related to science by working with the local schools.
“A lot of her students came from struggling homes, [but] she still would go into the neighborhood and meet with every single parent,” Peterson said.
This past summer, Dr. McDaniel worked with the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy by setting up a booth to get people interested in STEM, according to Megan.
Additionally, she had undergraduate students work with her on research, writing papers and presenting at professional conferences.
“I’m going to miss her so much,” Arquette said. “She was a personal friend, but she was somebody who was really important to this department and to this institution and the greater Peoria community because of the work that she did with the local schools.”
McDaniel had a caring and nurturing personality, according to Dean Cantù, associate dean and director of Department of Education, Counseling and Leadership. He said that her students always came first to show that she was dedicated to them.
“I think that is something ingrained in her students,” Cantù said. “[Students] see the importance of putting their students first, but [she] was also passionate about her profession of teaching and trying to create these engaging and relevant learning activities to keep the interest for students and spark their passion for learning.”
One of the last events her friends and family attended with Dr. McDaniel was when she and her husband Dr. McDaniel hosted a gathering at their home before the semester started.
After a CT scan, doctors concluded that carcinosarcoma had returned and spread to her bladder and heart. She was placed into hospice care.
Megan returned home Wednesday, a week after moving on campus, after her father called her that day saying Dr. McDaniel was in her last moments. Dr. McDaniel died the next morning on Thursday, Sept. 2.
Without Dr. McDaniel on campus, who has been remarked as a caring person, her death is being felt by those who knew her.
“You never really understand the impact someone made on you until you don’t have [them] anymore,” Peterson said. “She was an amazing teacher, so it’s really sad to think other people won’t be impacted by her.”