Ohio Today Online Spring 2002
For Alumni and Friends of Ohio University
 

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Inspiring Minds, how great teachers leave lasting impressions

By Mary Alice Casey
Photos by Rick Fatica

Joey Grant is a lawyer whose firm negotiates labor contracts between the city of Philadelphia and its police and firefighter unions. Across Pennsylvania, Jenny Kline is an assistant professor of mathematics at Washington & Jefferson College. To this day, both draw inspiration from a man who decades ago made them think harder, dig deeper and question themselves more thoroughly than most people they'd known before or have encountered since. That man is Edgar Whan, and he was their teacher.

In the late 1960s, at the height of the Black Power movement, Grant was one of about 260 African-American students on an Ohio University campus approaching 20,000. He was introduced to "The Whan" by a friend and fellow member of the Black Student Union.

"We were drawn to this guy," says Grant, AB '71. "He was an activist, and he encouraged all of us to be activists. He taught me that human beings can live together. He was personal and personable. He was a mensch."

Fifteen years later, Kline followed her two sisters' advice and registered for one of Whan's classes. It was the first of three English courses the math major would take from a man whose appreciation for students she works to emulate today.

"Every one of his classes taught me to read more critically, to think more deeply and to communicate better," says Kline, BS '86, MS '88 and PHD '95. "But his biggest gift as a teacher was the unabashed joy that he took in the company of a group of students. He was truly interested in our ideas and valued them, and us, to the highest degree."

Whan, an emeritus professor of English, still lives in Athens, although he retired from teaching 11 years ago at the age of 70. He would argue that what he did at Ohio University for 35 years was nothing extraordinary. But he would be wrong. What he did was teach. And that -- as thousands of students and alumni realize -- is anything but ordinary.

Last fall, Ohio Today asked alumni to share their memories of favorite professors and describe how these teachers had influenced their educations and their lives. While decades separated the graduation years of those who responded -- the earliest was 1942, the most recent 2000 -- the voices were united: Good teachers are passionate about their subjects, and that enthusiasm is contagious. They take into account that people learn in different ways. They believe in creating a community of learners. They think of their students as people. And they know lessons often are shared outside the classroom.

College professors don't have a lock on good teaching. Neither does Ohio University. It happens every day, everywhere -- in homes, on playgrounds, in classrooms, in offices, on the factory floor. Yet many students and alumni feel lucky to have experienced it on one of this University's six campuses, and their stories are poignant. We tell some of them here through five individuals whose teaching careers have spanned 120 years.

Mary Alice Casey is editor of Ohio Today.

To find out how to nominate a professor for the Presidential Teacher Award, visit www.ohiou.edu/apaa/PTAindex.htm. The 2002 process is ending, and awardees will be announced in June. Nominations for the 2003 awards will be accepted beginning this fall.