Grant Smith retires after 19 years at Viterbo

By Dylan Matousek

Contributing Writer

“I will not miss teaching.  If I thought I would miss it, I would not retire,” said Grant Smith, professor of English, about his retirement in December 2012.

In his 19 years at Viterbo, Smith has reached the position of professor, the highest position of tenure a faculty member can reach.                        Smith describes it as “an honor only because I admire so much my colleagues who have the same title.  When I came to Viterbo I learned from Lyon Evans and Apryl Denny what it meant to be a scholar,” Smith said.  “It is also nice to get into the ball games for free.”

Smith is remaining on campus this semester to teach young adult literature, a course he developed and taught for 19 years.

Smith has been awarded the status of professor emeritus, which is given to long-standing faculty members who have attained at least the rank of associate professor.  The award is a way of keeping retired faculty members part of the Viterbo community, and it continues the benefits faculty members receive of free admission to Viterbo sporting events and $1 admission to Viterbo’s theatrical performances.

Prior to his time at Viterbo, Smith spent 10 years teaching at Valley High School in Las Vegas, Nev.  Smith taught journalism at Valley High School and taught in the International Baccalaureate Program, a prestigious worldwide honors program.

During his time at Viterbo, Smith directed and advised the English secondary education teaching majors.

“I think that secondary teachers will say that classroom management is a great challenge today because the teacher has to wear so many hats: counselor, nutritionist, police officer, social worker, detective.  All of these responsibilities are outside of the teacher’s training.  The teachers today are expected to fix society’s problems in the classroom, and too often the school system is blamed for some of society’s problems.”

Another challenge facing teachers is the work load, Smith said.

“Any teacher knows that the workload is the greatest challenge,” Smith said “And also the pressure of ‘being on stage’ for eight hours a day.”

Despite these challenges, teaching is not without its benefits, he said.

“I think middle and high school teachers have a rare opportunity to influence students in a good way — to encourage them to adopt solid values and to develop good work and study habits,” Smith said.  “They can develop an incredibly intimate teacher/student relationship.  I have had many former students ‘find’ me on the web and express appreciation for the time I spent with them.  I am sure every teacher has received these expressions of gratitude.”

When asked if he had any advice for up-and-coming Viterbo education majors, Smith responded: “if you do not have a passion for your discipline — English or whatever — and if you do not have a passion for sharing your love with others, then do not go into education.  Of course, it helps to have a good sense of humor, an ability to laugh at your mistakes – and there will be many.”

Smith cites as one of his goals for retirement, which he “knows (he) won’t achieve,” is to hike to the highest point of every state in the union.  This summer, he plans to tackle Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina.  “I have two rules about hiking to the highest point in every state: (1) Don’t kill yourself. (2) Sleep in a comfortable bed after the hike,” Smith stated.  “I suggest before you get tied to a walker that you hike Mt. Katahdin in Maine.  It will be a transformative experience.

“On the trail I could completely disassociate myself from everything except the mountain.  It tested my physical being, but it also opened me up to a oneness with something larger than myself,” Smith said of his own experience on Mt. Katahdin.

Apart from his hiking ambitions, Smith is currently taking a Spanish grammar and composition class here at Viterbo and is “flirting” with the idea of entering the interpreter program to serve part-time as  a Spanish interpreter in the Coulee Region.

Smith is also taking piano lessons but “doing very poorly.”  In addition, Smith stated that “there are certain places I want to see before I become too old to enjoy them.  Machu Picchu is certainly one of those places, and my hiking partner wants to hike Kilamanjaro.”

Machu Picchu is an Incan ruin located in Peru, and Mt. Kilamanjaro is located in Africa.  Smith cited his fascination with ancient cultures, especially ancient American cultures, as the reason for his desire to see Machu Picchu.

Smith received his B.S. in education from Idaho State University in Pocatello in 1975, his M.A. in English from Utah State University in Logan in 1979 and his Ph.D. in American literature and feminist theory from the University of Iowa in 1993.

Lyon Evans, professor and chair of Viterbo’s English department, was the one who hired Smith when he came to Viterbo.

“When he arrived on campus for his interview and taught Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, it was clear that he was the one I wanted to hire,” Evans said.

“Here’s a guy who had been a high school teacher for 10 years and he had the students eating out of the palm of his hand, students that he’d never met before. On the first day he got students talking right away,” Evans said.

“We wanted someone to direct our Secondary Education English majors and he had everything we were looking for,” Evans said.

During his time at Viterbo, Smith served as the chair of the Steering Committee for the National College Association Self-Study.  The study occurs every 10 years and is a means by which universities are examined to ensure they are achieving appropriate levels of performance.  Smith chaired the committee in charge of this examination in 1998 and 2008.

“It was a sign of his competence and the administration’s confidence in him,” Evans said of Smith’s appointment as chair of the Steering Committees twice.

“Hiring Grant was the best thing I’ve done in my 10 years as chair of the English department and he’s been an excellent colleague and wonderful friend.  He will be missed,” Evans said.

“I always knew when it would be time to walk out of the classroom,” Smith said, “I will miss my association with dedicated colleagues and I will miss the energy and enthusiasm that many students brought to the classroom and to my life.  I don’t know if the students kept me young at heart, but I did appreciate their optimism and determination.”

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