Inquisitive Professors: Decades of Teaching and Learning

Alexis Westrick

There are many aspects of LaGrange College that appeal to potential students. There are dozens of great organizations and clubs, diverse majors to choose from, and a strong sense of community. But what really makes LaGrange special is the staff and professors who have dedicated their time and effort to help their students achieve their goals.

Recently, Dr. William Paschal, Dr. John Cook, and Dr. William Yin have all celebrated 25 years with the college, and Dr. Nina Dulin- Mallory has just celebrated 35 years. Susan Laforet, the secretary for the Science and Mathematics departments, has also been at LaGrange College for 25 years. Although she could not be contacted for this interview, her time and dedication to LaGrange is deeply appreciated.

Dr. Cook is a professor of religion and philosophy. He has taught Scriptures, American Christianity, Political Philosophy, and many other classes during his time at LaGrange. When asked if he preferred religion or philosophy, he said that he liked both, but it was refreshing to teach philosophy, because it involves more reason. He actually audited a physics class at the college and has taught a class on the philosophy of physics. Some people would not be able to find the connection, but he claims that you can “see the hand of God in these theories.”

Dr. Paschal describes Human Anatomy as his bread and butter, but his PhD is in Neurobiology. He also teaches a Paleoanthropology course and Vertebrate Embryology. Dr. Paschal teaches students from an assortment of majors including Biology, Nursing, and Exercise Science. “It’s a diverse lot,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun to teach people I wouldn’t normally meet.”

Dr. Yin has the privilege of mentoring all of the math majors on campus, because while Analysis is his expertise, he also teaches classes like Probability, Calculus, and Problem Solving. He says that he really enjoys Problem Solving, because he gets to meet students from all areas of study. He explained that each major has a different perspective and a different way to tackle a problem.

Dr. Dulin-Mallory has been LaGrange College’s Medieval expert for 35 years now, and, as she says with a laugh, “everything else gets too complicated.” Her favorite class to teach is Chaucer, because she was influenced by people who were enthusiastic when she was a student. She said, “The energy and warmth with which they taught influenced how I feel about the subject.” Anyone who has been in one of her classes knows exactly what that energy feels like.

LaGrange College has many gifted professors, and while they could have pursued careers at larger institutions, these four professors have remained dedicated to this institution and its students for decades. When asked why he chose to stay at LaGrange for over two decades, Dr. Cook immediately said, “When I see a student come alive in class, start participating and asking questions. When a student with a lot of personal problems is able to turn that around and come out at the very top of the course. It’s nice to see transformation like that. It’s something that the college does well.”

The Delta Tau Delta fraternity recently celebrated their 50th anniversary at LC. Dr. Paschal has served as the faculty advisor for the Delts for 25 years, so the 50th celebration was the perfect place catch up with alumni that he has known since their freshman year. “When I knew them, they were kids,” he explained. “The greatest teaching moment is not something that you get all the time. It’s not tangible. It’s not something that you can measure. It’s when you run into a student years later. I know I only played a small part in their time here, but I still feel like a proud papa when I see them all grown up.” He went on to say that LaGrange College’s small size is what makes it special. It allows students and faculty to build relationships, rather than limiting them to large lecture halls filled with a sea of 200 students.

Dr. Dulin-Mallory agreed, saying, “The best connections take place, not in great halls, but in small spaces. The things that we take away happen in a conference, not in a room with a projector.” She went on to say that she takes great pleasure out of the kind of students that come to LaGrange College, because they are curious and want to ask questions. Dr. Dulin-Mallory raised her family in LaGrange, and for thirty years she has lived across the street from the college.

Dr. Yin chose to stay at LaGrange College because of the interactions he has with the students. He mentioned one student in particular who went on to get his PhD from the University of Florida, and now that student runs his own company. Years later, Dr. Yin ran into this student and his girlfriend. As Dr. Yin and the student conversed about his former classmates, his girlfriend looked on in awe. “Do you know all of your students?” she asked. And Dr. Yin simply shrugged and said, “Yeah.” It is easy to forget how many students at larger institutions miss out on the opportunity to build personal relationships with their professors. At LaGrange College, the professors get to know their students, and they care about those students’ success.

Teachers at LaGrange College also get the opportunity to explore areas outside of their expertise. Many of them take full advantage of this fact, and they encourage their students to do the same. Dr. Cook explored a humanities class that was out of his area, where he was able to read The Odyessy and Plato’s Republic. He also taught a Jan-Term class about the writings of C.S. Lewis. He has held onto a phrase that LaGrange’s Reference Librarian, Dr. Arthur Robinson once said: “Take a class in basket weaving.” Dr. Cook explained, “Take something completely out of your area just so you can have fun doing it. Life is going to be all work, and your job isn’t going to be just your major, so finding other interests is important.”

Dr. Yin agreed, saying, “You have to think outside of the box of your own major. Problem Solving, if anything, is preparing students for life, because life will not always be within your major.” Dr. Yin has taught a Bruce Lee’s Philosophy class with a former theater professor over Jan-Term where they discussed the acting and cinematic techniques behind Bruce Lee’s movies. Dr. Yin actually taught martial arts!

Anyone who is currently taking Shakespeare with Dr. Dulin-Mallory and Professor Barber Knoll this spring can tell that this duo has a blast teaching together. Dr. Dulin-Mallory teaches the evolution of the English language, while Professor Knoll explores the theater aspect of the study. Even though they are there to teach the students, they can also learn from each other. “This is just gravy to do this with her,” Dr. Dulin- Mallory says with a grin. “We do thing like this out of joy and for the fun of it. It’s an opportunity really, because it’s not particularly easy.”

This past Jan-Term Dr. Dulin- Mallory explored another subject. She went to Iceland with a physicist from LaGrange College, where they saw the Northern Lights. She said it was “great fun” and that she learned “a little about the science of that, but certainly not physics.”

Dr. Paschal might be one of the professors that has ventured the furthest from his area of study. The crowded bookshelves in his office are not limited to paleontology and human evolution. They also host books about 19th century art, cave paintings, and Mayan ruins. There are even several Stephen King books in one corner. “I’ve always loved art,” he explained, referencing the art book his parents kept on the coffee table. This book now lives on his bookshelf. “I doodle and draw in class a lot. Not that they’re any good,” he said, doubling over with laughter.

For his Jan- Term trip this past January, Dr. Paschal went to France with Dr. Joiner, LaGrange College’s resident art historian. Together, they took students to famous Parisian museums such as the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay. They also explored the caves at Font de Gaume and Lascaux II and toured the French countryside. When he saw the cave paintings, Dr. Paschal expressed the endearing excitement and wonder of a child. Dr. Paschal has also been to Central America three times with the school’s history department, where he was able to see the Mayan ruins, go bird watching, and see monkeys. There, he said, he learned about the emergence of our species and language.

Dr. Paschal encourages his students to also find joy in curiosity and exploration. He said, “I think that a lot of students take a course, and if they don’t see how it will help them in their chosen career, they think it’s not important. But they’re missing so much! Students need to open themselves up to new experiences. Find a way to enjoy it. You’ll do a lot better in the course if you’re curious, more active, and if you ask questions.”

During their time here, these professors have seen students and colleagues come and go. Dr. Dulin- Mallory joked that her greatest accomplishment has been “lasting.” But she also says that being able to watch how things have changed has been a privilege. From pen and paper to computers and email, she has seen “an arc of development.” Perhaps it is her curiosity, and the curiosity of her colleagues, that has made the last couple of decades at LaGrange College so enjoyable. Many people think that there is no excitement in staying in one place, but they are not looking at it in the right way. These professors spend every day not only trying to spark their students’ interest, but also their own. They are teachers, but they also learn from their students and continue to grow along with them. And that is what makes it exciting. Dr. Dulin-Mallory had the answer to lasting when she said, “Be curious. And never give up.”

Alexis Westrick is currently a junior at Lagrange College. She is earning her undergraduate degree in English. She is also earning her BFA with a concentration in painting and drawing and graphic design.

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