my faculty experience

Pat Anderson: Professor, Mentor, Friend

by Alicia Rose Harris '07

I'll never forget the first time I spoke with Pat Anderson, then-chair of the Humanities Department. I was an anxious freshman who wanted to take Native American Literature but didn't get in because the class was full. I approached his office door, which was open, but I didn't dare step into the chair's office.

Instead I stood dumbfounded in the doorway. He stood in a tan suit at the corner of his desk examining some papers. His light brown hair was cropped into an almost boyish haircut and he wore glasses that spoke "intense scholar" or "professor obsessed with his subject." The room was decorated with images of movie stars like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, as well as a few Native American portraits. There were shelves upon shelves of films and books. A window by his desk overlooked the quad.

Professor Anderson did not seem surprised at my sudden appearance, but probably wondered who I was as I had not approached him before. My legs suddenly pulled me forward and my heart leapt into my throat. "I--I really would like to take your Native American lit class but I didn't get in because it's full, and I'm attempting a double-minor and this is the only time I can take it and I was really looking forward to learning about Native American literature and I, I, I..."

I don't remember much of the rest of that conversation except that Professor Anderson proved to be a much less intimidating person than I imagined him to be. He signed me into his class that afternoon because he understood my enthusiasm.

"Can you imagine what the narrator's thinking?"

That fall, while taking his class, I observed unusual traits in Pat (as I've come to call him). As he talked about writers and themes, Pat's voice would strain with intensity, speed and volume. Once or twice he'd leap up from a table or chair when a student would answer, and he'd ardently respond, "Yes, yes! Exactly! Can you imagine what the narrator's thinking right here? This Native American idea of the circle, it brings us together, it connects us to the earth and to our environment. She's saying we need to respect that."

Pat's colleagues and friends respect his incredible vigor in teaching and relating to his students. Humanities Secretary Harriette Yazzie-Whitcomb said of Pat, "I think he's more passionate about being an educator, not only in the courses he teaches, but in life's issues, and that quality brings his students closer to him."

Pat's love for teaching sprouted from common beginnings. One of his mentors was American Studies Professor Ron Webber at the University of Notre Dame, where Pat received his undergraduate degree. "I found myself wanting to get into [the American Studies program] because of its interdisciplinary way of looking at things. He was a real master teacher, you know. I loved the dynamics of his classroom; I loved the way he respected students. I loved the way he got discussion going," Professor Anderson said.

Pat was also influenced by one of his graduate studies professor, Marvin Felheim, at the University of Michigan. Pat remarks that Felheim was "one of the most popular professors at the university" with an apparently incredible ability to engage students.

"There were 500 students in his American film class that he taught, and he was like a performer up there!" he said, "He made people laugh; he engaged them even though there were so many people in the class."

Professor Don Coonley, one of Pat's colleagues in the Humanities Department, said in a letter of recommendation, "As a teacher, Dr. Anderson is knowledgeable and passionate about his subjects. To hear him lecture is to understand the joy of teaching and learning. And the number of former students who keep in touch with him is most impressive. He has on several occasions gone out of his way to visit Colby-Sawyer graduates in several states, including California."

"Pat isn't a man who just goes to work everyday"

I recently talked about Nathaniel Hawthorne's feminist sensibility in The Scarlet Letter for Pat's American Renaissance class. After my presentation, I watched in amazement at how animated he became as he emphasized my presentation's central point.

He rolled up his sleeves and sipped water from a bottle. His arm muscles tightened and tensed as he shook his hands at us to emphasize how Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale's connection with nature represents the safety and security in the female relationship with the environment. I even wondered if the veins in his throat would explode from passion when he raised his voice at the condemning citizens of Puritan Boston who represented the patriarchal society that oppresses women and nature in this new theory of Ecofeminism.

In the course of the semesters that have passed since that first meeting with Pat, I've grown to have not only a great understanding of topics such as Native American literature and American Renaissance literature, but I've gained a good friend and mentor. Pat isn't a man who just goes to work everyday. He is an active role model in the lives of his students, colleagues, advisees and the college community.

If I felt that I were reluctant to get up in the morning to do what I had to do, I guess I couldn't keep doing it," Pat explains. "I couldn't remain in a position that I really hated; it would be demeaning to your spirit. Somehow it would be completely counterproductive to your inner self."

"I've gone running to his office..."

In times of undergraduates' academic and emotional frustration, Pat has been able to relate to his students in ways that seem uncommon for most college professors. His accessibility and devotion to his students are reminiscent of that concern that seems possible only in the closeness of a friendship. It is this quality that makes a professor so admirable. It is comforting to see the energy, passion and optimism in such educators as Pat.

There have been times when I've gone running to his office, concerned about a course or frustrated with the ambiguity of my future. Sometimes I'd feel stressed in balancing required activities with those my heart tells me to follow. I often found a safe truth in Pat's advice or assurance that my perseverance and various talents would bring me to the destination I needed to reach.

In a response to an e-mail I sent him regarding how engaging his lectures were, I found in his written words the same enthusiasm I noticed in his lectures. With his own love for literature he helped me recapture, again and again, my own great love of literature. Pat responded humbly, gently and with the full heart that makes him the admirable person he is:

"It's because of students like you that I'm so passionate about what I do and why the classroom becomes a place where I really feel energized and 'alive,' if you know what I mean," he wrote, "Teaching is so much more than a 'job' to me; to touch students' lives and to form friendships as a result of this profession makes it incredibly meaningful."