Writing program lecturer honored
September 26, 2008
By Dave Jones
During his 24 years on the UC Davis faculty, Eric Schroeder has been providing some of the extras that ensure students here receive an education that is a cut above the rest.
Now, he is getting something extra himself: the James H. Meyer Distinguished Achievement Award, given by the Academic Federation. The award, named after a former chancellor, is the federation's highest honor.
Schroeder previously received an excellence in teaching award from the federation, which comprises some 1,200 people, including lecturers, researchers, Cooperative Extension specialists, academic administrators and academic coordinators.
Schroeder is first and foremost a writing teacher, technically a lecturer in the university's parlance. Over the years he also has taught in American Studies, Integrated Studies, English, and the Program in Nature and Culture.
Similarly, he mixes up his writing courses, taking on Journalism, Business and Technical Writing, Writing for History Majors, Writing for International Relations Majors, Advanced Composition, and, starting this winter, Style in the Essay.
"I try to keep myself fresh, by making it new," he said.
Early on, he established the campus's first computer classroom outside the computer science department, giving students a new tool for their writing; and he co-founded Prized Writing, an annual volume of student work, now 20 years old.
Another extra he promotes heavily is study abroad. He taught many summers in Scotland before switching to Australia and South Africa. And, since 2004, he has been director of Summer Abroad -- overseeing a growing enrollment, from 450 when he started to 756 in 2008.
"One of our slogans is, 'Change the Way You Look at the World,' and it does just that," he said.
"Just putting those kids in another culture for four weeks can be transformative. Nothing can be more rewarding than that."
Every spring he teaches Playing Shakespeare, in which students not only read and analyze one of the Bard's plays, but also perform it in Wyatt Pavilion.
He arrived at UC Davis in 1984, at the dawn of the computer age in education. At the time, students were using minicomputers, wired to mainframes. The UNIX operating system took weeks to learn.
"We're in the business of teaching writing, not computers," Schroeder said.
The Apple Macintosh Plus operating system, on the other hand, took just a few days to learn. And UC Davis just happened to have 25 of the desktop systems, donated by Apple.
"They were being stored in the basement of Hutchison Hall," Schroeder said. "Nobody knew what to do with them."
Schroeder arranged to turn 247 Olson Hall into a computer classroom. "Not a lab, but a classroom," he emphasized.
He said computer labs can be unfriendly places, especially when they are stuck in basements. A room with windows, like 247 Olson, is more conducive to teaching, Schroeder said. The room is still a computer classroom today ("I think it's the best one"), equipped with notebook computers instead of those ancient Mac Pluses.
Schroeder recalled his involvement in setting up another computer classroom -- this one in the old Segundo dorm. "We told students you can come to class in your pajamas," he said.
He said some studies assert that computers improve student writing. He is not so sure.
He said he views computers as tools that ease the revision process. "You still have to be motivated to use the tool to fix your writing," he said.
Schroeder did his college writing on typewriters, at UC Irvine, UCLA and the University of Sussex, England. He completed his first year at Irvine, his second at UCLA and his third year at Sussex, then graduated from UCLA with a double major in English literature and classical Greek.
He returned to Sussex for his master's degree in Renaissance literature, then went back to UCLA for his doctorate in English and American literature.
He wrote his Ph.D. thesis on literature of the Vietnam War, and he subsequently published Vietnam, We've All Been There: Interviews With American Writers.
In 1995, on the 20th anniversary of the war's end, he organized an international conference, Vietnam Legacies: Twenty Years Later, held at UC Davis.
He has taught three Vietnam-related courses: The Vietnam War in History, Literature and Film; The Literature of the Vietnam War; and Representations of the Vietnam War. He also has taught an American studies "decade" course, about the 1960s -- a decade that, in his view, actually extends to the mid-1970s and the end of the Vietnam War.
Shakespeare is another of his specialties, for a class that he teaches through Integrated Studies. Most of the students are engineering or bioscience majors, he said, explaining that he finds a common thread among them: musical talent.
"We've never done a repeat in 11 years," he said.
Overall, Schroeder said, "I've been able to do a lot of stuff I love at Davis."
His one constant: teaching in UC Davis' nationally recognized writing program. "With better writing skills, our graduates make better engineers, better doctors and better social scientists, because they are better able to communicate with their clients, their patients and the public."
A dinner in Schroeder's honor is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 6 in the AGR Room at the Buehler Alumni and Visitors Center. For information on attending, contact Nancy Kilpatrick, (530) 752-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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