Section: Features

Before class: the nine lives of Kenyon Professors

Before class: the nine lives of Kenyon Professors

by Emma Welsh-Huggins

A popular Bookstore t-shirt reads: “Kenyon is not near Uganda.” But Professor of Biology Wade Powell traversed the distance in the late 1980s when  traveled to a small community in the western part of Kenya, near Uganda, to teach at a rural high school. This adventure followed his undergraduate years at Davidson College, where he had heard about the shortage of teachers in Kenya through the alumni network. Although a job was guaranteed if he went, he said, “It took a certain kind of leap of faith.”

Powell taught at Ibeleri Secondary School in the Maragoli tribe community. The school was struggling with low funding and decrepit buildings, and the socio-economic situation of the country did not allow for a focus on education.

“At that time in Kenya, the government paid for students to go to school up through the 8th grade. And secondary school, you paid … full tuition,” Powell said.

On the first day of classes, the minimal space attracted only two students. To help make the school affordable, Powell and his fellow volunteers bartered with villagers for tuition. Powell laughed, reminiscing about this process: “We did tuition for firewood, tuition for beans, that sort of thing.” When Powell departed 18 months later, the school had grown to 125 students over three grades.

Powell said the experience “Influenced [his] view of the world and [his] place in it,” advising students as a whole to “take a more global view to who you are and what you do.” As an accomplished professor and researcher, Powell is yet another example to graduating seniors of the importance of adventure after graduation.

Adventure, however, is not always as chaotically defined as it was for other professor Professor Ric Sheffield protested that he wasn’t exciting enough to be featured in this article, but anyone who has worked with the wryly-humored professor of sociology and legal studies would surely disagree.

Sheffield pursued his undergraduate, masters and law degree at Case Western Reserve University. He grew up, as he said, “In the good old days of saving the world … I wanted to make a difference — and making a difference at the time for me, very naively, meant, ‘Oh, I’ll go be a social worker in the inner city and work with delinquents and drug addicts.’”

After graduation, Sheffield’s first job was as a civil rights lawyer. Over the next few years, he worked his way through the ranks and found himself as Ohio assistant attorney general.

“I got a chance to write legislation, I testified in the senate, I did television talk shows — I was on the nightly news a lot. It was a pretty cool gig,” Sheffield recalled.

But in the midst of all this achievement, he suddenly felt a jolting void in his personal life.

“I woke up one day, and my son was three years old and my daughter was born, and I didn’t remember those first three years,” Sheffield said. Determined to immediately refocus on his family, he left the law practice and took a job at Kenyon.

The wealthy currency of experience is a common theme throughout the past of Kenyon professors — along with anyone who has ever embarked on any sort of great adventure. Over the course of 11 years, Professor of Philosophy Joel Richeimer did exactly that.

After his undergraduate years, he lived and worked in Israel, Jerusalem, Tokyo, Paris and London. He began by working as an industrial volunteer in a hydraulics factory in Israel during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and then made his way throughout the world. During his journey, Richeimer only held a travel visa and worked illegally.

For the most part, he found it almost laughably easy to secure jobs as an illegal worker. But during one unfortunate summer in Paris, he was hired as a gardener by a particularly wealthy woman along with several other illegal workers, most of whom were Portuguese.

“She decided,” Richeimer recollected, “‘I’m not going to pay any of you. If you do anything about it, I’ll call the police.’”

After working a few other (paid) jobs — chopping parsley in Paris, working as a cashier in Britain during the Thatcher years and at an old folks’ home in Jerusalem — he ended up in Japan, where he began teaching English, eventually instructing Japanese engineers how to live and work in New York City.

“I also taught [them how to] distrust, because in Japan, there’s no crime — crime rate is very low; people would walk around with thousands of dollars on them. But you don’t do that in New York City.”

When Richeimer first came to Japan, he had no proof that he had graduated from college, although he had indeed have a degree from UCLA. He said that, in order to secure a job, “I ended up buying a phony diploma. I bought a fake diploma that said I got an English degree from Yale.”

After many years as a well-respected and loved professor, Richeimer is currently on sabbatical.


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