Dave Lucas never wanted to become a professor. Growing up, he saw the hard work his parents put in as teachers and thought it wasn’t for him; he wanted to be a writer.
But as a graduate student, he had to start teaching to earn an income—and he fell in love with it.
“I assumed my life would be one where I was writing but teaching on the side to pay the bills,” said Lucas, a former Poet Laureate for the State of Ohio whose first book, Weather, received the 2012 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. “I didn’t realize both of those things would become passions of the same kind.”
Now, the Department of English lecturer and SAGES fellow is being recognized for his exemplary abilities through the 2022 Carl F. Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, which he will receive at commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 15.
Students describe his classes—which primarily center on poetry—as being “engaging” and “fun,” and feel Lucas goes “above and beyond” to create an environment for his students that supports growth and learning.
“Dr. Lucas approaches class in a dynamic way, shifting the role between teacher, mentor, peer, and even friend,” said one of his student nominators.
At the beginning of each class, Lucas takes the time to ask his students how they are and if they have any questions or concerns, whether related to the class or not. He gives students time to reflect on the assignment before diving into a lesson, providing everyone a chance to formulate their thoughts so they can fully participate in the discussion.
Lucas said the most enjoyable aspects of teaching are both daily classroom happenings and the ability to pay forward the teaching he once received.
“I was wonderfully lucky with the teachers I had who took my work seriously and were generous with their time,” he said.
It’s a generosity that extends to his students—and, sometimes, beyond. Lucas often talks to his students about their “grand teachers” and the idea of generational continuity that comes with teaching, as he has seen some of his former students become teachers themselves.
“Any of these students who might become teachers are going to become versions of their teachers, and then that continues in its own way,” Lucas said. “The sense of being one little wave in that big sea is a nice way of thinking about the role.”
Lucas said receiving the Wittke Award “means more to me than any other recognition that I’ve gotten in my publishing life because it comes from the students. It’s deeply gratifying.”
About the award
Created in 1964, the Wittke Award for Undergraduate Teaching is named for Carl Frederick Wittke, who, from 1948 to 1963, was professor of history, chair of the Department of History and vice president of Western Reserve University. Faculty members who teach undergraduates are eligible for the award, which recognizes excellence in their efforts. Undergraduates nominate candidates; a committee of students interviews nominated faculty members and recommends winners. Two faculty members receive the award each year.