The APU Scholar

by Mark Eaton, Ph.D.

“Scholarship is to be created not by compulsion,” Ralph Waldo Emerson once claimed, “but by awakening a pure interest in knowledge.” Connecting students to the joys of scholarly inquiry is best achieved, he believed, by making the college campus “a place of delightful labor.”

By making the case that curiosity lies at the center of scholarship, Emerson emphasized the sheer delight of scholarly inquiry – of searching after truth. Thus, he proposed that all classes ought to be “elective studies” and that professors ought to dispense with grading altogether, because according to Emerson, “marking is a system for schools, not for the college; [. . .] and it is ungracious work to put on a professor.”

Doing away with grades may not be a realistic proposition, but we can experience the freedom Emerson’s approach implies nonetheless. In my four-plus years at APU, I have had the privilege of engaging in fruitful scholarly discussions with students – guiding them as they develop their ideas, pointing them to relevant sources, commenting on their drafts, and so on. Such dialogue has led to some research papers of extraordinarily high quality, and I encourage promising students to present their papers at academic conferences.

"Doing away with grades may not be a realistic proposition, but we can experience the freedom Emerson’s approach implies nonetheless."

Such activities elevate the learning process, challenging students to think through and defend positions, thereby contributing to scholarly discourse within a broader community of academicians. For example, one student from my African-American Literature seminar presented a paper at the Western Regional Christianity and Literature conference; another student from my American Ethnic Literature class participated in the Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society conference. In using their God-given talents as critical thinkers, researchers, and writers, and in presenting their work to outside audiences, students begin to see their scholarship as genuinely transformational.

Faculty model their own appreciation for transformational scholarship through scholarly inquiry into topics within their areas of interest. Scholarly research is exacting, time-intensive work, especially given the demands of high teaching loads, yet APU has made great strides in supporting faculty endeavors.

I am privileged to be in a department where every faculty member is a scholar in his or her own right; we inspire each other to use our various gifts, whether in creative or critical writing. To cite only a few examples, my colleague Emily Griesinger, Ph.D., garnered awards for the best essay of the year in two major Christian journals; Joe Bentz, Ph.D., published four novels and is working on a fifth; Carole Lambert, Ph.D., and Diana Glyer, Ph.D., are both finishing scholarly books; and Ralph Carlson, Ph.D., continues to publish one poem after another. When students have the opportunity to interact with professors who actively engage in research and writing, it demystifies scholarship by reminding students that they, too, can contribute their own perspectives and voices to ongoing disciplinary conversations.

As interim director of the Undergraduate Research Program this year, I assist students from across the university as they attend conferences to present their own research projects. This experience has given me a new perspective on the great things faculty and students accomplish alike and together. Already, we sent students to present at the American Academy of Religion conference, the American Chemical Society meeting, and the Western Psychological Association conference. That these students represent APU in the larger academic community is truly gratifying. It even makes grading seem worthwhile.

Mark Eaton, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of English and the interim director of the Undergraduate Research Program.

Originally published in the Winter '04 issue of APU Life. View all issues.