Abraham Lincoln, when nominated for president in 1860, apologized for his lack of formal education. No apology was necessary from the articulate orator and voracious reader whose desire to learn and improve himself continued into his adulthood. Even without school, Lincoln had teachers, people who influenced his education. He moved to New Salem, Illinois, in his early 20s and studied grammar and debate under the tutelage of his mentor, remarkably named Mentor Graham, who wrote about Lincoln: “No one ever surpassed him in rapidly, quickly and well acquiring the rudiments and rules of English grammar.”
Gladys Cooper Jennings ’48 similarly served as a mentor for numerous nutrition students at Washington State over 50 years of teaching. The granddaughter of a former slave, her parents highly valued education and Jennings became the first African-American woman to receive a master’s degree at the University. A couple of years ago, I interviewed one of Jennings’ students who is a testament to the 92-year-old’s impact: Ethan Bergman ’86 PhD, food science and nutrition professor at Central Washington University and past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Mentorship starts earlier than college, too. Damien Pattenaude (’99, ’05 MA, ’16 EdD), now superintendent of Renton School District, says one reason he became an educator was due to his math teacher and basketball coach Rick Comer ’86 at Renton High School. At WSU, education professors such as alumni and faculty members Tariq Akmal and Gene Sharratt also helped guide Pattenaude to success in his home school, where he—as well as the state and country—faces a pressing need for more teachers.
So many WSU students have been affected by their professors, just as Lori Hughes ’03 PhD writes in her remembrance of sociologist and pioneering gang researcher Jim Short. I often reflect on the Murrow communication professors who taught me, people dedicated to their journalism craft such as Tom Heuterman ’56, ’74 PhD, and Bob Hilliard, who sadly passed away in April.
Even as far back as middle school, teachers like Ken Davis stimulated my love of history, including a fascination with the river at the heart of Washington state, the mighty Columbia that has influenced so many people’s lives over centuries.
Many of you shared memories of favorite professors and other great WSU experiences in our 100-word contest. We received dozens of excellent stories, which made it really tough for our panel of judges. You can read our favorite at the back of the print magazine, and all the stories are posted here.