Willimantic, Conn. – Four prolific professors from Eastern Connecticut State University delivered “Last Lectures” at the end of the 2014–15 academic year. During their lectures, Timothy Swanson, James Russell, Ann Gruenberg and Prem Mann discussed their longstanding careers, lessons learned and life philosophies with the Eastern community.
Swanson paid tribute to his 49-year career at Eastern in a lecture titled “The Joys of Teaching Physics.” Swanson knew as early as high school that he wanted to study physics, but it was in graduate school during his experience as a teaching assistant when he realized the joy of teaching. He stated three areas of physics that have particularly inspired him: “The power of mathematics to describe the physical world; the connection between the laws of physics and the seen world of everyday phenomena; and the investigation of the unseen world of the very fast and very small.”
Swanson remembers Eastern when it was called Willimantic State College, before it had academic departments, and tuition was just $170. “Oh how the times have changed,” he said. “During these 49 years, this has been a most rewarding place to spend the majority of my life in the career of teaching physics.”
Russell wrapped up his 29 years as a sociology professor at Eastern with a lecture titled “Combining Scholarship with Activism.” Coming of age in Oklahoma during the ’60s, Russell was exposed to frequent segregation and conservative values. Early in college, between the years of 1962 and 1964, “I went through more transformation in developing my worldview than any other period,” he said. “I went from identifying as a Republican to further left than the Democratic Party.”
Influencers like Karl Marx and the emerging culture of ’60s set him on course to become an activist. “I’ve tried all of my career to put scholarship and activism together,” said Russell. “If you want change, you have to organize.” His interests have included desegregation and antiwar demonstrations, but Russell says his latest effort—working to reform Connecticut’s state retirement system—has been his most important.
Gruenberg’s relationship with Eastern began as a graduate student. After several years with other institutions, she returned as a full-time faculty member in the Department of Education for 28 years. With focuses on special education and general education, Gruenberg’s lecture drew on the parallels between legal changes in services for young children with disabilities and the resulting teacher preparation programs.
Gruenberg fondly recalled visiting former students in their classrooms throughout Connecticut, many of whom now work with current students going through Eastern’s teacher preparation programs. She expressed gratitude to her friends, colleagues and students, as well as the leadership at Eastern, and highlighted the strengths of the Center for Early Childhood Education and the Child and Family Development Resource Center.
Prem Mann, economics professor, spoke of his 29 years with Eastern in a lecture titled “Is Life Fair?” While remarking on atrocities throughout the world that make life “unfair” for some, such as the prevalence of war and perpetuation of poverty, he maintained that “the world has survived due to the good deeds and sacrifices of godly people.” He said that life can be fair only if all of us treat each other fairly.
As a graduate student in Manchester, England, Mann knew he wanted to be a university professor. He said coming to Eastern and writing text books—in particular on statistics—has been his greatest professional accomplishment. “I will always cherish the memories of these 29 years,” he said, “but there comes a time when we must move on to other things in life.”