Long-standing professors reflect on time at GVSU
Along with another semester comes new books, new classmates and new professors. But some at Grand Valley State University aren’t so new to the classroom scene. In fact, many professors are bringing years of teaching experience to help them educate their students.
One of those professors is Sheldon Kopperl, who has had experience teaching biomedical sciences, religious studies and honors courses. Kopperl has been a GVSU professor for 43 years, having begun his own learning journey at the Case Institute of Technology in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. After receiving his bachelor’s in chemistry in 1965, Kopperl then attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and began working toward his doctorate in chemistry.
“After the first three years, having taken all the courses and exams necessary for getting the doctoral degree, I began my full-time dissertation research,” Kopperl said. “It was only then, after seven years of majoring in chemistry, that I realized I had no passion for doing chemistry, but a real passion for understanding the human interest angles — especially history — of science.”
This semester, Kopperl is teaching in the history department, Honors College and liberal studies program.
“I have been lucky enough to be involved in my teaching areas of study that I had pursued during my earlier education, from art history to religious studies,” he said.
With over four decades of teaching under his belt, Kopperl advises new professors to find their own passion while teaching. He also encourages new faculty to include GVSU’s undergraduate students when conducting scholarly interest.
Another professor with a long relationship with GVSU is John Reifel, currently a professor of economics and the associate dean at the Seidman College of Business. Reifel has been at GVSU for 41 years and came to campus after earning a bachelor’s from the University of Notre Dame and his master’s degree and doctorate in economics at Michigan State University.
Reifel encourages professors to take advantage of GVSU’s role as a teaching institution and profit from the mentor faculty at the university.
“Seek advice from the faculty mentor your unit head will assign to you,” he said. “Additionally, since in Seidman publishing in peer refereed journals is required for contract renewal, tenure and promotion, initially draw out from your Ph.D. dissertation any articles that can be published. Then, stay on top of your areas of expertise and be alert for opportunities where you can gather primary data to test academically meaningful research topics.”
Edward Cole, also an established professor, has been at GVSU for 42 years. He began his education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he earned a bachelors of arts in history, a masters degree in modern European history and a doctorate in Russian intellectual history at the University of California-Berkeley.
Cole said his favorite class to teach at GVSU is due to the uniqueness of the course.
“My absolute favorite course has been history of Russian thought,” Cole said. “To the best of my knowledge, it’s the only such undergraduate course offered anywhere in Michigan.”
Cole encourages new faculty to connect and interact with GVSU’s undergraduate students.
“My advice to new professors is always to be compassionate toward the students. The very best thing about Grand Valley is its wonderful students,” Cole said. “In fact, they are what I will truly miss when I depart.”
Another long-standing professor is Samir IsHak, who has taught at GVSU for 45 years. IsHak began as a professor of political science in the areas of public administration and public service and is currently a professor of management and international business.
As an experienced professor, IsHak said new professors should be enthusiastic about their classroom and scholarly work.
“New professors (need to) have dedication to teaching, serving their students not their deans, and fighting for their academic freedom and fair evaluation of their performance,” he said.
He said his favorite subjects to teach are global competitiveness, international business and concepts of management.
“I enjoy having dedicated students who are serious to gain knowledge that they can apply in their career,” IsHak said.
To better get to know your professors, visit the department pages on the GVSU website and read their faculty profiles.