In almost 36 years as a member of the Washington State University faculty, Roger Schlesinger has taught 18 different classes ranging from undergraduate courses in Western Civilization to classes in his fields of expertise: the Renaissance, Reformation and world exploration.
He has compiled an enviable record of teaching, and of the scholarship of teaching, that merits his honor as the winner of the 2003-04 Sahlin Faculty Excellence Award for Instruction. His teaching awards at WSU span the last two decades and include:
• the ninth Invited Honors Lecture in 1987
• the Burlington Northern Award for Excellence in Instruction in 1990
• Mortar Board Distinguished Professor in 1994
• Outstanding Faculty Member of the Honors College in 1999.
Schlesinger was among the first faculty members to teach World Civilizations in 1988 and is considered by many to be one of the very best instructors in the program today.
“He is a natural in the classroom because of his ability to communicate ideas in comprehensible, interesting ways and to convey a sense of excitement about the discipline of history and, even more important, about learning in general,” said LeRoy Ashby, WSU history professor. “As a well-published scholar, he knows his subject and treats it with confidence and authority. At the same time, he has an accessible, informal style that students appreciate.”
For those unable to attend one of his classes, due to branch campus location or time schedule conflicts, Schlesinger has created a successful Distance Degree Program course that engages students in a rigorous study of the Renaissance. He also teaches a summer session for WSU’s Hotel and Restaurant Administration Program in Brig, Switzerland, where he was invited to give the commencement address in 2003.
“What I love about teaching are essentially two things,” notes Schlesinger. “One is the intellectual exercise of setting up and instructing a class; two is the social and intellectual interaction with people in a class.”
Student testimonials attest to Schlesinger’s ability to move the study of history beyond memorizing and regurgitating to earn a grade. Rather, students say they discover new ways of learning and grow as individuals.
His instructional style has come from years of fine tuning and remembering. Like many great teachers, Schlesinger draws from experience. “I have had some great teachers. I remember one professor of mine in college who took an interest in students as human beings.
“However,” he continues, “there were also some terrible professors. In some classes I would sit there and think ‘I could do better than this,’ so I gave it a try.” It is a culmination of all these things that has made Schlesinger the third recipient from the History Department of the Sahlin Faculty Excellence Award for Instruction.
Few could be more supportive of him than his wife and colleague, assistant professor of history Mary Watrous-Schlesinger: “I am not surprised to hear of his award. Roger is an extraordinary person, and I think he deserves even more than the Sahlin. He has a great deal of compassion for the students and he really wants them to succeed…he roots for them!”
In the end, Schlesinger believes that comfort and attitude are everything. “Make sure that when you teach you feel comfortable and that you enjoy your class, because if you don’t like it, nobody else will!”
Schlesinger earned his B.A. from Hofstra University in 1964, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in 1970. He came to WSU in 1968; in 1993, he became the department chair for the history department.