Ask Keene State College professor Patrick Dolenc what he wants to be when he grows up and his answer is not a professor of economics. It is not even a professor of anything- instead the answer is one many college seniors find themselves clinging to as graduation and the real world looms.
“What I want to be when I grow up is a college student forever,” Dolenc stated, “I want to get paid to stay in college and to learn new ideas and interact with other people who are coming across new ideas for the first time. I have the perfect job because I don’t pay tuition here but I never stop interacting with new learners, encountering new ideas.”
These are the words of a professor, a student, a lifelong learner and an active player on the KSC field, living the motto “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve.” Dolenc is the 43rd recipient of KSC’s Distinguished Teacher Award in the year 2013.
According to Patty Farmer, director of alumni and parent relations for KSC, on average, three to seven candidates are considered for the award each year. A committee consisting of faculty, students and alumni association board representatives and a representative of the president’s office choose the recipient through the month of May.
In July this past year, Dolenc received a voicemail from Interim President Dr. Jay Kahn.
Dolenc recalled, “Jay Kahn called me and left a message on my cell phone and said ‘I’m trying to find you.’ I thought I was in trouble. But in July—how much trouble could I get into?”
The award came as a surprise for Dolenc. But to students, administration and colleagues, Dolenc was the obvious choice.
“If you want an example of what collegiality is about, Pat would be one of the people I would pick to say ‘That’s what a colleague is supposed to be,’” Director of the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Henry Knight, stated.
Farmer, who facilitates the administration of the actual nomination process, described Dolenc as a professor who demonstrated exceptional delivery in and outside of the classroom, and not only within his study of economics, but in particular how he relates his study to other disciplines and current events in the world. “He is a passionate, charismatic, vivacious teacher,” Farmer concluded from reading the letters of submission, “I don’t want to just say professor or faculty member. He’s a teacher—He’s a student, and he’s a teacher. It’s a mutually beneficial connection that he has with students and from that it develops more of the learning process so he’s learning the students are learning. It’s a dynamic relationship.”
KSC junior Sarah Croitoru, a women’s and gender studies major, took an honors political crisis course with Dolenc. The junior said she appreciated Dolenc’s move within the course to take regular events and expand their discussion to a world impact level, a format Croitoru said is not common. “He made me aware of thinking of the world more broadly and was also very interested in hearing what we had to say and letting us lead discussions,” she explained. “He didn’t want it all to be taught by him, he wanted us to be involved, teaching him something because he recognizes that while he may have a PhD in economics and be more versed in that, we’re all from different backgrounds and learning different things and we can all teach each other.” Dolenc said he learns from his students, his surroundings and takes every opportunity on the KSC campus to further his engagement and involvement with his community. “How could you not be a student on a college campus, it just seems like an opportunity that’s right there in front of me and I’m going to seize it,” he continued. “I think also the most interesting questions to ask in class are the ones I don’t know the answers to. It seems to me that all of us get to be learners for as long as we want and this is a setting where it would be a really tragic waste to not be seizing that opportunity.”
One way Dolenc is encompassing a lifestyle surrounding the college’s motto is through his involvement in the American Democracy Project. According to the ADP website, the program is an initiative focusing on preparing the next generation’s role in the community, establishing engaged citizens. Dolenc said becoming involved with ADP became an awakening or event “outlet” for him to assist students in leaving KSC with not just a degree and transcript, but a lifestyle that could further positive engagement in communities.
“The idea behind it is that public colleges are really well situated to provide not just the skills to help you get a good job when you graduate—but it’s more than that, and in our collegiate experiences we have the opportunity to provide you with the content knowledge and with the skills so you can be a better citizen so the various communities you are a part of when you graduate.” Dolenc said after participating in his first ADP conference, he began to realize he was not just an education and economics major and instead “began thinking more holistically,” as student Croitoru experienced. Knight said, “Civic engagement—that’s a big deal. Everything about how he looks at teaching is an expression of what public liberal arts really can be all about.” Knight said, in his words, this remains why Dolenc is the “perfect choice” for the award.
Farmer stated it is Dolenc’s “dynamic” between student and faculty members that permits Dolenc to transcend beyond traditional textbook teaching and makes him special to the campus. “I don’t know if that’s special about Keene State, but I know that Keene State is special because of it,” Farmer said, “These are people who emulate the very best of us and there are many that’s why we have so many submissions for our nomination package because for every one of the them there are four more who are striving to be the next distinguished teacher.”
The term “striving” Farmer used to describe Dolenc’s hunger is not just for teaching, but for the path he has created for continuous learning.
Knight, similar to Dolenc, expressed with a smile that he loves to call himself a college student, in this case “A 36-year freshman,” as Knight liked to call himself. The director said that since he began teaching in 1977, he has felt that each year he has had one more “beginning place”—one more discovery, one more start—continuing the path of the never- ending process of learning. “I think Pat’s put together the same way,” Knight said, “We get paid for being eternal students.”
Dolenc said that, almost ironically, as he has dedicated his time creating citizens devoted to their communities, he has felt a new presence in the KSC community, stating he has felt “in small ways, and big ways and unaccepted ways just all of this reinforcement of what it means to be a member of the community.”Knight stated, “His cup’s always running over and he finds ways to share it before it spills.”
Enter to learn; go forth to serve.
Julie Conlon can be contated at email@example.com