GVSU bids farewell to several professors

Courtesy / John Hewitt
Professor John Hewitt

Courtesy / John Hewitt Professor John Hewitt

Peter Chhum

As the winter semester nears its end at Grand Valley State University, students are beginning to move out of their apartments and homes in anticipation of their summer agendas. However, while some students will say, “See ya later,” to GVSU, some professors will wave goodbye for good.

At the conclusion of the academic year, GVSU will bid adieu to five professors who are entering retirement. Among them is John Hewitt, professor of criminal justice.

During his time as a professor at various institutions, Hewitt has been able to touch the lives of more than 10,000 students directly in the classroom, as well as thousands of others in the U.S., Canada and Europe through his authored textbooks.

Hewitt has also had his research widely published with more than 400 citations in scholarly publications and 150 citations published in Social Forces.

After 45 years of teaching at the college and university level, with his last 15 being spent at GVSU, Hewitt is ready to erase his whiteboard one last time.

“The nature of universities and the role of professors have changed a great deal over these past four and a half decades, and I must admit I am looking forward to very different challenges and opportunities, not least of which is improving my guitar playing,” Hewitt said. “I will be retiring to the Seattle area in the Pacific Northwest but plan to return to West Michigan often to visit my daughter, son-in-law and four grandsons.”

As the criminal justice department bids farewell to one of its integral faculty members, so will the School of Communications in the parting of professor Keith Oppenheim, coordinator of the broadcasting major.

Oppenheim will leave GVSU to head to his next career endeavor teaching at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt. — a move that will bring him closer to his personal roots and his family.

Preceding Oppenheim’s arrival in 2009, he served as a correspondent at CNN for 11 years and spent 15 years at various local news stations. With a decorated background in news prior to entering academia, Oppenheim brought the intensity of the news world into the classroom.

“My teaching style is very much shaped by working in the news business, which is based on time pressures, immediacy and accuracy,” Oppenheim said. “I really like to bark at my students without hurting their feelings. That’s something I really wanted to accomplish. The news world is tough. It requires people to be dedicated, on time, accurate and it doesn’t put up with late papers.”

As both professors ready their departures from West Michigan, they both point to their rapports with their students at GVSU as their key inspirations and the single campus element that they both will miss. For Hewitt, his students were a key part of what he enjoyed most.

“I just loved coming across the student who is really intellectually curious, who is not afraid to engage ideas and wants to learn more about them. So many students are so excited about learning the discipline, and I’ve loved being able to help a student learn what they really wanted to,” Hewitt said. “I loved every semester having students say, ‘Professor Huey really knows his stuff,’ and students seem to know that I knew my discipline well. It’s the excitement of scholarship, writing, and making a contribution to the discipline that impacted them that I enjoyed so much.”

Oppenheim agreed, saying that his students are what kept him going,

“There’s a lot of work that goes into teaching that’s not always fun. There’s a lot of labor to get ready for class or grade papers,” he said. “The best part is the interaction that you have with students. That will lead to these moments where you see them learning and growing, and the fun you have with them in person.”

The GVSU community will continue to celebrate both Hewitt and Oppenheim’s work both in the classroom and throughout the university.

“It is always bittersweet when professors retire and leave from Grand Valley since we will miss each of them on campus, but we are also happy for them as they begin new adventures,” Provost Gayle Davis said. “When they leave, they take a lot of experience and accomplishments with them. We celebrate their achievements and wish them well, but they are always part of Grand Valley’s community.”

GVSU is also recognizing professors who are stepping down from administration positions.

Gary Stark, a professor of history at GVSU, is retiring from his position as associate dean of CLAS. Stark has held the position for the past 10 years, and was the dean of Arts and Humanities prior to that that. He has also overseen GVSU’s relationship with its sister institution in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany. Stark will still teach part time at the university.

CLAS will have a celebration for Stark on April 16 at 4:30 in the Thornapple Room of the Kirkhof Center.

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