Professors to share life lessons at Last Lecture

Courtesy Photo /
Sheldon Kopperl of Biomedical Science

Courtesy Photo / Sheldon Kopperl of Biomedical Science

Chelsea Lane

Grand Valley State University professors spend hours lecturing and sharing their knowledge with students each week. But if they had just one final chance to address their students, what would they choose to say?

The ongoing Last Lecture series asks professors to envision what lessons, academic or otherwise, they would choose to pass on to students if this lecture was the final one they would ever give. The annual event features two professors, typically from very different fields of studies. This semester, the honor will go to women and gender studies professor Danielle DeMuth and biomedical science professor Sheldon Kopperl.

The LIB 100-approved event will take place at 6:30 p.m. in the Pere Marquette Room of Kirkhof Center this Thursday. The Last Lecture is free to attend and pizza will be provided.

“This event is a great opportunity for students to see professors present a lecture that holds special significance to them,” said Lauren Kaercher, vice president of Educational Affairs for Student Senate in a press release.

The inspiration for DeMuth’s lecture, titled “Back to the Feminist Future,” came when she received her annual Social Security Administration letter informing her of how much longer she had to work before she could retire.

“I have 25 years until I can retire,” DeMuth said. “So the call for giving the Last Lecture made me think of that time 25 years in the future. And I asked myself the following question: When I give my ‘actual’ Last Lecture 25 years in the future, what do I hope to say? I will start there, and then I will discuss the likelihood that my 25-year vision will be realized, and why or why not.”

DeMuth said she was honored when first asked to join the event.

“I am an outspoken feminist, and over the years in my experience in higher education, the feminist voice has often been unwelcome and seen as oppositional,” she said. “To be sought out and asked to speak is a welcome change and represents a different tone. It is thrilling to be part of such a change and such a university.”

DeMuth said she feels the lecture reflects the alignment of her core values and her academic work. She hopes to offer students two main lessons: the myth of “unmediated progress” and every individual’s ongoing responsibility for human security and gender equality.

Meanwhile, Kopperl’s lecture will focus on the “propensity of knowledge” available to students and how the idea of general education has evolved into a multidisciplinary system since he first began teaching as a professor. He plans to use pieces of artwork as metaphors for different educational environments and to incorporate some of the LIB 100 course’s key educational aspects into his lecture.

“The basic message that I want to deliver is that you should be able to learn and talk to one another in language that everyone can understand,” Kopperl said. “…The basic idea is that when you learn from all of these different areas, then you can really talk to anybody, anytime, anywhere. I think that’s really important in just the global community that we’ve become.”

Kopperl, who has taught at GVSU for 41 years, has witnessed firsthand the value of a diverse approach to education. Although he is officially a faculty member in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, he teaches a wide variety of classes and is currently helping to develop GVSU’s new religious studies major and minor programs.

“I went through an engineering school as an undergrad, and if somebody would have told me that I’d be teaching history, history of science, religious studies, art history and liberal education, I’d have told them they’re nuts,” Kopperl said. “I wanted to become a chemist. So having been exposed, finally, after my own education, to the liberal arts state of mind. I’ve become an advocate. I’m obsessed with the beauty of having all of these branches of knowledge… Take advantage of as many different areas of learning as you can and enjoy all the different aspects that they have.”

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