GVSU professors to give their Last Lectures

Anne Marie Smit

Each year, the Grand Valley State University student senate hosts its Last Lecture event where nominated professors deliver an address to the GVSU community as if it were their last. 

This year, retiring history professor Jim Goode and microbiology professor Aaron Baxter will be delivering their symbolic last lectures Thursday, Nov. 16, at 8 p.m. in the Loutit Lecture Halls.

Goode has been teaching at GVSU for 32 years and will be retiring at the end of the fall semester. His teaching topics include the history of U.S. foreign relations and the Middle East. He was also instrumental in the development of the Middle East Studies program at GVSU. 

For his lecture, Goode will be focusing on what he learned during the decade he was overseas in Iran, from 1968-1978, and what GVSU students and faculty can take away from his experiences and perhaps apply to their own lives.

“I’m focusing on a number of things,” Goode said. “One is how essentially important study abroad is, or at least experiencing immersion in some culture other than your own. I think it’s so transformative that I would almost prescribe it for every student if possible. 

“The other is that once you come to know a different society from your own, a different culture, a different people, you have a much more complex understanding of how that society works. It’s very difficult to ever see them as demons or as the other because you know (them) from the inside.” 

When GVSU hired Goode as a professor, the university wanted him to incorporate his knowledge and experiences of developing countries into the curriculum since only American history and European history were offered at that time. Goode said he was hired in part to illuminate cultures that were, at that time, not as frequently studied.

One takeaway that Goode hoped to pass onto students during his time at GVSU was cultural competency and how exposure to other societies lessens discrimination. Goode said it’s harder to make blanket judgments about a culture when you are participating in the day-to-day lives of its people. 

“I was driving in today listening to a radio show, and someone was being interviewed; he said, ‘You can’t demonize people you know,’” Goode said. “In the case of Iran, for instance, very few Americans have any direct experience with Iran, and certainly almost no people who are making policy towards Iran have any direct experience, so it’s quite easy to pigeonhole them as the other. That’s dangerous. 

“That’s probably been the theme of my 32 years here at Grand Valley, to try to get that message across.”

Baxter has been a professor of microbiology at GVSU for 11 years. Unlike Goode, Baxter is not retiring or leaving the university. 

In his lecture, Baxter will highlight some of his research interests and his own educational journey while encouraging students to foster a life of learning and advising them on how they can positively impact the world through service and hard work. 

“I’ll talk a little bit about what I do, but more of it is focusing on the importance of education, work, service (and) the aspects of being fruitful once you leave GVSU,” Baxter said. “Obviously, as a professor, I find a college education important, but it’s not the be-all of education. Whether you have a degree or not isn’t always the end-point goal. More (important) is always having that mentality of learning.”

One of the advantages of a college education, according to Baxter, is the accountability and structure that it provides. To foster a lifelong learning habit, students should be taught effective learning strategies so they can retain material and create a solid foundation to build on.

“I’ll hopefully provide some ideas on how can you effectively learn things, which is something you can then use for the rest of your life,” Baxter said. “For example, how many times do you highlight things in your reading? When you’re done, what does it look like? One giant highlight. What have you effectively done? So, how can we read things, for instance, so it’s more effective?”

Lastly, Baxter will discuss how to be marketable and successful after college. A college degree is the first step, he said, but it isn’t the recipe to success. Baxter will delve into the importance of working hard and persevering through challenges.

“Then, couple (effectively learning) with the other aspects of being successful,” Baxter said. “First and foremost, hard work. How do you get an education without hard work? Regardless of where you’ve been, you’re going to have things in your life that are going to stand in your way. Don’t make excuses. Excuses get you nowhere.”

The event is approved for LIB 100 and LIB 201.