Utah State University Carnegie Professors
1999 - Mark Damen
Woe unto the person who makes the mistake of telling Mark Damen that Latin is a dead language; that Greek is passé; that - watch out! - Greek drama is boring.
In fact, rather than suffer the wrath of Damen, sit in on one of his classes and watch as he brings these "dead" subjects to life. Let him show you how the Greek tragedy Prometheus Bound is an ancient Jerry Springer Show. Watch as he turns Aeschylus into a purveyor of '60s idealism: "Aeschylus just can't get that radical democracy out of his system." Prometheus is science fiction at its finest, he tells honors students in a Classical Mythology class.
"Dr. Damen's wit and energy are universally admired, and those finding him a difficult task master know that he is even more demanding of himself," wrote student Barbara Croft in a nomination letter.
Damen joins his wife, history professor Fran Titchener, as the only husband-wife team in the state, and perhaps in the nation, to receive the prestigious award.
Damen has appointments in two departments - history and theater arts, and he mixes his time among them teaching classes such as Latin poetry, ancient theater history, ancient Greek prose, advanced playwriting and ancient Western civilization.
Titchener believes Damen is a great teacher because he is such a gluttonous learner himself. "He is a natural teacher, definitely, but he has an intense curiosity that goes all the way to the bottom of everything," she says. "He's just leading the charge to explore new things, and the students connect with his enthusiasm."
Damen says he constantly evaluates his lessons to make sure they keep pace with the competition battling for the minds of his students. Madonna, MTV, CDs, videos, "politics right now" - the competition is tough he says. He makes students tap into the Web for their assignments. He uses principles of theater. Damen orchestrates his lectures as if they were stories meant to give information but structured to keep an audience's interest.
"They are not purely narrative because they are meant to be didactic," he says. "But they are not just didactic either. They are meant to instill knowledge and interest."
Teaching is hard work, Damen says, but the hard work always pays off. His great fear is the image of him lecturing some day from the same yellow pad packed with the same old notes. "To teach and not have changed is spiritual death."