The Collegian
Thursday, May 06, 2021

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Reception held for departing Earth Lodge professor

Nearly 50 students, staff members and professors attended a reception to honor professor Lee Carleton in the Whitehurst Living Room Thursday afternoon.

Steve Bisese, the vice president for student development, and Andy Gurka, the director of living and learning programs, organized the event to recognize Carleton's contributions to the University of Richmond. Carleton will teach his last undergraduate class at Richmond on Thursday, April 21, because his position as assistant director of the Writing Center was eliminated.

The position was no longer needed because of a massive shift in curriculum this year, said Andy Newcomb, the dean of arts and sciences.

Because English 103, which Carleton taught, is no longer a graduation requirement, the school's offerings in the class dropped from 27 sections to one, Newcomb said. The changes also eliminated the need for four unfilled lines in the English department,he said.

"It's not pleasant," Newcomb said. "It's not a choice that anyone wants to make, but we have to do what's best for the students."

Many of the students at the reception had participated in Earth Lodge, a living-learning community that Carleton founded and advised as part of his course load since 2005. Some had taken English 103 with Carleton and had stayed in touch afterward.

Several of Carleton's colleagues and students made emotional speeches about Carleton's impact in and out of the classroom.

"I never had a colleague with Lee's enthusiasm in my 25 years here," Writing Center Director Joe Essid said.

Jerry Giordano, a junior, echoed the words of several students when he said that Carleton had been his mentor, teacher and friend.

"You don't 'meet' Lee, you 'experience' Lee," Giordano said at the reception. "Lee organically illuminates his students' potential in ways that after knowing him for three years, I still don't know how to put into words."

What's clear from taking a class with Carleton two years ago and from talking to a number of his students, not all of whom speak as glowingly as Giordano, is that he is different from most professors. Carleton's classes tend to be less about structure and more about what he calls a collaborative exchange among the students and teacher.

"I think sometimes students come to class thinking they don't have anything to contribute," he said. "But that's just not true. Everybody has important knowledge, and we can learn from each other."

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For students who enjoyed Carleton's approach to teaching, the impact was profound. Many of the students at the reception became writing consultants as a result of Carleton's encouragement, including Giordano and Liz Webber, a sophomore.

Webber said Carleton had helped her build confidence in her writing and had showed her that she had a lot to say.

"I guess every professor is different, but he gives you something that most don't," Webber said. "Something about him is unique, and that can't be taught."

For Geoff Cox, a 2008 Richmond graduate, Earth Lodge and Carleton played a large role in his undergraduate and post-college life. Cox was a resident assistant for the university's first Earth Lodge community, came back to the lodge the next year as a student and came back again to intern in the Office of Living-Learning this year. Carleton was one of the main reasons he came back to the university after graduation, he said.

"So much of what Lee has to offer is helping students discover their paths," Cox said.

In addition to Carleton's impact on students, Todd Lookingbill, Earth Lodge's new adviser, said Carleton's legacy would live on in the living and learning programs.

"He laid down a mold for how they should be run," he said.

Lookingbill, a geography professor, will teach "Geography of the James" as the course component of Earth Lodge.

Though it will differ from the literature course that Carleton taught, Lookingbill said there would still be strong similarities because he sees himself as a storyteller -- one who tells the story of the connection between natural resources and the things that stress them.

"Earth Lodge is more than a course, more than a dorm," he said. "It's become a community and even a family. That's what people really value from the experience, and that's what I hope to continue."

Carleton said the reception was gratifying, humbling and encouraging all at the same time. The most satisfying thing about teaching, he said, has been having touched others' lives.

"I can't think of the last time I felt equally honored," he said. "Maybe when I got married."

He is one of the finalists for a position in the School of Continuing Studies, he said, but if he isn't chosen, it could be one of the hardest transitions of his life.

He said he hadn't had time to think about the fact that Thursday could be the last time he teaches a class at the university.

On the door of his office is an unsigned sticky note that reads: "Keep your head up. We're all rooting for you."

Contact reporter \0x2009Ali Eaves at rali .eaves@richmond.edu.

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