Professor Canada: The Joy of Learning and the Wealth of Language

     This posting is essentially an extension of a column from the “Sandspur” of December 31 about five English Professors at UNCP, a “Murderers’ Row” of faculty members who have won Board of Governors’ Awards for “Excellence in Teaching” within the past eight years. These awards, initiated in 1996, are given to  16 professors or instructors annually, one selected from each of the 16 UNC institutions. The award consists of $7500 in cash, a bronze medallion, and a citation. It is the most prestigious of honors for teaching excellence that can be attained by UNC professors.

      UNCP also honors the distinguished professor by having him or her carry the University’s Mace and lead in the academic processions at Commencement and at the Fall Convocation.  Furthermore, he or she delivers the main address at the Winter Commencement.

     I am inordinately proud, as a Chair of the Department (1970-1979) and then continuing on as Professor of English from 1979-1996, to have served with four of these outstanding colleagues.  The most recent and fifth honoree since 2000, Mark Canada, was my replacement in the Department, serving from the Spring of 1997 on.  I feel completely relieved now as I reflect again upon making the gut-wrenching decision early in the Fall Semester 1996 to retire, for my retiring made way for a teacher, researcher, writer, family man, and outstanding human being who otherwise, I feel quite certain, would not be on our campus today.

         At the moment I am writing,  Mark, recently promoted to the rank of Professor, is one of two candidates to replace Dr. Dennis Sigmon as Department Chair.  The other candidate is also someone I consider a dear friend, a comrade on the links several times, a colleague and an instructor and advisor who enriches those around her.  She is also someone who would, I am certain, be an outstanding academic leader.  I am relieved that I do not have a vote and I do not have to make this choice.

     For a full review of Mark’s application for the BOG award, I would direct you to “Google” him under his name.

     I wish here simply to observe that Mark is not only universally admired and respected at UNCP by students, colleagues, and staff, but he has brought to campus other remarkable credentials.  His primary interests in his research and writing have been the nexus of journalism and literature (particularly in the nineteenth century), the nature and the sweep of the English language, and the creative mind of Edgar Allan Poe.

     A native of Indiana and still a “Hoosier” at heart, Mark was an English and journalism major at the University of Indiana, graduating as a member of both Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude (“with highest distinction”).  He worked for three years as a “Copy Editor” for Indiana newspapers before moving to Chapel Hill as a Graduate Assistant.  He earned both his Master’s and Ph.D. there, the latter in 1997 a few months after arriving at UNCP.

    I would like to share with you some of Mark’s love of language and of learning as he expressed it in the application he completed for consideration for the “BOG” Award:

     “Language means everything.  Both our key to the world outside and the most human part of ourselves, language empowers and defines us.  Our parents remember our first words, and our children our last.  To know our world and ourselves, then, we must know our language. . . .  I strive to give students the guidance, the tools, and above all, the practice to become masters of their language.  By reading and writing  regularly,  engaging in discussions, and giving presentations, my students learn language by using it.  Along the way, they grow in other ways as well, as they interpret facts and opinions, collaborate in groups, conduct research, and explore their rich literary heritage. In short, my approach to teaching is to help students become their own teachers. . . .

     “Since my years in elementary school and junior high, when I dabbled in the underappreciated genres of game-show and soap-opera parody,  I have been fascinated by words and have delighted in putting them together.  I studied journalism in college and later went to work as a newspaper copy editor.  Although my interests eventually turned to creative literature and more sustained analysis, I value my journalism experience.  In addition to providing a unique opportunity to analyze language, this experience left me with a background and a deep interest in the means of written expression, particularly in areas such as typography, design, and First Amendment issues.

     “More than a decade ago, before we were married, Lisa gave me a simple clay coffee mug as a gift.  Although I don’t collect things, especially mugs, the message she painted on the side revealed how well she knew me even then.  It reads: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” For me, being fully alive means immersing myself in this glorious world:  wading in a cold creek in the Appalachian Mountains, eating a deli sandwich in Central Park, reading by a single light in a dark room, discussing books with interesting students or colleagues, pouring a Mozart symphony in my ears or singing along with Hank Williams, catching my little girl after she soars down a slide, and doing almost everything–except shop for fabric–with my wife.  If I collect anything, it is experience.  Inspired by my reading and by the infectious zest for life I have witnessed in my wife and daughter, I want not only to see, hear, and feel the world, but through my senses to know it.”

       Professor Canada’s intellectual and professional lives have been Marked by a love of language and of learning.  He has also left, is leaving, and will continue to leave the Marks of his love for language and literature, and for the experience of simply being fully human, upon all those for whom and with whom he works and plays.  (Please pardon the puns, but they can be aids to memory about this reMarkable man . . . .)



2 Responses to “Professor Canada: The Joy of Learning and the Wealth of Language”

  1. David Shedlock Says:

    Kudos to Raymond Rundus for letting us get to know Mark Canada a little more. I especially appreciate the latters wider understanding of the greatness of language even down to such a thing as game show parody. Words are among the most powerful things we can harness for good (or for evil). It sounds like Canada chose the former.

    David Shedlock

  2. Mark Canada Says:

    I thank both of you for your kind words. My experience at UNCP has been and continues to be the highlight of my professional career. Thanks, Ray, for the role you played in building a strong department.



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