Reflections on "Doc" Niswander
Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011
President Jo Young Switzer
William Ward said: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
Emerson Niswander was a great teacher who inspired his students and his colleagues. His subjects were biology and zoology and physiology and critical thinking, but his teaching was focused on his students.
Emerson graduated from Bluffton University in 1938 and taught and coached at Eden High School in Ohio for three years. After four war years in the U.S. Army, he completed his master’s degree in 1947 and Ph.D. in 1950 at The Ohio State University.
He came to Manchester College in 1950, with a distinctive approach to teaching well at a small liberal arts college. Evelyn tells how he spent many evenings at home reading scientific journals. Doc’s tests were legend. He regularly gave multiple-choice exams with five options per question. The maddening part was that students could circle as many answers as they thought were correct. The wrong answers were totaled and subtracted from the total of correct answers. Doc loved those exams. Students hated them.
When I took Doc’s zoology class, an English major among the science geniuses, I learned about his wry humor. He loved to pass around specimens that grossed out people ... like tape worms. I remember one lab in which he had hung a dead frog on a clip, and by touching certain nerves with a small tool, he could make the frog’s legs twitch. He watched the students’ reactions until it was clear that someone was going to faint, then he grinned that twinkly grin and stopped. Our most inspirational professors keep students’ attention.
Professors teach by how they live, not just what they say. His students saw him engaged in constant learning, and they followed his example. The names of his students are in the annals of scientific history – Gene Likens, whose curriculum vitae in 1980 was 29 pages long and who discovered acid rain in North America. Dale Oxender, Larry Yoder, Robert Gorden, Jim Downey. He taught a host of doctors who are lifelong learners – Jane Henney, Harriet Hamer, Dan Shull, Phil Wright, Jeannine Petry, Wilbur McFadden, Theron Blickenstaff, Ted Terrel, David Peterson, Joel Eikenberry, Matt Sprunger, and so many more.
It won’t surprise you that after he retired in 1980, Emerson and Evelyn stayed active. They attended many concerts, plays, receptions, dinners, and basketball games. They established an antiques business and were actively involved in the North Manchester Center for History.
Albert Einstein said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.”
Our beloved “Doc” Niswander never lost his curiosity, and as a result, his students thrived and all of us were inspired to be more than we thought we could be.
Today, we thank God for Emerson Niswander’s wisdom, wit, and holy curiosity.
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