The magazine for Western Washington University

Online only: Hymn and Praise for Students

Days before he died, James W. Scott, Professor Emeritus of Geography, reflected on the most rewarding part of his career

By James W. Scott | Professor Emeritus, Geography

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Far too often in academia, the faculty at colleges and universities overlook the central function amongst their professional activities: the education and development of their students. When I look back at my teaching career as a professor of geography at Western Washington University, what provided me with the deepest sense of satisfaction was facilitating my students’ learning and research. That involvement and commitment to teaching took on many manifestations including directing graduate student research, serving on thesis committees, directing field camps, and organizing conference proceedings. The reward: a career encouraging and guiding the intellectual and personal development of my students.

I have often reflected on the advice offered by my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Manfred Vernon, who reminded his fellow instructors that they were not there simply to collect a paycheck, but to educate and provide their students with the knowledge and skills necessary to be productive citizens and to understand and appreciate their own potential contributions to society. To that end, I hope that my students have benefited from our shared experiences – both inside and outside the classroom.

These shared experiences were the catalyst that bonded me with many students, resulting in significant friendships that transcended their college years and carried on into my retirement. I celebrate their many professional and personal successes and hope that I have provided comfort during their sorrows, as they, in turn, have with mine. I know that my experience with students is not unique and recognize the tireless efforts of other dedicated individuals who have taken an equally active interest in the educational and personal well-being of their students, such as my friend Jane Raney.

After serving as one of the first Peace Corps volunteers in Whatcom County, Jane went on to serve as the original coordinator for the Peace Corps at Western. She inspired many students to heed the call to serve others, and they returned completely devoted to the principles inspired through their interactions with her. I respected her commitment and know she also deeply appreciated the mutual respect and affection of her former students.

Dr. Scott recently passed away within days of learning he had cancer. In those precious few days, he wanted his thoughts celebrating students expressed. He relayed them to Todd Welch shortly before he passed. Todd had worked with Dr. Scott at the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies and is a graduate of the WWU Archives Masters Program.