Santa Clara University

English department

Retiree Fred White Interview

By Kaelin Holland


“We use the term ‘teacher/scholar’ here very deliberately and what we try to do as professors is to bring those facets of our experience together as much as possible for the sake of the students.”

The one thing that he wants his students to take away in his classes is “learning how to learn.” “Formal education is marvelous, especially in the way that it helps you become an independent learner. We professors are not prescriptive; we’re facilitative. Another good metaphor from science is the catalyst. You get a reaction going without actually participating in that reaction. So that’s what I want students to value most, the importance of learning on their own.” And, for White, teaching is learning and learning is teaching.

Professor White’s commitment to interdisciplinary teaching has given a unique quality to his career. One of his best memories here was when he and Chemistry professor Dr. Amy Shachter designed a joint course that combined “Writing About Nature” and “Environmental Chemistry” sections; one summer they held the course in Trinidad and Tobago. They “took trips through swamps, through rainforests, it was quite an experience witnessing a giant sea turtle laying her eggs on the beach late at night, seeing and encountering monkeys in the trees.” White attributes his enthusiasm to the course to his long-time love of science; for a period in high school, he had wanted to become a scientist. “It was a wonderful experience team teaching, interdisciplinary teaching, where we take Chemistry and English and put them together. That’s really cool.”

Continuing the threads of his love for nature and his enjoyment working with colleagues, he was also a scholar for the California Legacy Project, directed by Dr. Terry Beers. White edited a selection of John Muir’s best writings. “That was a wonderful experience just doing research on John Muir, writing the introduction to that volume, making selections. It was fun because when the book was published, I got invitations to lecture at various places like the Marin County Historical Society.”

Upon retirement, White will turn over a new page in his life that most retirees would love: traveling and full-time writing. Although he has thoroughly enjoyed teaching, retirement will offer him the chance to realize one of his original dreams of becoming a full-time writer. His parting words? “Value lifelong learning.”

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