You can see him on any weekday, usually in a suit, but always wearing a tie, walking toward Old Main where he has taught for 40 years. His steps are still energetic and his smile is sincere. This is a man who loves what he's doing. However, Robert Dodge, Ph.D., recently has stated his intention to retire in four years. He will be 76 years old.
"I don't ever want to be perceived as the doddering old professor who doesn't even know where my classroom is," he explained. Yet Dodge does not foresee a day when he will stop teaching for good. "If I'm still in good physical shape and I have all my marbles, I would still love to teach a class here or there."
In the fall of 1970, Dodge began his remarkable journey as an educator at Washington & Jefferson College-the same year the College admitted its first class of women. Today, Dodge, much like female students, is an integral part of the W&J experience. His booming voice and unmistakable laugh coming from the second floor of Old Main are sounds that almost every W&J student from the last 40 years recognizes. As he enthusiastically sketches maps across the blackboard, Dodge still spouts historical facts so rapidly that students are known to bring back-up batteries for their recorders to his class.
"Primarily, I'm a lecturer and I think it's my strength," he said. "Some might think it's old fashioned, but I think lecturing has its place." Dodge also has his place at W&J-right next to fellow professor Thomas Mainwaring in an office they have shared for 21 years-and that's the way Dodge prefers it. "I am perfectly content here," he said. "We have an understanding, a system, and we respect each other."
Mainwaring agrees, enjoying the lively conversation that fills their small, crowded space. "I can't imagine not sharing an office with him," he said. Mainwaring is not the only professor who appreciates Dodge's company. John Mark Scott '69, Ph.D., has been taking students to Russia on Intersession courses with Dodge since 1975. He remembers opening their hotel curtains during a 1977 trip and looking right at the Red Square, and listening to Dodge speak eloquently of the history that transpired there. "We should all be so gifted," Scott said of Dodge's ability to turn complex historical facts into interesting and meaningful stories.
That passion for teaching also impacted Joshua Andy '04, who changed his major from accounting to history after his first Intersession course with Dodge on the history of the United Nations. "As an educator, Dr. Dodge has no equal," he said. Although no student takes his class for an "easy A," he explains, "Many students will tell you that it's Dr. Dodge's passion for his subjects that makes you want to do well in his class." Andy now teaches history at Pennsylvania State University Behrend, following in his mentor's footsteps. "Above all, Dr. Dodge pushes you to achieve your best," he said.
Four years from now, when Dodge packs up half of his simple office on the first floor of Old Main, someone else will take his place on the faculty. He hopes it is someone who is dedicated to teaching. "I believe an educated person is someone whose curiosity and interest is outside that person's own experience," he said. "That is the basis for a good teacher." Yet, according to Scott, no one will be able to replace his legacy. "Bob Dodge," Scott adds, "is the very definition of W&J."