SerfassingEvery now and then, an opportunity arises to coin a new word. The latest comes out of Kenyon's classics department, where numbers of students have been taking Adam Serfass's courses without seeking academic credit for doing so. Neither enrolled in the class nor officially auditing, they attend for the sheer joy of learning what the professor has to teach. Associate Professor of Classics Carolin Hahnemann has invented a word for this phenomenon: "I call it Serfassing the course."
Far too modest to give himself that kind of credit, Serfass, who is now in his third year as the Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professor of Classics, says he was "dumbfounded" when thirty-three students enrolled in his Greek history class. "So many students are reading Greek and Roman texts all across the curriculum, and that generates interest," he says. "But I also think a lot of classics students are enthusiastic, and enthusiasm spreads."
Serfass came to Kenyon in 2002 fresh from earning his Ph.D. in classics at Stanford University. The transition from the San Francisco Bay area to tiny Gambier has gone well. He grew up in a small town near Danbury, Connecticut, and went to Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, "so small-town life is not altogether foreign," he says. "And teaching in a liberal-arts environment is what I've always wanted to do."
His love of college teaching shows, according to his colleagues. "Adam is a natural teacher who also sees teaching as an art," says Professor of Classics Robert Bennett. "He will be my replacement when I retire in 2006, and I could not be more satisfied both to have worked with him and with what he brings to the department."
"Invigorating" is the word Serfass uses to describe his teaching experience at Kenyon. His courses range from Greek and Roman history, to Latin and Greek language classes, to "Odyssey of the West," a course offered by the Integrated Program in Humane Studies. Each course has a different format: lecture, seminar, or two-on-one teaching tutorials-which provides variety and challenge.
He's especially enthusiastic about the tutorials, which are a three-way conversation between two students and himself about assigned texts, including a strong writing component. "The students learn from one another as well as from me," he explains. "They're often deeply aware of their own strengths and weaknesses in their writing, and this format encourages them to articulate those. I act as a coach and we talk a lot about the process of writing-what makes a good paper, what to leave in, what to leave out, how to order the material."
Serfass describes his teaching style as combining rigor with collegiality. "I make the students work hard and pay attention to detail," he says, but he isn't above having a bit of fun, either. That might mean dressing up in his academic gown to impersonate the emperor Constantine while his class re-enacts the Council of Nicaea, or holding an annual "grammarfest" in his seminars as an entertaining way of giving students an appreciation for the precision and details of language.
A winner of the Whiting Teaching Fellowship for 2005-06, Serfass plans to spend the year revising a book manuscript based on his doctoral dissertation. Titled "Treasures on Earth: Church Finances from Constantine to Justinian," the book explains the dramatic financial growth of the churches of the late antique Mediterranean and gauges the impact of the rise of Christianity on local economies.
Do you have feedback on this page?