Dr. Darby Lewes
Professor of English, and
Women’s and Gender Studies
Darby Lewes is a professor of English,
and women’s and gender studies at
Lycoming, where she has chaired the
Teaching Effectiveness Committee and
the Lycoming Conference on Teaching
Excellence. She earned a Ph.D. from the
University of Chicago in 1991 and has
Genre and Gender in Women’s Utopian
Nowhere: Utopian Sexual Landscapes
A Brighter Morn: The Shelley
Circle’s Utopian Project
Vision: Eighteenth and Nineteenth-
century Literary Palimpsests (2008)
Auto-Poetica: Representations of the
Creative Process in Nineteenth-century
British and American Fiction
well as several book chapters and journal
You have presented student
motivation workshops across
the country. How does moti-
vating students today differ
from 10 years ago?
Motivation hasn’t really changed. Oh,
a lot has changed: parachute pants and
mullets have given way to generation X
and Y, then the silent generation, and now
the Web generation.
Yet the students are fundamentally the
same. People are still people, after all.
Students still want pretty much the
same things: academic success, friends
and significant personal growth. They
want their families to be proud of them.
They want to be able to find a job upon
graduation. They want to fall in love.
Some things never change, despite tech-
People respond to the same things that
people have responded to for thousands
of years. The difference is the tools avail-
able to motivate those feelings, desires,
goals and so forth.
There have been advances in peda-
gogy for the traditional classroom, such
as group work and peer learning. Yet,
the most significant change has come
from the web, which provides the bait for
curiosity. All learning is essentially au-
todidactic—all real learning takes place
in the safety and security of the student’s
own head. My job is to make them want
to make that learning their own.
The advances in technology how-
ever, have made many things available
to all students regardless of their skills.
For example, a student would no longer
have to build an Eolian harp in order to
hear one. Additionally, the web, with its
prodigious links, offers far more than
the “see article X” of the Encyclopedia
Britannica. Indeed, quite often, several
links are available to direct the students
towards aspects of the topic to which they
are more drawn.
If the nature of motivation has
changed, it is that the teacher must be
more aware of each student’s interests so
as to help them find in the confusion of
all the links those links which will most
Your work is widely published.
What do you enjoy most about
It took a few years of living, but
eventually I learned that “getting there” is
the most important aspect of the process.
Yes, it is rather nice to find my name and
works referenced in such places as the Li-
brary of Congress and the British Library.
But that’s all after the fact. My publica-
tions are my (for lack of a less pompous
word) legacy, not my life.
It is the building of that legacy—the
flash of the light going on about some as-
pect of a problem, the research to validate
or disprove my insight, the travel, hey,
even all those rewrites—that makes my
life what it is.
Explain how some of your
teaching techniques are
borrowed from your avocation
of training and showing border
collies and training service
dogs for the disabled.
Well, that’s actually the subject of my
book “Portrait of the Student as a Young
Wolf: Motivating Undergraduates,” and
it’s not easy to compress everything into
a paragraph. Nevertheless, the basics are
that dogs are essentially little more than
civilized wolves, and wolves and humans
have a great deal in common. We both
began as distance runners, and learned to
adapt to a wide variety of situations and
climates. We’re both omnivores, open to
new ideas in food and life. We both adhere
to a hierarchical social structure, in which
intangibles such as status are tremendously
important. We’re group hunters, who are
comfortable with teamwork and mutual
dependence. We are both highly fluent in
body language—a raised eyebrow or tail
can speak multitudes. And, perhaps most
important, we are both readily motivated.
We want rewards, both tangible and intan-
gible. We seek validation, assurances that
we’re doing a good job. We fear discomfort
pain, confusion, vulnerability), and seek
to avoid it whenever—and by any means—
possible. So, dog training techniques trans-
late fairly easily into the classroom.
During home football games, you
and Solo T. Dog are often seen on
the sidelines, where he serves as
the kicking tee retriever. What
that experience mean
I love interacting with students, meeting
parents and alumni, working with my dog,
watching football, and eating Warrior hot
dogs and fries. Where else could I do all
these things at once?