Profile: Adam Serfass
"Most students take courses for credit and a few opt to audit some. But what do you call it if a student attends a course as often as possible even though it will not show up on a transcript and he or she does not plan a career in the field?" asks Associate Professor of Classics Carolin Hahnemann. "I call it Serfassing the course, because in Adam Serfass's classes this actually happens."
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. "It seems as though a lot of interest is generated because so many students are reading Greek and Roman texts all across the curriculum," he says. "But I also think a lot of classics students are enthusiastic and that 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. "I grew up in a small town near Danbury, Connecticut, and I 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."
"Adam is a natural teacher and, moreover, he is someone who sees teaching as an art in which one makes improvements and changes throughout one's career," 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.
Serfass is especially enthusiastic about the tutorials, which are a three-way conversation between two students and himself. The students write papers in response to questions about an assigned text. They then meet with Serfass in his office, where each student reads his or her paper aloud. A discussion follows.
"The purpose is for the students to learn from one another as well as from me," he explains. "They are often deeply aware of their own strengths and weaknesses in their writing, and this format encourages them to articulate those. It is a bit intimidating at first, but having a peer present is helpful. They can't hide their mistakes, but they aren't alone in making them. 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 a combination of rigor and collegiality. "I make the students work hard and pay attention to detail," he says, "but I want the atmosphere in the classroom to promote open discussion."
He isn't above having a bit of fun. "Every year I hold a fall grammarfest in my seminars," he says. "It is painless and entertaining and designed to give students an appreciation for the precision and details of language. The students like it, and it addresses right up front some of the problems they have."
Outside the classroom, Serfass and his wife, Abby, a Latin teacher in the Granville public schools, enjoy cooking and entertaining friends. Trips to the North Market in Columbus and the West Side Market in Cleveland yield interesting ingredients for their culinary efforts as well as the opportunity to explore those two cities.
"We like Cleveland quite a lot," says Serfass. "The symphony is spectacular, and I actually kind of like the industrial feel of the city. Columbus is good, too, and has a lot of fine restaurants. But the social life here in Gambier is quite satisfying, really, with plenty of people who are approximately in our stage of life and share our interests."