Expressing gratitude to students

Expressing+gratitude+to+students

Julia Battishill

Dr. Arthur Ellis has a very humble way of speaking about his involvement in a monumental moment in Seattle Pacific University’s history.

In 1991, the very first doctoral program was introduced at SPU, the Doctorate of Education. Ellis, who still teaches doctorate education students, was part of its formation.

“I was here in 1991 when we started a doctoral program. And it was really an exciting time, it was the first doctoral program in SPU history,” Ellis said with a smile. “So for me it was such a pleasure to be in the formation for that and to help put together the curriculum and certain standards.”

Ellis, who has been a teacher in some capacity for the entirety of his 57 year career, has been in SPU’s education department since the beginning of his time here. It is inarguable that he is passionate about his work: he recounts every experience, from his early career to this week, with clear enthusiasm and joy.

Lately, he has worked exclusively with graduate and doctoral students, but he started out in elementary school with the 11 and 12 year olds in his sixth grade class. While some teachers only enjoy a specific age group, it seems Ellis can happily do it all.

“I began my career as a teacher in the last century in Beaverton, Oregon, … teaching sixth grade. And it was so much fun! I used to ask myself ‘they’re paying me to do this?!’ and we get to do so many interesting things,” Ellis said.

He remembers a time when the rules were a bit looser on what he was able to do as a teacher, and recalls introducing his class to wildlife in less-than-conventional, engagingly hands-on ways.

“I got to take my kids on field trips, like one time 300 miles away into the Oregon desert to study wildlife,” Ellis remembers. “We raised pheasants in the classroom.”

While he loves his more specialized, collegiate role now, he also thoroughly enjoyed his time teaching sixth grade. He remembers it as exciting and versatile. “It was so amazing being an elementary school teacher because I taught all the subjects. A little bit of science, a little bit of math, a little bit of reading,” he said.

He thanked his students, both those working towards their elementary school graduation and those working towards their dissertation, for teaching him and guiding him through his career.

“First of all I think we learn so much from our students. They bring with them an energy, a commitment to learning,” Ellis said.

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Professor Ellis teaches education at Seattle Pacific University. Thurston Johnson | The Falcon

He remembers starting his work as a professor across the country in the Midwest, and spending 17 years becoming tenured at the University of Minnesota. He enjoyed his time there, but he missed the Pacific Northwest and his hometown just 33 miles south of Seattle.

“I’m from Tacoma. Being from here, I dreamed of someday getting back to the Northwest.”

He was also excited by the prospect of a private school after so many years in the public school, and delving into teaching at a Christian school

“I also had never taught in a Christian education setting. So that was something that attracted me as well. So when this opportunity opened up here I was very grateful”

He fell in love with his students right away, just as he had in the elementary school in Oregon. As has been a trend in his story, his students inspired his dedication to the school.

“The students here are quite remarkable. … I only work with graduate students, and in the last 10 years or so only doctoral students. So they’re older folks, but so eager to learn and just models of lifelong learning,” he gushed enthusiastically.

 

Since coming to SPU and starting to work with post-grad students, Ellis has delved into working on dissertations with his students. While the idea of just one dissertation is enough to daunt most people, Ellis had worked closely on many more besides his own.

“I’ve directed over 60 dissertations now, which is a lot of dissertations, and one thing I like about working with doctoral students is the closeness. You’re a coach, you know, a mentor guiding them through their dissertation.”

He loves it, from the dissertations and students to the other professors he works with. He did not hesitate to explain when asked why he stayed at SPU up to retirement; the warmth of the people, more than anything, kept him here.

“Oh, who wouldn’t stay? The colleagues are wonderful, and not just the faculty but the staff as well. They are just invariably welcoming people,” he explained.

“But it isn’t just that, I do like the collegial atmosphere and have a lot of respect for colleagues.” Ellis gushed about the capabilities and quality of those he works with. “We have some really first rate professors here. I’m talking about the arts, and sciences and theology, across the board. We are very fortunate to have that”

However, it is the students who truly inspire Ellis the most.

Just as they always have through his career, the efforts and dedication of his students motivate him. He passionately described how much he loves watching their growth.

“They are paying a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of psychic energy,” Ellis said admiringly. “I’ve just seen students without a notion of how to do experimental design and they end up publishing in prestigious journals as a results of their dissertations.”

Ellis stressed his gratitude to SPU, his colleagues, and his students for the time he has spent here.

“It’s been a blessing, just wonderful. I’m so grateful to be here and to have been here, and I’ll cherish the memories always.”