Braxton Boyer · September 8, 2016
As announced on August 23 at Southern Virginia’s annual university conference, Dr. Scott Dransfield, professor of English, will serve as interim provost for the 2016-2017 academic year.
Dransfield joined the university’s faculty in 2001 after holding positions at colleges in Georgia and Pennsylvania. His academic interests include Victorian literature and culture as well as studies in the intersections between religion and literature. He has published articles on a variety of topics, most recently an essay appearing in the Philological Quarterly on the poetics of translation in Homer’s “The Iliad.”
In the following interview, he shares his thoughts on teaching, how to help students reach their potential, and his plans for the coming year.
How did you first come to Southern Virginia?
I came to work at Southern Virginia in 2001. At the time I was Assistant Professor at Gordon College, a little 2-year college down in Georgia. It was work that I didn’t quite like, and I wasn’t crazy about the college, so I was on the job market and checking things out. I had always known that Southern Virginia existed, and it just so happened that in 2001 there was a search for an English position, so I applied. The moment I set foot on campus, I just knew that it was where I had to be. I was really won over by the curriculum and the class sizes and the dynamic in the classrooms.
What makes you passionate about teaching?
I think it has to do with the passion of sharing something you love. It’s in my nature, really, and I sometimes worry that it can prove itself slightly obnoxious. (I used to drive my brother crazy making him listen to a bit of music I was enthusiastic about.) I simply can’t teach material I am not enthusiastic about. I’m drawn to big ideas, especially those that challenge the status quo, which makes literature a great field to be in!
What academic interest did you have as a high school and early college student? Was it always English?
No, it wasn’t always English. My favorite subject in high school was Biology. I didn’t like English. I was a reader — I read the typical stuff like Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin and C.S. Lewis — but I never associated myself with the discipline of English. I was not academic minded, and I went to college with no idea of what I was doing. I didn’t become an English major, or really identify with the study of English, until halfway through college. Thinking about who I was in high school and my first year or two in college, going into an academic profession was the last thing I considered.
What’s your favorite idea or book to discuss with students?
This is a hard one. I guess I always look forward to teaching Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” There’s something that remains utterly strange about that epic poem — always something to discover, always some image or other that remains elusive. For students, it’s a wonderful avenue into a discussion of agency and the meaning of action and human desire in relation to divine purpose. The character of Satan in the poem is endlessly fascinating because he embodies so many human characteristics.
What have you found to be the most effective way to help students reach their potential?
I think we need to give them challenges that seem slightly beyond their grasp and help them achieve whatever they’re able. I am totally dissatisfied by assignments that students are comfortable with or that are “conventional” to them. I would rather receive written work from students that shows a genuine intellectual struggle than a polished essay on some mundane subject. I like big ideas, and I am convinced that students do too.
Looking back at your teaching career to this point, what is your most significant accomplishment?
Well, I’ve been at it for over 20 years, and really, I don’t think I could point to one accomplishment. I’ve had some remarkably successful students, some of whom really surprise me with their latest news; I’ve had some great moments in the classroom; I’ve contributed a few good ideas to the collective scholarship in my academic field. I’m grateful for all of these.
What will you be working on as interim provost for the next year?
Our reaffirmation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges is the big thing. Part of that reaffirmation deals with creating a quality enhancement plan which, for us, is called Knights Write. It’s all about improving writing and writing instruction at Southern Virginia, and I’m really excited about it.
In your years as a professor, and now as interim provost, what is your guiding philosophy in the work you do?
Whatever we do, whatever decisions we make, should be guided by what is best for the students.