Lighting The Way Forward: Legacies That Inspired Our Valpo Professors’ Passion For Education

The role of a teacher is one that lends its light to countless lives, guiding generations of students toward their curiosities, passions, and callings with their expertise and wisdom. Here at Valpo, our professors take on that transformative mantle — and serve as a testament to how powerful and transcendent the inspiration and integrity of teachers can be.

In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, we asked these faculty and campus leaders how their former educators shaped their future and desire to pursue a legacy in higher education:

Danielle Lavin-Loucks, Ph.D., Department Chair and Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology

“The teacher who had the greatest impact on me probably taught me during my undergraduate years. I wasn’t majoring in that specific program, but it was a course on race and ethnicity in contemporary American society. At the bottom of my paper, he wrote, ‘You better grab an application for graduate school!’ It wasn’t just the note that made the difference – even though I did go to graduate school, changed my major, and changed everything about my plan for life – it was his enthusiasm for teaching and the level of care he had for students that had such an impact on me — and my learning, too. Now, I’m here in sociology and criminology when I originally planned to go [to veterinary] school. For me, somebody who can change the entire trajectory of your life by exposing you to new ideas, new ways of thinking, thinking about things critically… Those are the teachers we all look back on and say, ‘Yeah, it was that moment.’ His kind words, support, and everything about his presence were what brought me to where I am today.”

Doug Tougaw ’05 MBA, Ph.D., P.E., Dean of the College of Engineering

“The most impactful teacher that I ever had was Professor Keith Hoover, Ph.D., who was my electrical engineering professor as an undergraduate student. He taught me the value of not only the technical aspects of what I was learning but also how valuable it is to be able to change people’s lives — especially when you’re teaching undergraduate students. It was when I took his class that I committed myself to that same goal for my whole life.”

Jay Grossman, Ph.D., P.E., Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

“I was inspired to become an educator by my major advisor while pursuing my Ph.D. He was a big inspiration for me to become an educator. He showed incredible enthusiasm for his subject, which was transportation, and that’s what got me excited about it. I think enthusiasm is contagious, and if I show enthusiasm for my subject and enjoy what I’m doing, I hope to invoke the same response in my students — even if it’s not in their field of study.”

Jennifer Prough ‘91, Ph.D., Dean of Christ College — The Honors College and Professor of Humanities and East Asian Studies

“I was really inspired to become an educator when I was a college student. I was a student here at Valpo and in Christ College, and I was really influenced by the faculty here when I was in Christ College. I took a lot of courses with Professor Bill Olmsted, Ph.D., and Professor Mel Piehl, Ph.D., but really all of the faculty influenced my career trajectory. They really modeled an intellectual curiosity in the classroom, but also curiosity about people in a more general sense — a kind of curiosity and care about the world around them. That really inspired me to become a professor and work in higher education.”

Phrosini Samis-Smith ’06 M.S., D.H.Ed., Assistant Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions and Assistant Professor of Healthcare Leadership 

“The teachers who probably had the greatest impact on me were from my elementary school days — one by the name of Mrs. Julie King, who was my home [economics] teacher. You would think she would have taught me how to cook and sew, but not at all; I can make a mean grilled cheese sandwich and that’s about it, and I can’t sew a button to save my life. My other teacher was Mr. Huber, who taught AP English; he always wore a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. I took a class trip to Washington, D.C., with him in eighth grade. There was also Mr. Summers, who taught me economics and government… Those teachers and many more showed passion and interest and really wanted the best for their students. At that time I didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher. It was later on, when I started my teaching career as an adjunct professor at Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, Illinois, that I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my career. I went back and got my doctorate, and seven years later, here I am at Valparaiso University. I want to thank those teachers that came before me, those that are teaching now and those that will come after me.”

Richard Sévère, Ph.D., Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of English

“My inspiration to be a professor came from an interaction with one of my favorite professors during my undergraduate years, Louis Hill Pratt, Ph.D.; he was one of my English professors and advisor who specialized in James Baldwin. His care and mentorship throughout my time as an undergraduate student really inspired me to consider a vocation in higher education and becoming a professor. I always think about his legacy and channel him when I’m engaging with students, remembering how I felt cared for, listened to, and appreciated as a student.”

If you see yourself in any of these incredible educators, are inspired by a Valpo professor you learned from this semester, or find yourself drawn to the classroom, explore our elementary education major, our transition to teaching program, or pathway to secondary education.

Phrosini Samis-Smith ’06 M.S., D.H.Ed., assistant dean for health professions and assistant professor of healthcare leadership at Valpo's College of Nursing and Health Professions, standing in front of and lecturing a vibrant, colorful classroom full of sitting students on campus.