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Let's Look

by Steve Charles
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German professor Greg Redding’s office is in the coolest architectural space on campus—the tower of Detchon Center.

"I’m the only one here who really does work in an ivory tower," he jokes, poking at the false ceiling panels in his office, pushing them up to see what’s above them.

His probing is my fault. I asked what the space above his office—a cavernous opening that’s just begging for a huge brass bell—looked like from the inside.

"I don’t know," he told me as he cleared a space on his desk, climbed up, and began lifting the panels. "Let’s look!"

That knee-jerk instinct to explore has defined Greg Redding since he returned to Wabash. Notice, it’s a collaborative venture: "Let’s look!"

Whether accompanying him to Cologne, Germany this spring, traveling with him to German-American sites throughout Indiana in 2005, or working as research interns through the Know Indiana program, Redding’s students frequently experience that moment of discovery right alongside him.

"I think it’s good for students to be with me when I encounter something new, where I have to draw from other research and make connections and articulate those," Redding says. "It’s good for them to witness that process in action."

Their "naivete" inspires discovery.

"Naive questions are sometimes the right questions," Redding explains. "As the so-called experts, we may make incorrect assumptions, and students can help us get to the heart of the right question a little more quickly."

Redding’s work with two students last summer—Andy Deig ’08 on German singing societies and Tim Rickard ’08 on Hoosier artist Otto Stark—are cases in point. When he arrived here in 2001 to take over as chair of the Department of Modern Languages, Redding did the unspeakable for a professor on the tenure track—he pitched his old specialty and dove into a new area of research.

"I hadn’t done any research in the field of German-American studies before I came to Wabash, so I’ve spent the last several years reading widely and acquiring this research base," Redding says. "I had to explain much of that context for these projects to Andy and Tim—you never really know something until you have to explain it to someone else. So I emerged from the summer truly understanding for the first time parts of this cultural studies model—had that ‘Aha!’ moment where it all came together.

"I don’t know if I would have gotten that if I hadn’t worked with them."

A true believer in collaborative research, Redding is also an advocate for his home state of Indiana and its potential for providing learning experiences for Wabash students. He was inspired by former Dean of the College Mauri Ditzler ’76.

"I thought I was a hard-core Hoosier until I met Mauri." Redding smiles as he recalls a trip he took with Ditzler from Indianapolis to Quito as the College was starting up its program in Ecuador. On the return flight the two spoke about how Wabash students so often return from study or immersion trips abroad as better students; getting some literal distance away from home, they gain the objectivity to think more clearly about who they are.
"Mauri challenged me to think about how we could do that without leaving Indiana," Redding says. "I believe these research projects on German-American culture in the state can accomplish this—you could do the same thing with Hispanic or African-American culture.

"Ultimately, what drives this for me is giving students opportunities to explore who they are in time and space."

It’s a complementary notion to the claim trumpeted by so many alumni: "At Wabash, I learned how to think.

"Everyone comes here with an identity that’s been formed for them," Redding says. "You’re a product of your parents, your home town, your high school peers. That’s probably a good thing. But until you’ve cycled through some other life experiences and balanced them against that identity, how do you know? Our job in everything we do here is to challenge that, to make sure that we are who we are for good reasons. I don’t care where you land on particular issues—I just want to know you’ve arrived there with your best, careful consideration.

Redding’s determination to be such a catalyst for his students speaks to the heart of the College’s historic mission.

"The work of the College is to lay the foundation for a complete manhood," then-Wabash President William Kane said in 1900. "Its aim is not to make specialists, but to make men." Professors Eric Dean and John Fischer were part of that formation for Redding. He recalls his New Testament class with Dean, which reaffirmed the Christian faith of one of his classmates while being a rewarding but primarily intellectual exercise for Redding.

"That had to be the perfect class. Making the classroom a safe place for that sort of exploration is not an easy thing to do, but Eric Dean did it."

Redding recalls traveling with John Fischer, his faculty advisor and mentor.

"John would push you, constantly mentally kicking you in the rear in the classroom or on the road, but he cared about you. He loved his students; they knew that. And when he was challenging them, they knew it was because they could do better."

"These are our role models," Redding says. "At Wabash today, there are resources available to students that just weren’t here when I was a student. But the things that always mattered to me about Wabash are still here. It’s a great place to be a student; and the faculty may not all be on the same page, but we’re on the same chapter. We have a common sense of mission, we talk a lot about how to do what we do better. Nobody here seems to rest about that.

"We benefit from what people did years ago in establishing this culture we have here. To our credit, we’ve learned from them, we’ve maintained that culture, and we are carrying that work forward."

Granted tenure in December, Redding will carry that work forward for the foreseeable future.

"At Wabash, you don’t get tenure for what you’ve done, but for what you’re likely to do," Redding says. "The real work begins now. As if the College is saying. ‘Here’s your membership crd; now you’ve got to be a leader.’"

Read more about Redding and his students’ research here.

Contact Professor Redding.