Rhodes Trust Honors Scott Himsel
by Adam Alexander, Bachelor Editor
April 22, 2016
When Jacob Burnett ’15 learned the Rhodes Trust was looking to establish an Inspirational Educator Award, he thought immediately of Scott Himsel ’85.
The Rhodes Trust wanted to celebrate educators around the world who have demonstrated an exceptional aptitude for helping young students realize their potential, and so the Trust called on Rhodes Scholars to nominate those teachers who had the most profound influence on their lives. Following Burnett’s nomination, Visiting Associate Professor of Political Science Himsel was named the winner of one of the first-ever Rhodes Trust Inspirational Educator Awards, along with 17 other educators around the globe.
“Professor Himsel was and still is the most animated professor I’ve ever had,” Burnett wrote in his original nomination letter. “He would almost never sit in his seat. He would walk around the square table and the classroom often wedging himself between students when making a point. The classroom, for him, was a theater. He gave life to constitutional law.”
Himsel adapted his style of teaching from Wabash professors Edward B. McLean H'03 and Melissa A. Butler H'85, among others.
“Perhaps more than anyone else, those two people really influenced me,” Himsel said. “Dr. McLean was almost ninja-like; he could machine-gun you with a series of questions that would really make you rethink your fundamental assumptions about things. He could turn you all the way around on an issue without you even realizing it had happened. Dr. Butler was also just an amazing teacher. She wasn’t just a great political theory professor; she was a great practitioner of the small ‘p’ politics. She knew everything that was going on around campus. She was fully integrated into this community, and was very dynamic in the classroom.”
Himsel also models his teaching style off of his Northwestern School of Law professor Victor G. Rosenblum, the 1979 recipient of Wabash’s Senior Peck Medal.
“No one ever said anything stupid in Vic’s class, even if they did,” Himsel said. “Vic listened carefully enough - and knew his material well enough - that no matter what a student said, he would find a way to build on those comments. This had the benefit of encouraging people to participate and really not wasting anything that happened in the classroom.”
Himsel stressed the liberal arts teaches humility, and he does not consider himself to be an equal of any of his former professors. “I don’t say I can teach as well as any of them, because I’m sure I can’t,” he said. “But I can say that these are some of the people I aspire to be like.”
The lessons and techniques Himsel learned as a student have evolved into making him one of the next-generation of Wabash ‘greats.’ In an e-mail interview, Burnett wrote Himsel’s style is inspirational because he listens to all opinions, without diminishing any particular position.
Speaking specifically to his relationship with Burnett, Himsel smiled, recalling old memories with one of his favorite students.
“Teaching Jacob was a joy,” Himsel said. “He’s really smart, and he’s really motivated. He was in my freshman tutorial on Roosevelt and World War II; he is the most devoted fan of Eleanor Roosevelt and her efforts to be more inclusive of underrepresented groups. Jacob is one of the most sensitive students I have ever taught about the rights of minorities. He is very passionate and very energetic. It was just a great experience having him in class.”
In Burnett’s nomination letter, he referred to Himsel as more than an inspirational educator, but a “Wabash dad.” Himsel has cultivated close relationships with many students since teaching his first class in 2003.
“One of the things I find most meaningful is the opportunity to know, work with, and be with students that I have taught,” Himsel said. “My wife and I will be attending four weddings this summer of former students. That is a particularly special thing for me. The chance to stay in touch with students and maintain relationships is one of the many wonderful things about being here.”
Because Himsel is an inaugural winner of the Award, he did not even know it existed before he learned he had won it.
“I was very surprised,” Himsel said. “Really, I was overwhelmed by Jacob’s generosity. I am always overwhelmed by the generosity of Wabash men toward their faculty. Because we place high demand on our students in our readings and our classroom work, and that makes it all the more special that our students are so generous toward the faculty.”
Himsel photo by Ian Ward '19 Burnett is file photo.