February 1, 2016
College is a constant state of “doing.” It is easy for us to get tunnel vision, moving from one class to the next, only seeing what lies directly in front of us and forgetting that we are not the only ones with lives moving forward. For example, you would think after two and a half years, I would stop being startled by seeing one of my professors at the Healthplex. Professors care about their health, too, but we often lose sight of that humanity and see our professors only in their proverbial tweed jackets. Steven Patterson from MC’s History Department is a ready reminder that there is more behind that picture, as can be seen in his life both inside and outside of Jennings Hall.
Patterson has undergone many of the same struggles students experience. He even attended MC for his undergraduate degree, graduating in 1990. He brags that he pulled out an A in Howard’s Constitutional Development class, an infamous subject on the second floor of Jennings, and recalls it as “one of [his] proudest A’s.” During his four years of undergraduate studies here, Patterson played on the club soccer team. After a fifth year as a graduate student passed, Patterson made the move to the University of Southern Mississippi to complete his graduate degree in history. It was during this period that young Patterson traveled to Europe for a summer. “I held memos written by Winston Churchill,” he recalled, pointing out that MC students can see Churchill’s memos and other artifacts from World War II if they participate in the London semester. This trip began to shape Patterson and direct his focus to what would become his concentration during his doctoral studies: the British Empire.
Before earning his PhD, however, Patterson had a five-year layover working at the Jackson airport. He continued playing soccer through an airline league, even travelling to Malta for their own World Cup. While working for the airlines was good to get the “travel bug” out of his system, Patterson decided to return to school at the University of Memphis in order to get his doctorate degree. “It was there that I met my lovely wife, Nancy,” and now the couple has two sons, Dean and David. Patterson received his PhD in 2003 and immediately started working for Lambuth University, before returning to MC in 2009.
Having come full circle in a sense, Patterson makes an effort and “enjoys getting to know the students out of the classroom.” He has taken many of his classes sailing, a hobby that he has picked up in recent years and that his sons love. Patterson also plays soccer with many students after classes in Alumni Gym. Inside the classroom, he makes an effort to keep things fun and interesting; on Fridays, he might even read from a hilarious book of academic errors, “Non Campus Mentis.” Students who take a class with Patterson should not be surprised to learn something about assassinations. World Civilization classes can make their own history in the Time Travelling Assassins. In a current Patterson class, Ancient Rome, the tribune for the plebian group can be assassinated by the patricians when trying to pick the class book. He wants students to “feel comfortable, engaged, and willing to speak up.” Perhaps the most unusual class Patterson teaches, though, is his physical education course Circus Arts which Chris Washam of the Kineseology Department allowed him to develop. Students learn to juggle and attempt to unicycle in this class, and there is a service learning aspect in which the class help with Northside Baptist Church’s after school program. It is an opportunity for these students to give back and contribute to their community, an experience that Patterson feels is “good for both sides.” He personally gives back through coaching youth soccer in Clinton.
There are many people who helped to shape Patterson into the teacher and man he is today. Like many students, he was influenced by the people he came across during his academic studies, later followed by those he encountered in his work as a professor. He took classes under both Howard and Ford here and names Jonathan Judaken was a mentor and friend at University of Memphis that helped Patterson get his first article published. He now works alongside many fantastic professors, such as Randle and Miller, who share a mutually enriching relationship through the Freshmen Honors Program. There is the “invisible thread of history” that extends from him back to those who taught him and forward to those he teaches. Patterson does not take this for granted, saying, “part of their legacy is in me.”
Patterson is not just a professor here at MC, though he is a great one. He is a person much like us who went through school, played sports, and has hobbies. He wants to make class fun and help students develop “active intellectual courage” through the ability to form arguments and then defend them. Through this he teaches an academic skill, but, more importantly, provides a life skill. There is always a flair to a Patterson class, and they are discussion based, rather than lectures. His writing assignments may be frustrating, but he has students do them in order to learn their personality. He is funny, giving, and encouraging. He is a husband and a father. And his students would agree that Patterson makes the best 80’s references.
-Sarah Moore, Copy Editor
this article appeared in Vol. 97, Issue 7 of The Mississippi Collegian