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May 3, 2002


LA CROSSE, Wis.—Why has Viterbo University English Professor Rolf Samuels been named the 2002 Teacher of the Year?

According to his students, that’s exactly how he’d like to approach the topic. In the three years he’s been at Viterbo, Samuels has made a name for himself as a teacher who loves to ask, "Why?" As such, he is always pushing his students to think critically—a fact they’re impressed by.

"Rolf is a person I can go to when I have questions about anything. However, he doesn’t provide the answers—he pushes me to think logically and discover the answers myself," wrote senior Tiffany Ertman. "He wants us to think for ourselves, because he knows it will make us smarter, stronger students."

Even students who didn’t know him in the traditional classroom role were impressed. Samuels was one of the readers for Darcie Vacek’s (2001 graduate) senior thesis. Although she never took a class from him, she said, "I still consider Rolf to be one of the best professors I had the opportunity to learn from at Viterbo. He challenged me every step of the way to be a better writer and thinker, and never gave one criticism without a compliment right after."

Another trait of Samuels’ that impresses students is the fact that, although he possesses the highest academic degree in his field—a Ph.D.—, he doesn’t believe he holds the answer to all of life’s questions. "On the contrary," wrote Susan Lundquist, who graduated in 2001, "he made it clear that there were many things he did not know and encouraged us to learn along with him to ensure that we were getting the most out of our education." Lundquist, who is a substitute teacher in the La Crosse and Onalaska area, also said she still maintains contact with Samuels to discuss teaching methods and ways to reach students—both hers and his. Samuels no longer considers her a student or former student. In his words, she is now a "colleague."

Perhaps above all else, it’s Samuels passion for teaching that inspires and incites the desire to learn in his students. "He shows as much passion for the use of a comma that he does in discussing literary concepts.  His fascination in even the tiniest detail makes him a delight to listen to. He makes learning both challenging and fun," said junior Renee Arndt.

His colleagues agree. English Department Chair Richard Ruppel stated, "He brings truly astonishing energy, creativity, and passion to his teaching. Rolf’s evaluations are the best I’ve ever seen."

Bill Stobb, English professor, added, "He has exhibited what it means to truly care about the success of each student as an individual: No one, as far as I know, spends more one-on-one time helping students to succeed as writers…He puts in long hours in the service of teaching, often seeming to sacrifice his personal well-being for the good of his students, the department, and the university at large."

Samuels received his undergraduate degree in English from Earlham College, Richmond, Ind. in 1984; his master’s degree in English, with an emphasis in Creative Writing and Fiction, from Iowa State University in 1986; and his doctoral degree in English, with a concentration on The Novel, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1997. Before joining Viterbo in 1999, Samuels taught in the English department at Edgewood College in Madison for two years.

The following people also were recognized during the Rose Awards ceremony, held annually near the end of the university’s academic year:

  • William J. Medland, Viterbo president, received the J. Thomas Finucan Award for his exceptional contributions to furthering the mission of Viterbo University.
  • Larry Harwood, assistant professor of philosophy, received the Alec Chiu Award for his exemplary work and his efforts to engage students in scholarly activities.
  • Ward Jones, assistant professor in the biology department, received the Outstanding Academic Advisor Award, for his dedication and commitment to the academic advising of students.
  • Rose Kreutz, who retires at the end of this academic year after more than 30 years of teaching nursing, received the Sr. Helen Elsbernd Distinguished Service Award.
  • Rosemary Matiak and Vickie Schaefer from the Registrar’s Office, received the Pax Et Bonum Award for their fulfillment of the Franciscan values of service, respect, hospitality, stewardship, and joy.
  • Servant Leader Awards for leadership and service were given to:
  • Heath Thayer, a student and dedicated community volunteer
  • Chris Sanger, the office manager for institutional advancement
  • Debra Daehn Zellmer,  a social work professor
  • Heidi Benish, a math specialist in the Learning Center
  • Deb Kappmayer, a graphic designer in communications and marketing

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