Since 1988, both Dr. Madeline Chu and Dr. Jan Solberg have witnessed the evolution of Kalamazoo College into the unique liberal arts school it is today. The College held a celebration in honor of their many years of teaching in the Chinese and French departments, respectively, last Monday in the Olmsted Room.
Both professors have taught a wide variety of classes: all levels of language, diverse eras of literature, and special focus courses such as a Chinese philosophy first-year seminar and a French Polynesian literature and culture course.
Chu was hired to establish the Chinese program, and her goal in developing the program was to have both language and literature as essential components.
The faculty members “can have their special field in literature or linguistics, but they have to have a great sense of the language and the culture, because everything about China is related to the language and the culture” said Chu.
Both Chu and Solberg love the flexibility that the College allows. “I feel like it’s been such a privilege just to be here,” Solberg said. “This is a college that encourages you to reinvent yourself. If you see that students want a certain kind of class, and you’re interested in it, you can go off and develop it.”
Teaching a variety of courses allows the professors to see growth, in both the college and the students. “I see student growth, even from quarter to quarter, from year to year,” Chu said. “They became intellectually mature and understand things very quickly. Our students are more intellectually mature than people recognize.”
Solberg echoed Chu’s sentiment about students: “They’re quirky, and not always super self-disciplined but it’s often because they’re smart, and smart people are interested in everything, so on a small campus, you can be a physics major, but you’re also a dancer, and then you get sucked into the studio arts and you’re a student Chaplin,” Solberg said. “I love that—I love the breadth of interest of our students, and I love the fact that K has become so much more culturally diverse than from when I started working here.”
Chu said she will miss sharing ideas with colleagues and students. “I think it’s the environment that I will miss, because I see the growth—not only the growth of the students personally, but the college has grown more and more to what I would like a liberal arts institution to be.”
Neither intend to completely step away from the world of academia after retirement–Chu plans to continue reading, writing and researching in Chinese philosophy and classical literature. Solberg plans to “teach recreationally” and will lead a group of Simpson College study abroad students in Tahiti next spring. “Things like cleaning your house and maintaining a fitness program are hard to do when you’re roaring along at K’s pace,” Solberg said. “If it comes to a time when a student wants to meet me at noon, and that’s the time I work out, I’ll cancel the workout and see the student, but now I think I have to flop my priorities around and put me first a little more.”
“I care about this place, and I care about what happens to it, and I hope to always be connected to former students and help out in ways that I can, if I’m needed,” Solberg said. “I’m not getting a divorce, I’m just stepping aside a little bit.”