By Mariel Smith
DANVILLE, Ky. (Nov. 19, 2013) – Dr. Mark Lucas, a three-decade veteran of Centre College classrooms and a mainstay of the English program, has been named the 2013 Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Kentucky Professor of the Year. The council considered more than 350 professors for the award.
The Professors of the Year program salutes the most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the country—those who excel in teaching and positively influence the lives and careers of students. Lucas is known for his energetic, enthusiastic and engaging classes, many of them affectionately called “Grit Lit” around campus due to their Southern focus. His passion for Southern literature has led to such traditions as the Grit Lit Barbecue and the senior seminar pilgrimage to author William Faulkner’s birthplace in Oxford, Miss.
One of Lucas’ newest traditions is a springtime trip to his nearby farm, where he recently constructed a replica of Henry David Thoreau’s handmade cabin from Walden. The cabin has the same 10 by 15-foot dimensions, as well as similar cedar shingles on the outside walls and three simple chairs. There is just enough room for a small woodstove, desk and lofted bed.
Lucas recalls first being bitten by the literature bug as a Centre student.
“I had a class where we were reading modern fiction, and we got to Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom!” and it just blew me away,” he recalls. “I was normally a very dutiful student, but I stayed up all night and skipped all my classes the next day—I just kept reading until I got to the end of it. I found it completely electrifying.”
From there, Lucas went on to graduate school, where a happy accident sparked his desire to teach.
“To help pay the bills in graduate school, I took a beginning instructor position teaching intro to literature classes,” he says. “That was like injecting a drug into my vein—I loved it so much. Then I understood why my Centre professors looked like they were having a great time.”
For Lucas, the inspiration behind his teaching is his students, who he says only stoke his interest in and excitement about the literature he teaches.
“I share my enthusiasm about the literature, and to do that, I need an audience,” Lucas said. “I sometimes say my engine won’t turn over if the room is cold—I need some warmth in the room. Centre students provide that warmth; they share the sense of wonder that I feel for these books.”