Professors at Georgetown who also call the university their alma mater are relatively rare. But for the alumni who do go on to become part of the Hilltop’s faculty, Georgetown provides a home for the natural progression from student to teacher, despite the sometimes overwhelming changes the campus has undergone since they were freshmen.

Adjunct professor of government Ron Klain (CAS ’83) with Monica Medina (CAS ’83) on Healy Lawn in fall 1979. The pair married seven years later.

For many alumni professors, soaking up Georgetown’s values and intellectual atmosphere for several years has been the foundation to their own approaches to teaching.

Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., (CAS ’88)said that his Jesuit mentors in particular influenced his teaching.

“Walking the halls and the lawns at my alma mater, I am reminded of the professors, Jesuits and other mentors who were so important to me as an undergrad,” O’Brien said. “The lessons that they taught me I hear echoed in the counsel that I give to students today.”

Ron Klain (CAS ’83), who teaches a government department seminar for graduating seniors based on his political experience as chief of staff to vice presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore, has also found that his Hilltop experience can help him make his teaching more relevant for students as they transition into careers.

“We talk about [my Georgetown experience], and I think students appreciate it,” Klain said. “Second semester seniors are thinking about what comes next in terms of their [careers]. They appreciate that I was once in their shoes and have the same perspective they have now.”

Courtesy Marcia Morris
Russian professor Marcia Morris (FLL ’77) with her now-husband Martin O’Mara (SFS ’74) at her graduation.

Klain added that the course he teaches today is markedly different from the kinds of courses he took in the 1980s.

“I have teaching tools my professors didn’t have,” he said. “I can assign videos of presidential debates all on the Internet, I can pull materials from a wide range of things on the Web and I can update the material.”

Sam Potolicchio (COL ’04, GRD ’11), who teaches for the Semester in Washington program at Georgetown, said that his more recent experience as a Georgetown student positions him especially well to provide pertinent insights to his students.

“I was just recently in the classrooms as an undergraduate, and it gives me a perspective of what the students are facing and how they are learning,” Potolicchio said. “Being so young and also being a student myself just a couple of years ago — I think that gives me a unique perspective.”

Making Sense of Change

While professors’ experiences as Georgetown students can help inform their teaching, they are quick to acknowledge that the university has changed dramatically since their days as students — and the mentalities of students along with it.

When adjunct professor of psychology Frank Warman (C ’65) attended Georgetown, the school was all-male, all-white and almost entirely Catholic. Students wore coats and ties to class. Though Warman freely shares his Georgetown experiences with his psychology classes, he said that he sees his students as members of a distinct generation.

Courtesy Frank Warman
Adjunct professor of psychology Frank Warman (C ’65) in his graduation photo.

“I’m very aware they grew up in a totally different world than I grew up in,” Warman said.

English professor John Glavin (C ’64) remembers this same version of Georgetown less fondly.

“I didn’t like Georgetown at all as an undergraduate,” Glavin said. “It was a homogenous, all-male and almost entirely Catholic school. I found that identity was very constricting if you weren’t necessarily part of that world. … It was a small, narrow place, and I felt very constrained by that.”

When Russian professor Marcia Morris (FLL ’74, GRD ’77) arrived on campus in the fall of 1970, it was only the second year women were admitted to the university. Female students had a 12 a.m. weeknight curfew and a 2 a.m. weekend curfew, while male students had no restrictions.

“In actual living conditions, there was certainly a difference in terms of how [women] were treated in class. There were individual faculty members who had dress codes and said ‘Women will wear skirts in my class,’” Morris said.

Though the university has evolved to include women in the classroom and students of more races and faiths, some aspects have remained the same since the early 1960s, and not all change has been positive.

“Students are very well-trained in writing, but need a broader framework, more curiosity toward the world,” Maurice Jackson (GRD ’95, ’01), a history and African-American studies professor, said. “Students are smarter, but not necessarily brighter.”

Glavin added that students of today face heightened pressures and stresses that did not exist during his time as a student.

“I came to Georgetown during a time of remarkable prosperity and job security,” Glavin said. “The thing that strikes me most about my students in the past decade is how anxious they are and how insecure the future seems to them.”

McDonough School of Business professor Susan Dugan (FLL ’77) disagreed.

“I think there is a greater level of self-assurance on the part of students that was probably not the case 30 years ago,” Dugan said. “Georgetown University was a sleepier, smaller school. It was still exclusive and it still had a cache, but it was not quite as in the spotlight as it is now.”

Warman and Glavin diverged on the question of whether Georgetown’s campus is more politically active than it was during their time as students.

Glavinrecalled one of the most difficult episodes of his undergraduate studies when, as editor-in-chief of The Hoya, he published an article criticizing the marked absence of students from Catholic universities in the civil rights movement.

“I said that this claim that the national press had been making was basically true. Because places like Georgetown at the time were still highly complacent when it came to these issues,” Glavin said. “The huge amount of time and energy that students put into social justice is completely different than [it was] when I was a student. That’s one of the most remarkable changes.”

On the other hand, Warman said that this interest in social justice is muted in comparison to the political activism that he remembers pervading campus in the 1960s.

“The school seems less political now than it was when I was here. You don’t see students protesting or occupying buildings,” he said.  “Maybe the reason for that is that there isn’t a draft — students in the ’60s were worried about going to Vietnam.”

Unsurprisingly, these changes are less dramatic for those professors who finished their studies at Georgetown more recently

From the perspective of recent graduate Mark Lagon(GRD ’91), a visiting professor in the Master of Science in Foreign Service program, the traditions he enjoyed as a student appear to burn strong today.

“I lived at the Tombs,” Lagon said. “Today, I walk by the booth where the groomsmen from my wedding ate dinner two nights before my wedding, and the great thing is how much the Tombs is the same just as everything around here has grown.”

Big Transitions, Big Challenges

Despite the advantages that being a Georgetown alumnus or alumna can provide to a newly minted professor, there is no denying that the shift from student to teacher — even on the same turf — involves distinct trials.

“The biggest transition for me was going from student to teacher,” Jackson said. “Some of the faculty think you don’t belong — 90 percent do, but some don’t.”

For O’Brien, the transition from student to professor included one from layperson to Jesuit.

“When I graduated from Georgetown in 1988, I could not have imagined returning 20 years later as a Jesuit priest,” O’Brien said. “God is full of surprises.”

For many, however, the transition to teaching is eased by the presence of many familiar faces, including professors under whom they studied while at Georgetown.

Lagon met his wife in a political philosophy class with Fr. James Schall, S.J.

“He read the gospel at [our] wedding,” Lagon said.

Even for those who did not meet their spouses in the classroom, the student-professor connection still runs deep.

“I still see some of my professors here, which is fun, and definitely gives you that sense of continuity and sort of the sense that this is going to go on forever,” Dugan said.

And for all the changes to the university, some professors felt like they had never left when they returned in their new teaching capacities.

“I feel like I’ve been there the entire time and so I feel like I’ve kind of grown with Georgetown,” Potolicchio said.

Government professor Anthony Arend (SFS ’80) characterized his Georgetown years succinctly and poignantly: “This is my home. This is my place.”

Hoya Staff Writers Penny Hung, Emma Iannini and Eitan Sayag contributed reporting.

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