All Roads Lead to Susquehanna

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Glen RetiefIt was another academic program that lured Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing Glen Retief to Susquehanna. He grew up in rural South Africa in a village for staff members of Kruger National Park. “After high school I went to college in Cape Town and purposely avoided living in rural areas for my whole adult life. When I drove to Selinsgrove to interview for my position, I thought, ‘No, no, no, I don’t want to move here.’” So Retief relaxed for the taxing multiday interview process encountered by faculty candidates. “Then I realized the Writers Institute fostered an M.F.A.-like program at the undergraduate level. I knew this was rare, so I left campus really wanting to move here because I wanted to be a part of this program,” he recalls.

It’s people like Finch and Retief, drawn by the power and opportunities of Susquehanna’s programs, who replenish the system, strengthening that which attracted them. Retief was one of the first faculty members to support GO, spending more than a year designing the Travel Writing in South Africa program. This winter he traveled with students to Cape Town and a traditional Xhosa village, exposing them to new cultures and the country’s social history in the apartheid and post-apartheid eras. Retief adds to these lessons by sharing his own experiences growing up under the apartheid system, a topic at the core of his recently released memoir, The Jack Bank.

While Retief uses his life experiences to build a program that directly benefits students at the university, he also used those experiences to write a book that influences the status of Susquehanna as a whole. The Jack Bank has been reviewed in national publications, all of which mention that he teaches at Susquehanna. Exposure like this can be easy to see and hard to measure. What we do know is that a professor attracted to Susquehanna by its high-caliber academic programs, completes the circle by increasing the very reputation of those programs.

While academic programs may be the most obvious reason people come to Susquehanna, another is less easy to define but equally as strong. When asked “why Susquehanna?,” students point to the campus’s beauty, the small class sizes and the promise of personal attention and success. Often they talk of a campus visit during which they saw a class being conducted on the Smith Hall lawn, felt a touch of educational romanticism and decided Susquehanna just felt “right.” In essence, seeing Susquehanna was like stepping into the vision their mind conjured whenever they thought “college.” Part of this ideal includes the area surrounding Susquehanna. The Selinsgrove area and the Susquehanna Valley set the stage for people’s idea of the quintessential small college in America.

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