By Emma Reilly
Former Ernest A. Howard Professor of English Literature and Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Kiplin Hall Program Dr. Richard Gillin is in his element when he is in the classroom working with students.
“It is always the students who make it worthwhile,” Dr. Gillin said.
After teaching at Washington College for over 40 years, Dr. Gillin retired in December 2019. He returned to the College last spring to teach a course on romanticism for the English department. This semester, Dr. Gillin is teaching an Irish film course.
“I really missed talking to people about things that are meaningful…I wanted to be involved here,” Dr. Gillin said.
According to Dr. Gillin, he approached Dean and Provost Dr. Michael Harvey with the idea of returning to the College as a volunteer. Immediately afterwards, the daunting reality of having to return to the classroom left him with a temporary sense of “buyer’s regret.”
“I was sitting in my office thinking, ‘well, it’s too late now.’ But within three minutes of being in the classroom, I knew I was home,” Dr. Gillin said. “There were really wonderful students in the class, so it was perfect. I never had that small of a class in my life. So it was a really awesome semester.”
The passion Dr. Gillin has for teaching does not go unnoticed.
“I heard lore of his legendary teaching before we met,” Professor of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Literature Dr. Katherine Charles said.
Students are similarly impressed by Dr. Gillin. “Being in the classroom with students is clearly what he loves to do,” junior Delaney Runge said. “I think he’s a really passionate educator, which is so awesome.”
Runge is assisting Dr. Gillin with his Irish film course, Ireland and Irishness, this semester. According to Runge, the course offers an interesting perspective on how Irishness is understood by other countries.
Dr. Gillin came to the College with his wife, former English Department Lecturer and Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Kiplin Hall Program Dr. Barbara Gillin in the 1970s.
Arriving from the New York metropolitan area, Dr. Gillin remembers being struck by how different Chestertown felt.
“It was one of those glorious May days, when everything is picture-perfect, and you can’t help but think that Chestertown is the Hollywood version of little town America,” Dr. Gillin said.
Dr. Gillin was hired by the College to teach upper-level romanticism courses for the English department. He would go on to teach eighteenth and nineteenth century English courses and fiction, as well.
“The essential reason that I went into teaching was that it was something that I just knew I wanted to do,” Dr. Gillin said.
Intuition played a role in other parts of his life, too. Recalling an early encounter with his wife as an undergraduate, Dr. Gillin said that he “knew [he] was going to marry her.”
The Drs. Gillin started WC’s Kiplin Hall study abroad program together in 1999. For three weeks, students would learn about literature while hiking in Europe. The trip encompassed North Yorkshire, England and West Cork, Ireland.
According to Dr. Gillin, Kiplin Hall is the ancestral home of the Calvert family, who founded Maryland; it is this connection that ties the trip to WC in particular.
According to Dr. Gillin, the trip was physically intensive and restorative. Students were able to spend time connecting with nature and taking in awe-inspiring landscapes while living off the grid.
After taking the first group of students abroad, “we knew we were hooked,” Dr. Gillin said.
Another part of Dr. Gillin’s Kiplin Hall legacy is the book about the trip that he published in 2020: “A Guide to Hiking the Liberal Arts: The WC Kiplin Hall Program.” According to Dr. Gillin, his wife and children were vital motivators for him while he worked on the manuscript.
The program ran for about 20 years and is slated for a revival in the summer of 2024, according to Dr. Charles, who will be taking over.
“As graduate students, [the Drs. Gillin] hiked through the Lake District with a descendent of William Wordsworth, learning about the Cumbrian landscape and studying the poetry written there. It was their peak educational memory, and they wanted WC students to have that opportunity,” Dr. Charles said. “It’s a huge trust that they’re passing the baton to me.”
According to Dr. Gillin, he is looking to see how the program transforms under Dr. Charles’ leadership. “She’s a superstar,” he said.
In the wake of this change, Dr. Gillin said that he is looking forward to continuing to cultivate engaging classroom environments here on campus.
As Dr. Gillin builds on his legacy on the WC campus, these efforts will continue to highlight his investment in the study of English and the importance of compelling classroom dialogue.
Photo by Grace Hazlehurst
Photo Caption: Dr. Gillin is currently teaching Ireland and Irishness a course focused on exploring Irish film culture.