Daily interaction with CNU students inspires the scholarly work of Dr. Graham Schweig. “My whole week is energized by what happens in the classroom,” he says. A professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies — and the director of CNU’s Asian Studies Program — he began teaching at Christopher Newport in 2000.
“Teaching for me is not a job; it’s a privilege,” says Schweig, who in 2013 received the annual Alumni Society Award for Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring. The $2,500 honor celebrates his commitment to teaching, learning excellence and university fellowship. As part of the alumni award, he also gave the keynote address at CNU’s 2014 honors convocation. “I’ve been treated extremely well here,” Schweig says of Christopher Newport, calling the award a wonderful way to recognize the exceptional teaching that occurs across the University.
Noted equally for his teaching, research and published works, Schweig credits his students with inspiring his professional pursuits. “I’m someone who loves to teach, in fact even needs to teach, but also needs to produce,” he says. “My classroom is like my laboratory; my students are incredibly valuable for trying on new ideas I’m going to be publishing. And I think they like it because they feel they’re a part of something that’s happening beyond the University’s borders.”
Passionate about promoting dialogue to encourage the sharing of diverse thoughts, Schweig avoids a standard lecture format when teaching. “One of the things I tell my students is that being an educated person means learning how to genuinely appreciate what another person ultimately values,” he says. “The classroom is the place where we share both my ideas and their ideas.”
This encompasses far more than acceptance and tolerance. In Schweig’s classes students learn to appreciate what others hold as their “greatest treasure” by developing a heightened capacity for hearing what others have to say. In fact, Schweig describes the classroom as a rare arena where knowledge from different views can be shared.
Professionally, CNU has allowed him to successfully merge his loves of research and teaching. “The most productive years of my academic career have been here,” he notes. This in turn has allowed him to carve a unique place in the academic world, one that has resulted in guest lectures at such prestigious institutions as the Smithsonian and the University of Oxford.
Yet even in those hallowed venues, Schweig still encourages group participation. “I never stand behind a podium, not even at the Smithsonian,” he says. Instead, he roams the room, looking directly at people. “They’re not afraid to participate,” he adds.
Just as students expand their horizons through active dialogue, Schweig finds himself equally rewarded through the process. “I need a classroom to share my ideas,” he notes. “Without my students it’s like a chemist without a beaker — or without a Bunsen burner.”
And as he learned firsthand, absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. While on sabbatical, Schweig felt lost not being in the classroom, interacting with CNU students. “How crazy is that? That was very unexpected,” he notes.