The Distinguished Service Award recognizes a faculty member for exemplary service in a leadership capacity to the university and/or community or profession that brings credit to San Jose State University. This year’s winner comes from the College of Humanities and the Arts. He will be honored at the 16th Annual Faculty Service Recognition and Awards Luncheon on March 11, 2015. Tickets are available for purchase.
For Scot Guenter, professor of American studies and the 2015 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award, service is a natural part of being an American. “I believe that good citizenship requires participation and community service in the Jeffersonian tradition. When you participate and do service, you get the good feelings back. And I like to feel good!” says Guenter, who also serves as American studies program coordinator and director of the SJSU Campus Reading Program. “For me, that is accomplished by helping to build community and furthering student success.”
Building community has been a priority for Guenter since he joined the faculty in 1989. “I come from a rural part of northern Appalachia where only a small number of people go on to higher education,” he says. “I’ve always identified with hardworking people struggling to rise up. I’d like to think I’m Whitman-esque in my embracing of a democratic ideal that’s inclusive. I know that may sound fake,” he adds with a laugh, “but that’s how I honestly feel—and that’s what you get at SJSU. Here, in a place where so many people are a little bit different, you are accepted in a way that makes you feel potential and possibility. I feel empowered by the diversity of the people around me. This is where I’m supposed to be.”
“If students leave my classes with just a few takeaways, I hope it is: never stop learning, think critically and always keep your sense of humor.”But that hasn’t stopped him from going other places, too. An experience as an exchange student in Chile when he was 14 years old changed his life, he says. Since then he’s taken every opportunity to live and work abroad, as a Fulbright Scholar in Singapore, a guest professorship in Guam and as a lecturer at conferences in Buenos Aires, Berlin, the Czech Republic, Sydney, Bangkok and Rotterdam. “Part of who I am is shaped by being a citizen of the planet, as well as a citizen of the United States,” says Guenter. Nominator Chris Jochim, chair of the Department of Humanities, calls Guenter “among the most dedicated and selfless university citizens of which I am aware.”
As one of two Laureates of the International Federation of Vexillological Assocations, Guenter carved his niche by studying and analyzing the flag, but he tries to help people connect through all of his courses—from Nature and World Cultures to America in the 1930s. “I believe we can learn from our students,” he says. “My favorite is when students help me and each other see the world a new way.”
“I was waiting for a bus some months ago when a guy I didn’t recognize came up to me and asked if I taught environmental studies at SJSU eleven years ago,” recounts Guenter. “I said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘Your class changed my life.’ That doesn’t happen every day, but when it does, it’s worth all the extra hours and everything else a professor does. For me, that is my raison d’être.”