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Beloved professor bids final farewell

In his 45-year career at West Virginia University, Professor Emeritus Robert DiClerico has influenced the lives of more than 34,000 students. Known for his commanding presence in the classroom, his students (all 150 in Introduction to American Government) are captivated by every word. His written exams are legendary, as is his time-intensive grading process. That consistent approach to teaching, not wavering even for the largest of classes, is a testament to his dedication to and his investment in student learning. Robert DiClerico

DiClerico’s success as a teacher has not gone unrecognized. The WVU Foundation selected him as the first recipient of their Outstanding Teaching Award in 1986, which was followed by the 1990 CASE West Virginia Teacher of the Year Award. He was named the Faculty Merit Foundation’s West Virginia Teacher of the Year as well as a Distinguished West Virginian in 1995. In 1996, the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences recognized DiClerico as the first Eberly Family Professor for Outstanding Teaching. In 2004, the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation honored him for his mentorship of Truman Scholarship candidates.  

Though DiClerico officially retired in 2012, he wasn’t ready to leave the classroom—he has taught one course per semester since then. As he prepares to move to New England in June, DiClerico has made yet another lasting contribution on the student community: he has named WVU in his estate plans, a gift that will support political science students for years to come through additional support for the Robert E. DiClerico Scholarship in Democratic Institutions and Public Leadership. We talked with Dr. DiClerico in his final days on campus to see what’s next for him.

Why did you originally choose to come to WVU?
I found WVU attractive because I did not want to be in an urban area. The location of the University wasn’t far from Washington, D.C., and in terms of my own research interests (i.e. the American presidency, parties and elections, American national government, and democratic theory) that fit in well. I also have family in the Boston area, and it isn’t all that far from there by plane. And they let me teach what I wanted to teach. I just got a very good feeling in the two days I was here in terms of a sense of community. It was a very welcoming community. 

Describe the impact WVU has had on your life over the last 45 years. 
It always had a great impact on me when the students I was coaching for the Rhodes Scholarship would call on that cold December Saturday night, and on the other end of the line I would hear, almost in disbelief, “Dr. DiClerico, I won.” That always had a great impact on me. I’ve taught 34,000 students over this period of time. To see so many of them go on and be very successful—it’s extraordinary. Seven Rhodes Scholars, 24 Truman Scholars. The Truman Scholarship Foundation even designated WVU as a Truman Honor Institution in 1996 because of the number of Truman Scholars from WVU. 

What is your favorite memory? 
One memory taught me just how much of an impact a teacher can have even with a minimal investment of time. I was teaching the American government class—it must’ve been 20 years ago—and a student came into see me. I required anyone who got Ds or Fs on the test to come in and see me. He was a first-semester sophomore. He sat down and said, “It isn’t this class. I’ve just been preoccupied with these other classes that I’m taking for my major, and I hate it.” His major was pre-engineering. When I asked him what he wanted to major in, he said business. The reason he was an engineering major was because his father was an engineering major, and his father had pushed him to become an engineer, too. I encouraged him to change his major, but not to tell his family until after doing so. He ended up getting a B in my class. I didn’t see him again until graduation weekend. He said, “I followed your advice and majored in business. Your advice made all the difference in the world. Last week I received a job offer from a corporation in Houston. I just wanted to say thank you.” That impact happened from a 15-minute conversation.   

Why did you continue teaching for five years after your retirement in 2012? 
I wanted to keep teaching because of the excitement I have derived from the subject matter I’ve devoted my life to. The faucet didn’t turn off as soon as I retired. It has continued—so has the urge to transfer that excitement to other people, namely students, and to get them as excited about the subject matter as I am. That hasn’t diminished at all. It’s just so stimulating to be around young people, and the Honors College classes have particularly good students. You keep current with emerging trends and the culture and the society by exposing yourself to young people. I always said that I will stop teaching when I stop getting nervous just before I go into the classroom. When that stops, I’ll stop teaching, because that means I won’t care as much as I used to. But that hasn’t happened.

What is your goal for the Robert E. DiClerico Scholarship in Democratic Institutions and Public Leadership? 
The scholarship serves students within the Department of Political Science. If possible, it is geared to students who are not only outstanding students but have demonstrated in their undergraduate careers an interest in achievement in leadership and our institutions of government. I’ve also tried very hard, if possible, to have it go to students who are needy. That’s something I came to appreciate when I arrived at WVU. I was never a needy student—my education was paid for by my parents, but I didn’t squander that opportunity. I never had to carry that burden of having my education depend on my ability to work, get enough money during the summer or work while going to school. I see some of these kids and how well they are able to do even though they are spending so many hours per week working—I admire that so much. It’s just wonderful to be able to reward a student who is working his or her tail off, doing well, and really needs the money.

What will you miss the most about WVU?
I’ll miss the friends I’ve made on the faculty and in the community, and I’ll miss the students. My hope during my last year or so here has been that I don’t run into someone for the first time who I want to get to know better but won’t have the chance to. 

What’s next for you?
I have family in New Hampshire and a home in Massachusetts. The two-day trek from Morgantown to Massachusetts and then the even longer trip to New Hampshire with two golden retrievers, neither of whom drive, has become a major discouragement to making the trip more often at a time in my life when I ought to be spending more time with family and at the home that I love near where I grew up.

This donation was made in conjunction with A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. Conducted by the WVU Foundation, the fundraising effort will run through December 2017.

Professor Emeritus Robert DiClerico teaches and conducts research on the presidency, political parties and elections, and the politics of agenda setting. Over the course of his career, DiClerico has emerged as one of the nation’s leading experts on the American presidency. He is the author of “Voting in America” and “The American President” and co-author of “Choosing Our Choice” and “Few Are Chosen.” He is editor of “Campaigns and Elections” and “Analyzing the Presidency.” His scholarly articles have appeared in Presidential Studies Quarterly, Society, and South Atlantic Quarterly. Along with being designated one of the Eberly College’s original Eberly Professors for Outstanding Teaching in 1996, DiClerico has been previously named West Virginia Professor of the Year, CASE Professor of the Year, WVU Foundation Outstanding Teacher, Danforth Fellow, Amoco Outstanding Teacher and Eberly College Outstanding Teacher. He has served as the Department of Political Science’s Director of Undergraduate Studies and the WVU campus representative for the Rhodes and Truman Scholarship foundations.