During their four years at Gustavus, many students are fortunate to take a class with engaging professors who are highly passionate in the fields they are experts in. Aside from classroom learning, they continue unlocking their curiosity by pursuing internships and going on study abroad trips in the future.
Richard Leitch, Associate professor in Political Science, Environmental Studies, Japanese Studies, and Peace Studies, has been known for positively changing the lives of students ever since he began teaching at Gustavus in 1996. Before he became a Professor, he attended Colby College in Maine.
The experience he had there was very similar to Gustavus where it was a close-nit, welcoming community where he could connect with people from all backgrounds.
“There were some rocky times, especially my first year going into my second year. Because of those experiences, I feel like I can relate to what many first year students are going through,” Leitch said.
Once he made it to graduate school at the University of Illinois, he was granted a teaching position through a coincidence, and was required to teach three classes with thirty students each. Although he was nervous he was not going to be prepared well enough, he knew immediately once he started, that teaching was what he wanted to for the rest of his life.
He chose to pursue education on the liberal arts route because his goal was to help students more in-depth by establishing meaningful relationships with them.
Leitch has been a strong advocate for study abroad since he went to Japan for a year when he was in undergrad. He appreciates the amazing insight he got while being at another part at the world, and to see life from a fresh perspective, especially at a time when it was unlikely that students would do it.
“I knew when I came here that this was the place. If they gave me the job offer, I was going to take it. No questions asked. I was very lucky…I’ve been so blessed because Gustavus has allowed me to teach courses with total confidence in my abilities to do it,” Leitch said. For instance, he created the Environmental Politics class which was highly successful and beneficial towards Environmental Studies majors.
He loves being able to teach outside of the areas he was trained in academically. In terms of engaging with students, it depends on the type of course, but his main goal is to get them to critically think beyond what they learn in the classroom. He hopes they can learn how to engage with the material beyond the content being covered in the classroom.
One of his defining teaching techniques is having students read perceptive, relevant news articles to decipher what is happening around the world politically. He believes it will give students the opportunity to relate this back to their own lives, especially since we live in an interconnected world.
“Ten years from now, if they can read a newspaper and say, ‘Wait a minute, that doesn’t make sense,’ or ‘I learned something about that,’ this is what my goal is…that means I’ve done my job…I just hope that they’re going to develop ideas,” Leitch said.
He has recognized tremendous talent and commitment from various students he has interacted with, both inside and outside the classroom. Every once in a while, he encounters someone who is kind-hearted, intelligent, and determined who wants to make a positive difference in the world. Leitch is thankful to be part of this kind of driven community.
He constantly admires the replenishment of talent and constant hope for someone coming to Gustavus and doing something great for everyone. In addition, it is encouraging to see what people have accomplished after attending this tiny school on the hill.
“Every once in a while I type in that person’s name and I say, ‘Wow, look at that, they’ve actually made it. They’re really doing they wanted to do, or would have never imagined to do,’ but now here they are and everybody’s giving them all these accolades and saying they’ve done great work. I’m just so proud they came from Gustavus. I’m very proud to be associated with this place,” Leitch said.
Besides his professional responsibilities, Leitch spends his time attending lively and notable events on campus. This includes the Festival of St. Lucia where his kids have participated in the tradition as well.
He is also pleased that his daughter, Abby, a former student and recent 2018 graduate, is now the Assistant Volleyball Coach. One of his favorite hobbies is going to Gustavus Volleyball games because of her prominent role on the team.
Lastly, he is also a huge supporter of the Nobel Conference, believing that class should be cancelled for students to have the chance to attend this one-in-a-lifetime event. “I like just sitting there and thinking about the brain power. I’m so glad that now we have a culture of cancelling classes. There are these Nobel Laureates, coming to campus, and these distinguished academics that we’ve tried to lure here, and it’s a campus collaborative moment,” Leitch said.
A significant lesson he wants all students to learn is how the timeline of being a college student is extremely limited. People should take advantage of the countless opportunities offered in flexible educational atmosphere because they are more likely not going to get these four years back.
His alumni colleagues have mentioned that the only aspects they regretted were not going to enough campus-wide events or studying abroad. Leitch aspires to be at Gustavus well into the future, and remarks that he does not want to miss out on these types of endeavors. Considering how beloved he is by students and faculty, he will not be leaving any time soon.