This edition of Who Makes Millersville Special features Dr. Kenneth Shields, professor of Linguistics and American Dialects. He’s produced two books and nearly 180 articles in referred journals and book chapters.
Q. Where are you originally from?
I grew up in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania—specifically in a little town called Philipsburg, which is approximately 20 miles west of State College.
Q. Where did you study?
I actually didn’t stray very far from home. I earned my bachelor’s degree in English and my master’s degree and Ph.D. in linguistics at Penn State. I received a truly excellent education there.
Q. When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
From junior high school until my freshman year in college, I had every intention of entering theological seminary after I earned my undergraduate degree and becoming a Lutheran pastor. Although I ultimately did not follow that career path, I remain very involved in my church and committed to my faith.
Q. When did you first realize that you wanted to study linguistics?
Life is strange because unexpected events can have profound effects on one’s future. As an undergraduate at Penn State, I was able to earn a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate as well by simply taking a few extra courses in education. One of those courses was a grammar class taught by a professor who had a terrible reputation as a teacher and who taught nothing in the course but classic school grammar. A couple of weeks before the class was to begin, the professor became ill and was replaced by an associate dean whose specialization was linguistics. Needless to say, that professor taught a very different kind of grammar course. In short, I absolutely fell in love with the discipline and, after a couple more linguistics courses, decided to pursue a graduate degree. By the way, that associate dean—Dr. Ted Kiffer—and I remained friends until his death a few years ago.
Q. How many years have you been at Millersville?
I am finishing my 35th year here. Prior to coming to Millersville, I was a professor at Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) for three years and at Auburn University for two years. I guess that means I’ve been teaching full-time at the college level for 40 years.
Q. Do you have a favorite course to teach?
Not really. I do enjoy “Dialects of American English” because the subject matter is fun for me and for my students. Moreover, “Introduction to Language Study” has always been a class I look forward to because it gives me an opportunity to present my field to people who generally know little to nothing about it. When I see their interest being stimulated, I find it very gratifying.
Q. What is something your colleagues and students would be surprised to learn about you?
I earned my Ph.D. when I was 24. I admit I’m getting old, but I’m not as old as some people think I am.
Q. What is the most challenging aspect of your job and what is the most rewarding?
Through the years, the most challenging part of my job involved administrative tasks. I served as English department chair for nine years and as assistant chair for 10 years. There’s an old joke that chairing an English department is like herding cats. Funny as the joke is, there’s a lot of truth in it. The most rewarding aspects of my job involved not only my teaching, of course, but also my research. As I prepare to retire, I’m proud to say that I have produced two books and nearly 180 articles in refereed journals, book chapters and invited contributions to major festschriften.
Q. Do you have a favorite book?
Not so much a favorite book but a favorite author. Since I love history and good literature (as well as language study), Shelby Foote is someone I like to read. I actually had the pleasure of meeting him and having dinner with him when I was a professor at Auburn, and I found him to be as thoroughly engaging in person as he is in his books.
Q. How do you want your students to remember you?
I know I have a reputation as a tough grader, but I believe you get nothing from people if you ask nothing of them. However, my hope is that even students who didn’t get A’s from me will remember the competence in and enthusiasm for my discipline which I tried to bring to my classroom every day.
Q. What is your favorite thing about Millersville?
I remember that a few weeks after coming to Millersville, I was in a bit of a panic because the place seemed so strange to me. My experience in higher education during my days as a student and as a professor had been at very large state universities. I had never had much to do with a university that enrolled fewer than 25,000 students. However, as time passed, what I came to enjoy most about Millersville was the intimacy that its size afforded. I got to know many of my students well because I would see them in class semester after semester, and I remain in contact with many of them years after their graduation.
Q. What are some of your interests?
Reading, sports (especially football and baseball), traveling and antiquing.
Q. Do you have a favorite quote?
It’s actually a recurring line in a number of Old English poems. The Modern English translation is “life is transitory.” The line kind of puts everything into perspective.
Q. Where is your favorite place to travel?
My wife and I enjoy traveling to a variety of places, but if we simply want to relax and enjoy ourselves, we head to Aruba. We go there at least once a year.
Q. What is your most memorable moment at Millersville?
I’d have to say that it was when I received a State System award for excellence in teaching. That’s what the job is really all about.
Dr. Shields will be retiring this year. His last class will be during Summer 2 – “Dialects of American English.” We wish the best to Dr. Shields.
3 replies on “Dr. Kenneth Shields”
I wish Dr. Shields the absolute best in retirement!
Dr. Shields is hands-down one of the best professors I’ve ever had! He loves his field, teaches from the overflow, and has a solid answer for every question you pose in class. So glad I got to learn under him!
Best wishes on your upcoming retirement. MU is losing a great professor.