April 12, 2004
The time is 8 o’clock on a disagreeable, dreary Monday morning. Most of the nondescript classrooms of the small Catholic university contain heavy-eyed students who would rather throw themselves into a pillow than into a stirring discussion of civilization.
There is one noteworthy exception, however.
Students in Dr. Gail Pieper’s “The Mediterranean World” class are, surprisingly enough, conscious. Having just ended many weeks’ discussion of Homer’s “The Odyssey,” the pupils applaud—not because they’re finally done with the epic, but because they’re enthused by their instructor’s vivacity. Such ebullience is the credo that Pieper lives by—and partly what drew her to Benedictine.
Pieper grew up on Long Island in the small town of Oceanside. She earned her undergraduate degree in Latin and Greek at the University of Connecticut, then did her graduate work in Classical Philology at the University of Illinois at Urbana.
Shortly after graduating, Pieper returned to Urbana as a visiting professor, marking the start of her teaching career. She taught at various Ohio institutions, such as Baldwin-Wallace College and Cuyahoga College, before coming to Benedictine University in 1975.
As well as teaching at Benedictine, Pieper works as Coordinator of Writing and Editing at the Mathematics and Computer Science Division of Argonne National Laboratory.
Pieper teaches many courses at Benedictine, including Editing for Print, Professional Writing, Research Writing for Biology, The Mediterranean World and The Baptism of Europe. She believes that “energy and enthusiasm, even at 8 a.m.,” are vital to teaching effectively. She also emphasizes approachability, a sense of humor and willingness to try something new.
“A lot of the students come from, or seem to come from, schools in which they liked the opportunity to talk with the teachers,” says Pieper. She says that the most rewarding part of her job is seeing a student develop an understanding—and interest—of what they’re studying. She calls this oftentimes-sudden phenomenon “the ‘aah’ factor.”
Pieper has taught editing longer than most of her other classes, which is only fitting, since her job at Argonne involves activities like newsletter preparation, book editing and proposal writing. She has edited journals, newsletters and books and has even co-authored a handful of such publications. At Argonne, her proofreading prowess is well-known; any document that has been meticulously edited is said to have been “Pieperized.”
Besides technical writing, editing, horseback riding and classical literature, Pieper is an opera buff. She confesses to having sung snippets of opera to classes because “it generates interest.”
But her students aren’t the only ones who leave class with some memorable experiences. One of her first teaching jobs, she recalls, was teaching Greek 101; what she didn’t expect, however, was that it would be a class of 20 hulking football players. “It actually turned out to be quite fun,” she remarks, “after they got over their initial shock—and after I got over my initial shock!”
Benedictine has had some unforgettable moments for Pieper. A Research Writing class once gave her a giant thank-you card. She’s received an “intentionally misspelled and copyedited T-shirt” from admiring editing pupils. But she best remembers the time her class spontaneously applauded, because it illustrated “the kind of enthusiasm for ‘dead lit’ I hope to convey.”
Part of Pieper’s enthusiasm is due to how she feels about Benedictine University; she is grateful for the milieu and aura of Christianity. Pieper feels that the college’s credo is exemplified by Father David Turner, whom she says “combines the warmth, humor, willingness to express thanks for a job well done, the scholarship, a genuine respect for people and the love of God that Ben U tries to convey.” Gail Pieper’s vigor and ability to enthuse has earned her similar veneration.