Camille Norton

Dr. Camille Norton

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Poetry in Motion

Sep 19, 2012

Camille Norton's passion for language and passing the ancient flame of poetry to a captive classroom inspires College of the Pacific students every day. Some might even call her a muse.

"Her teaching style, her approachable demeanor, and her enthusiasm for poetry helped me to cultivate a strong admiration for poetry," says student Victor lnzunza. "Knowing that I was a (military) veteran, she understood how to make connections for me through poetry. Dr. Norton mentored me, suggested further reading, and encouraged me to publish my poems. Upon finally seeing my poems in print, I felt a sense of accomplishment, and I felt like I could move forward in my life and my writing."

"Dr. Norton had a way of encouraging me in my writing and in my creative and artistic side that I had never received before," says student Sara Estrella. "She deserves this award for being such a wonderful inspiration to young people to strive to be more dignified in the way they think and make decisions in their lives."

Pages of stirring testimony, like those above, from students and faculty alike earned Dr. Norton the 2011 Spanos Award - an honor given each year to a nominated faculty member who has taught at the college-level for at least 15 years, 10 of which must be at Pacific. The award recognizes professors who demonstrate inspirational teaching and mentorship in The College. Dr. Norton shares her thoughts on "her calling," her own mentors, and the students that inspire her everyday.

Q. How did you feel about receiving College of the Pacific's Spanos Award for a Career in Distinguished Teaching?

A. It was thrilling. First of all, I was in very good company, having joined the ranks of the many outstanding professors who have won the award in the past. There was something quite moving in the words "a distinguished career." The award made me realize how fortunate I am to teach at Pacific and to be part of a community of teacher-scholars who are devoted to the liberal arts and the humanities.

Q. What drew you to teaching?

A. Teaching was in many ways an accidental profession for me. My first passion was learning, and it seemed to me that the university was the kind of city in which I wanted to be a lifetime citizen.  When I first went to graduate school, I didn't really comprehend that I was training to become a professor. I thought I was simply living the life of the mind! It wasn't until I came to Pacific from Harvard that I truly learned what it meant to teach as a vocation, a calling. As I see it, good teaching calls forth a personal response in the student, a desire to inhabit their own intellect and to travel through what Keats called "the realms of gold."

Q. Was there a teacher or professor who inspired you?

A. Fortunately, I found my way to some very good universities and professors who modeled for me a way of being in the world. I met amazing professors at The University of Massachusetts, people who showed me that it was possible to work with your mind and to change lives in the process. Martha Collins, a poet at The University of Massachusetts, was important to me and remains a good friend. I also studied with the great poet Denise Levertov while still an undergraduate. In graduate school at Harvard, I would have to say the two professors who stood out as exemplary intellectuals and teachers: Barbara Johnson and Marjorie Garber.

Q. How have you students inspired you?

A. My students inspire me in more ways than I can count. I am often astonished by the talent of my English majors, who seem much more sophisticated and much more poised than I was at their age. My students keep me honest and they keep me young.

Q. What do you hope your students will take away from your classes?

A. If students take anything away from my classes, I hope it is the knowledge that the mind is ours to possess. No one can take away our capacity to think, though we can unthinkingly surrender that capacity. Thinking and feeling are not separate experiences. They occur within the crucible of the self and help shape who we become.  To begin an education is to be on the threshold of this discovery.

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