Robert Lewis, Ph.D. had just earned his doctorate in English literature at Notre Dame University and was facing a difficult job market, when a friend overheard a cocktail party conversation about faculty job openings at Point Park College in Pittsburgh.
“I never heard of Point Park, but I jumped at the opportunity,” the Philadelphia native recalls. He sent in his credentials, got an interview, and flew to Pittsburgh along with several other Notre Dame graduates who had received the same lead. Lewis was one of two faculty hired. “It was fortuitous,” he says. “Things looked bleak and out of the blue came a possibility.”
It turned out that Pittsburgh, and Point Park, were a great match for him, he says. “Over the years I have taught a wide variety of courses, from Shakespeare to the American playwrights to the English novel. That’s one of the aspects of Point Park that I have liked a lot,” says Lewis, who admits that Shakespeare is a favorite. “I couldn’t specialize, because we were too small, so I became a generalist of sorts. That has kept me on my intellectual toes.”
Things weren’t always rosy. Not long after Lewis arrived, in 1970, financial problems threatened Point Park’s very survival. He remembers that faculty took a small weekly salary for a period of time just to keep the college’s doors open. “My wife and I had three small children and we were actually on food stamps for three months,” says Lewis. Point Park’s current growth has been impressive, he says.
“Point Park gave me the opportunity to do what I like to do, and that is to teach,” says Lewis. “That’s what I have put all of my energy into.” Former students such as Gary Smith, an English teacher and department chair at South Fayette High School in McDonald, Pa., say they have reaped the benefits.
“I took as many literature classes with Dr. Robert Lewis as I could, and those were by far the best times in the classroom I ever had as a student. The man is so charismatic and intelligent that it's difficult not to want to listen to him,” according to Smith. “I still use my notes from his class to shape my lectures and discussions.”
Text by Cheryl Valyo
Photo by Martha Rial
The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University